U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: July 6, 2001
Expandable shelter could improve long-term deployments
Natick, Mass. --- Wood beams assembled on the ground to support plywood floors, and sheets of plywood for walls and doors turned ordinary modular tents for soldiers deployed in Bosnia into almost-permanent housing.
Interest in a shelter for long-term deployments and a new technology in rigid-wall manufacturing led to the development of the High Expansion Ratio Shelter. Under the Small Business Innovation Research program, the Survivable Shelter Systems Team at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick), Kazak Composites Inc. in Woburn, Mass., and commercial partner AAR Corp. in Cadillac, Mich., are developing the first functional prototype shelter, which will be ready for display by November.
"It would fill the gap between hard shelters and tentage in any environment," said Bill Nykvist, project manager at Natick. "It's a better way to put troops in the field than deploying them in tents for several years. When the Army gets into extended deployments, this would be an ideal shelter."
The shelter is largely composed of 13 modules that are stored and carried in an ISO container measuring 8 feet by 8 feet by 20 feet. Each folded 500-pound module is stored vertically and slides out of the ISO container at 4 inches thick. Panels connected by hinges unfold on each side to form walls and then a peaked roof. Modules are connected with gasketed aluminum closeouts to seal the roof and walls from the outdoors.
Adjustable steel jacks at each end and in the middle of the module support the shelter and lift it off the ground for a smooth floor in uneven terrain, eliminating the need to bulldoze the earth for plywood floors. The modules provide an expansion ratio of 12:1 to make a shelter 19 feet wide by up to 96 feet long, but space is adjustable by adding or removing modules to meet the desired size.
Comfort, stability and noise in windy conditions are much improved compared to tents, according to Nykvist, and a hinged door allows soldiers to easily enter and exit. Besides the panels-which take up the most space-all necessary beams, jacks and lights fit inside the container.
A goal of the program is the ability to set up the entire shelter with four soldiers in 3-1/2 hours. No materials handling equipment, such as forklifts, is required. Only stepladders and simple tools are needed for set-up. The shelter would offer troops a simpler and more habitable alternative to the current practice.
Tents fill a need for shelters that are easily and quickly moved. Space is saved because tents pack into a tight bundle, but over months or years in one location, their appeal wears thin.
"Soldiers ended up building a structure under and often inside the tent to improve living conditions," Nykvist said. "The military also has to buy and transport all of the lumber, which is costly and typically not reusable."
Traditional tactical rigid-wall shelters are made with an aluminum skin bonded to a foam or honeycomb core. They are commonly used in expandable ISO containers for field kitchens, medical facilities and other applications where a solid structure is necessary, said Nykvist.
Aluminum-honeycomb core shelters are manufactured with a lengthy bonding process, and considering that all 13 modules cover 5,600 square feet of panel, costs would be steep, he said.
The breakthrough technology from Kazak Composites called "wide-panel pultrusion" has opened up the opportunity to produce rigid-wall shelters for billeting, dining halls, hospital wards, exercise rooms or any other function now served with modular tents and unaffordable for current rigid-wall manufacturing processes.
Wide-panel pultrusion is a continuous manufacturing process that can make 8-foot wide panels at a rate of 1-2 feet per minute. During the process, a top and bottom layer of fiberglass cloth are sandwiched around a foam core, injected with resin, and pulled through a heated die, curing into a rigid panel. The foam core is composed of multiple foam boards with attached C-shaped reinforcing fiberglass strips to act as panel strengthening beams.
"It will never corrode or rot. It's a very stable, low-maintenance material," Nykvist said. "Thermal insulation is really hard to get in tentage, and we get good insulation with these foam-insulated panels to reduce heating and cooling costs."
Compared to the aluminum skin and honeycomb core panels, the shelter's composite panels increase thermal insulation by 50 percent, slice manufacturing costs in half and cut weight by 20 percent.
Other potential applications for wide-panel pultrusion are piers for loading and unloading Navy ships, and trailer bodies for heavy-duty trucks. Expanding the market will help lower production costs, he said.
Once a working prototype is available, the plan is to demonstrate it at high-visibility locations to obtain user feedback and gauge Army interest.
If the Army decides to field the High Expansion Ratio Shelter, a formal requirement document will be written and funding will be provided for engineering development to improve the prototype and conduct field tests.
Small businesses bring innovation
Small businesses can propose new ideas to meet the military's research and development needs and provide additional project funds with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
The High Expansion Ration Shelter was funded through the SBIR program beginning in 1998 and is the first Fast Track SBIR at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick). Kazak Composites Inc. in Woburn, Mass., and commercial partner AAR Corp. in Cadillac, Mich., are working with Natick to create their first working prototype by November.
"Kazak had an idea with a new process for making a shelter panel, the Army had a desire for rigid-wall shelters using that technology, and AAR was interested in being the manufacturer," said Bill Nykvist, project manager with the Survivable Shelter Systems Team at Natick.
The SBIR process begins with Natick writing a topic area description explaining a problem or deficiency, which is then published and opened for independently-owned U.S. businesses with less than 500 employees to write proposals.
SBIR is conducted in four steps. Phase I evaluates the scientific and technical merit, and feasibility of a novel concept during a six-month study. Phase II is the development of a prototype, while Phase II Plus expands from Phase II with an effort to meet the product, process or service requirements of a third-party investor.
The new shelter program was the first time a Natick SBIR contractor received Phase II Plus funding, and it was matched by a third-party company to commercialize a wide-panel pultrusion application for a transportation system, said Nykvist.
Phase III does not provide SBIR funding but is the commercialization of the results of Phase II in the form of a viable product or non-research and development service for sale to military or private sector markets.
The item is funded either privately or through a Department of Defense acquisition program. Because the title to SBIR technology is retained by the small business rather than the government, sole source awards for Phase III acquisitions are pre-approved.
Fast Track streamlines the process. It attracts matching money from an outside investor, such as AAR Corp. for the new shelter, to fund the project. Fast Track projects are most likely to make a major contribution to the U.S. military and national economy, said Gerald Raisanen, SBIR manager at Natick.
"Small business is considered the greatest source of innovation in comparison to large business," Raisanen said. "Numerous research and development projects in combat feeding, airdrop/aerial delivery, collective protection, individual protection and soldier science directorates have benefited from the SBIR program."
All SBIR money goes to the small business with the ultimate goal of commercializing the technical achievements of the research and development.
Natick is part of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). For more information about SBCCOM or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick), please visit our website at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.