DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- After more than two years, four Dugway craftsmen are completing hand-made fixtures that will greatly improve the testing of defenses against chemical warfare agents or toxic chemicals.
Workers in the Dugway Metal Shop, the four created six glove boxes and four end caps that will be used in the Materiel Test Facility, for challenging defense items with actual or simulated chemical agents.
Sam Hill, supervisor of the shop, said the project began January, 2014. Work was not continual because other projects required the shop's expertise, but it was done whenever possible. The Engineering Branch of Dugway's Test Support Division provided the plans for the meticulous work by Brian Russell, model maker; Rudy Rael, sheet metal specialist and model maker; and Keith Cordova, welder.
Each of the six glove boxes is 6 feet long, 40 inches wide and 52 inches high. They are essentially airtight, portable stainless steel boxes. Portholes for sealed, permanent gloves along their sides allow operators to manipulate test items and equipment while viewing through windows of thick, tempered glass.
Four end caps were also constructed for operators to bring test items, agent or simulant in or out of the glove boxes. Insulation, added later, will allow testing of items from -30 to 150 Fahrenheit, replicating a wide range of climates. The fixtures look simple enough, but it takes a true craftsman to make them properly, and safe for use with some of world's deadliest chemicals.
"It's a lot of work for three guys," said Hill. "Where it all bolts together, it has to be right or it won't fit." Russell said that the most difficult part of building the 10 fixtures was getting every piece square -- each corner at a perfect right angle -- down to 10,000ths of an inch. Meticulously machined jigs of aluminum were first built, to guide the painstaking cutting of stainless steel sheets.
All cutting, milling and welding were done at Dugway. Tooele Army Depot and Army Test and Evaluation Command made some small parts when it was more practical.
Rael did much of the fine milling, shaving thousandths of an inch off some pieces to ensure they were square and fit precisely. Cordova, who has welded for decades, said welding stainless steel is always a challenge because heat warps it badly. He believes welding is an art. The equipment and welding rods ("sticks") differ from when he started decades ago, but at its core, good welding still requires a wealth of knowledge and a practiced hand. "A good stick welder will never be out of a job," Cordova said.
When Maj. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commander of Army Test and Evaluation Command, visited recently, he praised the meticulous work of the four-man shop. "I'm always amazed at the talent that we have within ATEC, specifically within the machine shops in our test centers," the general said. "Everyone is self-sufficient. They make quality products to save the Army and the American taxpayer money."
Creating test fixtures on Dugway saves contract, bidding and shipping costs. Engineers and test officers can conveniently drop by the shop to monitor progress or discuss minor alterations. Such convenience promotes fixtures perfect for Dugway's needs.
The glove boxes are designed to fit to each other to create a series of stations. Test items are moved from one glove box to another for contamination, measurement, observation, decontamination, etc. End caps allow the introduction or retrieval of items. Without exacting dimensions for each fixture, such multi-station use wouldn't be possible. Glove boxes include a 700-pound air filtration system beneath, which also had to be fitted with exactitude.
Before test use, each glove box and end cap will undergo rigorous testing at the MTF to ensure it retains a perfect seal and functions as designed. Eventually, the filtered glove boxes and end caps will go into a trailer-sized, filtered Secondary Containment Module within the MTF's massive, filtered Multipurpose Chamber. At least three filtration barriers ensure that harmful chemicals can't escape the building (which is also filtered).
It's been a long project for the metal workers. Though there's a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the job completed, no tears will drop on the shop's well-swept floor. "You have to keep after it, or the things don't get done. But boy, we all want to see these leave," said Cordova.