Soldiers and packaging engineers discuss tactical movements within a M1064 Mortar Carrier. Knowing how Soldiers perform their duties helps engineers to design more effective packaging. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Over the past several years, engineers in the Packaging Division at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center have focused on getting feedback from users to develop design solutions for various packaging programs.

For one project, the Plastic Mortar Container program, engineers from the Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal were seeking a lightweight alternative to the current mortar packaging system. They decided to embrace the first step of any design process: Ask for information.

“Ask what is wrong with our current packaging components, ask what is right, and ask why,” said Jason Franqui, a general engineer with the center’s Packaging Division. The engineers did just that, at Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of a Voice of the Customer assessment with several groups: members of the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Training Brigade; the Capability Development and Integration Directorate; and Ammunition Supply Point.

The engineers and Soldiers discussed operational scenarios and possible mortar packaging improvements that would be better suited for their current operations. The team of engineers held three separate user assessments at various stages of product development.

In the first assessment, they collected information on various tactical movements, on foot and in vehicles. Franqui said discussing battlefield priorities with Soldiers is fruitful because each unit’s experience may differ. Based on this interaction, several packaging deficiencies were identified, generating ideas of how these shortcomings could be mitigated or eliminated in future designs.

In one instance, engineers were told that Soldiers struggled to remove fiberboard tubes containing mortars from the horizontal stow racks inside the M1064 Mortar Carrier. Soldiers found the limited space around and within the horizontal stows as potentially hampering tactical movements inside the vehicle.

Soldiers suggested that containers with straps would allow them to easily remove the item from the horizontal stow with one hand. Thus, without adding cost, engineers integrated a strap into the new container to improve handling.

Soldiers receive a briefing on a new packaging configuration as part of a process by packaging engineers at Picatinny Arsenal to ask Soldiers for their input, thus improving the effectiveness of packaging designs. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Although the interaction between engineers and Soldiers can yield solutions, some initial suggestions may not ultimately be practical after closer study.

For example, a Soldier suggested a two-piece hinged container design. The idea was to unify the container’s lid and body as a single component, connected by a hinge. But, after packaging engineers described the complex and rigorous lifecycle sustainment process for packaging containers, engineers and Soldiers agreed that the proposed design would be neither feasible nor sustainable for military transport.

Franqui said open and fluid exchange of ideas can emerge as Soldiers continuously ask questions, such as “How about this?” or “What if we did this?” At one point, Soldiers suggested emulating a simple, quarter-turn feature from one container and applying it to another container. The feature allowed a user to separate the container cover from the body in a quarter of a full turn. By adopting this idea into the current design, engineers could provide Soldier with quicker access to ammunition.

During this visit to Fort Benning, engineers identified 12 packaging issues. They prioritized the Soldiers’ wants and needs, and found viable solutions for 70 percent of the issues.

In the final two visits, engineers gave Soldiers  a demonstration with a full-scale model of the newly developed Plastic Mortar Container.

“The concept and its features were developed to encompass the capabilities the Soldiers really wanted to see in their packaging,” said Franqui.

“Interactions similar to this reaffirm to Soldiers that their opinions do matter to our end products,” said Mike Campolieto, an Armaments Center representative at the Maneuver Center of Excellence for Soldiers.

The new version of Plastic Mortar Container was well received by the Soldiers who saw how their input can influence the products that they use every day.

Although independent innovation can arise in many ways, a conduit for greatly improved results can also be found through a design process driven by user needs.

Similar feedback sessions have been conducted for small caliber ammunition packaging. Engineers presented Soldiers with a new product consisting of a bulk packaging configuration for specific operational needs. That configuration made it possible for Soldier to transport a greater quantity of ammunition.

“The Packaging Division at the Armaments Center’s continuously strives to provide our Soldiers with the world’s best ammunition and weapons packaging technology, supporting readiness through innovative packaging solutions,” said Jason Runell, Manager of the Packaging Division.

"This is achieved through a simple process: ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve.”