The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal was selected as US Army's Laboratory of the Year (large lab category) in a review of the Army lab system by the Army's top research and development executive, earning the distinction for three consecutive competitions.

Marilyn Miller Freeman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Research and Technology), presented the award Oct. 9 to ARDEC Director Dr. Gerardo Melendez at the Army Acquisition Corps Annual Award Ceremony in Alexandria,Va.

Since reviews of large labs by the Army Laboratory Assessment Group (ALAG) are now conducted every other year, ARDEC will now hold the award until at least 2013.

It received the honor in 2008 (when large labs reviews were conducted annually), 2009 and 2011, meaning ARDEC stands to hold the honor for six consecutive years.

"Large" Army labs have more than 850 personnel. The Engineer Research and Development Center, part of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, won the large lab management award as part of this year's review.

"It takes a team of dedicated personnel working diligently, passionately, and consistently to achieve the excellence for which these organizations has been recognized with these awards," Freeman said when the award winners were announced earlier this year.

Freeman is responsible for the entirety of the Army's Research and Technology program, spanning 16 Laboratories and Research, Development and Engineering Centers, with more than 12,000 scientists and engineers and a yearly budget of nearly $2 billion.

When ARDEC director Dr. Gerardo Melendez announced the laboratory win to the Picatinny workforce, he noted that ARDEC was recently recognized as winner of six out of 10 Army Greatest Inventions for 2010--its best showing yet--and 13 ARDEC employees also had also just been selected for Research & Development Achievement (RDA) Awards.

"It is no coincidence that successes like the Army Greatest Inventions and RDA Awards contribute immensely to this most recent achievement, along with the many stellar people and teams who throughout the year have been recognized by warfighters and organizations outside of ARDEC," Melendez said.

"What keeps repeating is a theme of innovation that makes a real difference for the warfighters in harm's way who deserve nothing less than our very best."

The periodic reviews are done to "check the health" of the Army's lab system, said Brad Sampson, an ARDEC engineer who earlier this year led the effort of preparing information for the written application submission for ARDEC.

"The assessment team wanted us to show them our technical prowess," said Sampson.

The team included distinguished science and technology experts from academia, industry and government.

During the site visit by the ALAG, Melendez briefed the team on ARDEC's mission, core competencies, products, outreach and customer relationships.

"A lot of our people get involved," said Sampson. "They want to participate and show their programs in a good light. People here are proud of what they do for the Army and the warfighter."

"Each year we want to get a little bit better," he added. "We have to keep improving."

In its application for Laboratory of the Year, ARDEC highlighted three of its most promising initiatives in research, development and management.

It highlighted explosive inks as promising research. Explosive inks allow for precise application of explosives in a scale much smaller than previously achievable.

ARDEC is exploring the technology by which explosives are safely armed and initiated. These explosive inks are being used in ARDEC's micro-mechanical 'safe and arm' systems being developed for the next generation of fuzes.

Many currently fielded armament systems leverage technology born in the era of mechanical watches as a means of controlling explosive initiation mechanisms, said Brian Fuchs, who leads development of explosive inks.

As the mechanical production base shrinks, ARDEC engineers seek to pioneer production techniques for new weapon systems by integrating printed energetics with printed electronics.

This approach is based on the thriving electronics industry, which holds the promise that development times and cost of new weapons systems can be significantly reduced.

ARDEC also highlighted insensitive munitions as a promising development initiative. Insensitive munitions are less likely to trigger accidental explosions.

As a management initiative, ARDEC highlighted Innovative Developments Everyday (IDEA) at ARDEC.

The IDEA initiative teaches personnel the skills needed to develop good ideas into products that warfighters can use with innovative problem solving and obtaining patents.

The program also provides information technology resources, prototyping equipment; collaboration space equipped with reading material. It also designates personnel as innovation mentors.