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Protecting Equipment & Sensitive Items From The Elements is A Science

A long-term war footing has challenged the U.S. military to transport and store large volumes of equipment in a manner that will avert potential damage from the elements. Units deployed to the Southwest Asia theater will often leave much of their equipment behind in garrison. Since it is rarely possible or practical to store a fleet of trucks, for example, in an indoor facility, these vehicles will be parked in a yard for long periods while not being used.

The transport of equipment poses similar, if not greater, challenges. Equipment that can range from training simulators to radar units to aircraft must often be transported on trucks, ships and other vehicles, and be prepared to perform to the maximum upon arrival at their destinations.

There are a variety of materials on the market that are used to cover and wrap even the most sensitive pieces of equipment to protect them from everything from water and humidity to wind, dirt and sand. Used in the commercial world to transport and store a variety of different kinds of equipment, such as boats, the same products are also available in varieties that meet military specifications.

“The armed forces has a lot of equipment that in today’s conflicts are not being used because we are not fighting a traditional style of warfare,” said Dave Hutton, director of Navy and Coast Guard sales at Shield Technologies Corporation, a company headquartered in Eagan, Minn. “They are being left in yards in garrisons and not being used while manpower is being used elsewhere. This equipment is not getting the care and maintenance they need.”

“We have seen situations where expensive equipment is coming back from theater and are parked out in fields because there is nowhere else to store it,” said Steve Hanna, president of Protective Packaging Corp. in Dallas. “We have seen radars come back to the states for maintenance. Then it takes six months to a year before they are rotated back to theater. All this raises issues of the equipment being exposed.”

A growing are turning to covers and wraps for their storage and transportation needs, according to Dustin Hoover, a principal at Atlantic Shrink Wrap in Annapolis, Md. “In my experience, demand is increasing,” he said. “More people are learning that shrink wrapping is the way to go for transporting equipment. It is more economical than crating, which makes the load bigger and heavier. Shrink wrap is tighter, waterproof, and doesn’t increase the weight or size of the shipment by much.”

Companies like Protective Packaging Corp. use a variety of flexible packaging materials to meet the needs of its customers. “Ninety percent of the time, we get a call from a customer saying they have a problem with packaging,” said Hanna. “So we get on a plane to see how they are currently packaging their objectives. Then we go to our quiver to apply the proper arrow.”

Protective Packaging accesses a long list of military spec coverings that include various waterproof, greaseproof and/or vapor-proof characteristics. Greaseproof materials are often used on stored vehicle parts that could leak oil. Waterproof materials include polyester nylon blends that are combined in layers with a core of aluminum foil.

The company has also developed its own unique packaging material, which it guarantees to protect equipment form the elements for two years. “We can control the atmosphere around the product and protect it from vapor, corrosion, mold, mildew and static electricity,” said Hanna. “This can be designed to protect any type of product and is as effective as storing it in a climate-controlled warehouse that costs millions of dollars.”

Protective’s product combines moisture barrier materials and another heavy duty reinforced lightweight cover. “That way you get the moisture barrier qualities,” said Hanna, “but you need another layer to give you additional protection against outside forces like high winds and tree limbs.”

Hanna was involved with the movement of several F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to the United Kingdom for testing. “They had to be trucked on open beds from Fort Worth to Houston, then across the Atlantic to Europe and up a river on the coast of England,” said Hanna. “The aircraft had to be protected from everything all the way through. We spent a couple of weeks designing the packaging to protect the aircraft from all of the above.”

Testing by the U.S. military of Shield Technologies’ Envelop protective covers has confirmed the benefits of that product. Evaluations by the Air Force Corrosion Prevention and Control Program command on aerospace ground equipment showed that Envelop Protective Covers were 20 times as effective as storage in simple shelters. Shield’s Envelop protective covers are a patented technology, said Hutton, that can be custom tailored for deployment onboard vessels, at flight lines and in storage locations. “The material is a multilevel set of fabrics that is uniquely both waterproof and breathable,” he said. “Those characteristics reduce rust and corrosion and prevent dust and sand from intruding into a vehicle. Rather than trapping moisture, this material gets rid of moisture so that it is not trapped on the equipment.”

Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), which originally sponsored the development of the Shield product through a Small Business Innovation Research grant in 2000, has decided to introduce the product on many naval vessels. Hutton anticipates that NAVSEA will be ordering 50 to 80 covers per ship for 180 ships over next two years.

“They will be protecting weapons systems, electronic equipment, navigational equipment,” he said, “anything that sits topside on a ship and is exposed to the environment.” The company also does significant business with the Marine Corps and with the Army for its ground vehicles, Hutton added.

Atlantic Shrink Wrap, as its name suggests, specializes in shrink wrapping vehicles and equipment for transportation and storage. The company has shrink wrapped everything from submarine sonar for long-term storage of months to years, to training simulators that are to be transported by flat bed truck form one installation to another.

The shrink wrap utilized by Atlantic is much thicker and tougher than the shrink wrap used in everyday household and consumer applications. “The thinnest shrink wrap we use is 8 millimeters thick,” said Hoover. “A plastic wrap you see on flower bouquet might be .003 millimeters.”

This industrial strength shrink wrap comes in several varieties, with thicknesses of up to 12 millimeters and with additional optional attributes such as ultraviolet ray blocking, antimicrobial capabilities and corrosion inhibition. One variety of shrink wrap emits a chemical designed to protect metals and optical lenses. That kind of shrink wrap is designed strictly for storage; it is not strong enough to protect shipments on over-the-road movements.

Much of the equipments Atlantic has protected, such as training simulators and submarine sonars, are extremely delicate and “there is no room for failure,” said Hoover.

Atlantic had occasion to shrink wrap components of training simulators for an over-the-road movement in flatbed trucks from Patuxent Naval air Station in Maryland to Jacksonville, Fla. “The pieces were of different sizes and weight,” said Hoover. “They had to be put on the trailers frontwards, backwards, in different positions.”

The equipment had to be wrapped so as to prevent any foreign debris from infiltrating the simulators’ computer systems. “The shrink wrap completely sealed the equipment from soil, dirt, dust, water snow, hail or ice,” said Hoover. “If the truck had to drive through a storm, the rain could ruin the computer components.” The simulators were successfully transported in the shrink wrap with no additional protection from the elements on the 700-mile trek from Pax River to Jacksonville. “These are oversize loads and not containerized,” said Hoover. “You can’t just throw a tarp over them. They need to be 100 percent protected as they are going down the highway.”

Atlantic has also handled naval radars that arrive stateside for refurbishing in upstate New York, before being shipped back to the Southwest Asia theater. The submarine sonars they dealt with were to be transported from Baltimore to a destination in New England. In the case of the latter move, the shrink wrap was placed over crates in order to prevent water from interacting with the wooden boxes containing the equipment and seeping onto the equipment inside.

Transhield Inc., a company based in Jacksonville, Fla., offers shrinkable fabric for U.S. military equipment covers and military storage covers for protection for vehicles, heavy equipment and hardware from corrosion and environmental related damages caused by sun, snow, rain, salt spray or sand, especially during long term storage. Transhield provides a patented shrink wrap film that is custom-fit, lightweight and reusable. With custom-fit covers there is less taping, tucking and folding compared to other forms of packaging or covering, according to Bill Lowery, the company’s director of government programs.

The Transhield military spec product includes the company’s patented Adhesive Additive Delivery – Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor (AAD-VCI) system. “This provides 100 percent protection from corrosion during transportation and storage,” said Lowery. “The cover material is breathable and the special coating significantly reduces moisture and eliminates hardware corrosion while covered. The long-term preservation of military hardware with customfit covers is also an effective alternative to building large storage structures. The ultimate benefit is money savings and troop readiness.”

Transhield’s material is multilayer product which includes a polyurethane outer later and a shrinkable fabric inner layer. The inner layer is non-abrasive, said Lowery, and draws moisture away from the item being protected, thanks to the Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor that is mixed in with the adhesive which holds the two layers together. “The outer layer creates a barrier which stops moisture from getting in and prevents mold and mildew,” said Lowery.

Transhield covers have been used to protect equipment aboard the Navy’s 15 maritime prepositioning ships, vessels which strategically stage Marine Corps cargo at sea around the world, making the cargo readily available to warfighters who are flown into a theater of operations. They have also been used to protect Army and Marine Corps helicopters when not in use and waiting to be serviced.

Protective Packaging has had occasion to protect the equipment left behind by a Massachusetts National Guard unit that deployed to Iraq. “They left behind 25 fiveton trucks and 30 30-foot trailers, and they wanted them in pristine condition when they came back,” said Hanna. “Our team spent a week wrapping and we put protective covering around every single piece of equipment out there. Fourteen months later they opened it up and it was pristine. One of the maintenance officer said it cost him more to get a lug nut unfrozen than the cost of a cover.”

Economic is indeed one of the attractive features of using wraps and covers. “But it will never completely replace packaging,” said Hoover, “because it can’t withstand a blow. But it costs much less than crating, and it’s a lot quicker to do.