Thanks to a U.S. Navy Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, contract, Natick’s Thermal Test Facility has a new, one-of-a-kind, articulating manikin to conduct flame and thermal testing on individual uniforms and personal protective equipment.
The Pfc. Joseph Ouellette Thermal Test Facility, known as TTF, is a joint Army-Navy flame and thermal research facility located at the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts and managed by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center for the Department of Defense.
The TTF features a state-of-the-art propane test cell, a laser and photonics lab, and three smaller laboratories designed to support the evaluation and characterization of flame and thermal threats on individual clothing and equipment worn by U.S. military personnel from each branch of the armed services, as well as civilian first-responders and law enforcement agencies.
The researchers from the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility (NCTRF) have worked collaboratively with their NSRDEC counterparts to test and evaluate the flame resistance and thermal barrier performance of military equipment and uniform items.
The Navy’s SBIR program has made an upgraded manikin possible, expanding the TTF’s testing capabilities to protect Warfighters from thermal threats both shipboard and on the battlefield.
The SBIR program is a highly competitive, awards-based program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal government research and development efforts that support scientific excellence and technological innovation with the potential for commercialization.
Under the Navy SBIR topic, “Development of an Articulating Thermal Sensing Manikin System to Predict Burn Injury in a Flame-filled Environment,” NCTRF led the development of a thermal manikin capable of moving its jointed limbs in order to simulate the animated state more realistically.
“The concept for an articulated manikin was a natural progression from a stationary manikin currently used for assessing individual garments and clothing systems,” said Tom Hart, a textile technologist with NCTRF responsible for the thermal testing of Navy uniforms and equipment at the TTF.
“Earlier attempts to produce an articulated manikin failed due to the complexity of the mechanism, syncopated motion and the extreme weight of the entire manikin,” said Hart.
“But we knew that using a manikin capable of simulating human movement would better represent a real-world scenario since in many circumstances, movement would occur during or after the exposure to the threat,” said Hart.
Hart explained that full-scale manikin testing first began using only stationary manikins to conduct flame and thermal testing on individual uniforms and personal protective equipment. However, Army and Navy researchers recognized that stationary manikins don’t simulate the kinetic human movement and dynamic fire scenarios that occur in combat.
So Hart and his NCTRF colleagues identified the need to assess materials in a dynamic, or stressed, state and emphasized the importance of this capability by submitting a white paper to their parent command, the Naval Supply Systems Command.
The proposed concept was selected and funded by the Navy through their SBIR program.
In turn, NCTRF established the parameters for the apparatus and wrote a request for proposals to industry. A down selection process was used to select the best small business and system. After a series of development phases, NCTRF took possession of the manikin in January 2017.
The new manikin is life-size and 3D-printed with a fire-resistant, polymer-based material and is also instrumented with 128 thermal sensors that locate, identify and characterize first-, second- or third-degree burns.
The new manikin offers the advantage of being lightweight enough to maneuver around the laboratory. Importantly, the design of the manikin and the supporting carriage allows clothing to be donned without compromising the upper torso of the garment.
“Currently, the garment has to be cut down the back to be donned and reassembled once it is on the manikin,” said Hart.
The overhead traversing mechanism was designed so that the manikin can be conveyed at a controlled pace through a series of flame burners over a 10-foot path to simulate a human moving through a fire.
“The articulating manikin also has a very unique capability, in that it can be placed in a seated position due to its jointed waist and knees,” said Hart.
“This is a capability not found elsewhere and offers researchers the opportunity to test clothing and individual equipment while simulating missions in an aircraft or vehicle,” said Hart.
These enhanced features allow researchers to better understand the thermal and flame resistance characteristics and performance of various textiles and materials from which uniforms and equipment are made.
“The use of a manikin, capable of simulating human movement, would better represent a real-world scenario since in many circumstances, movement would occur during or after the exposure to the threat,” said Hart.
According to the TTF’s lead textile technologist, Peggy Auerbach, NSRDEC has been supporting the five-year Navy SBIR effort to develop a smarter manikin made from a special, fire-resistant polymer with articulating limbs, and said that NSRDEC will have access to it alongside NCTRF researchers at the TTF.
“This is the only articulated manikin in existence capable of withstanding full-scale fire testing,” said Auerbach. “It was designed to be used either on the completed traversing system, seated, or positioned in the existing ASTM International F1930 test fixture in the TTF.”
ASTM F1930 test is the standard test method for the evaluation of flame-resistant clothing for protection against fire simulations using instrumented manikin systems, and it is routinely performed in the TTF’s main test cell.
In January, the Navy, in conjunction with the Army, tested the new manikin in order to verify the system functions “before, during and after” a four-second fire scenario — the minimum time to replicate the blast of flame and thermal temperature conditions experienced during simulated fire scenarios equivalent to a petroleum, oils and lubricants fire.
“A traversing system was also tested to allow movement of the manikin through a fire,” said Auerbach. “Both systems functioned properly.”
Hart is developing a test plan and data collection methodology to compare the new articulating manikin with the existing static manikin.
“One of our goals is to establish a correlation to the ASTM F1930, given this test method is the recognized test method since 1999,” said Hart.
“No data has been collected to date, but an active test regiment is planned for the third and fourth quarters of FY17,” said Hart.
The new manikin’s ability to simulate a more realistic environment for researchers to collect burn data gives Natick yet another way to protect American Warfighters.
“It provides a new testing capability to the TTF not available anywhere else in the world,” said Auerbach.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense