Material testing takes closer look at atoms

Joe Monchecourt
21st Theater Support Command

***image1***Finding small things, or microscopic misfits in this sense, can add up to huge savings for the U.S. Army when it comes to viewing the big picture of laboratory testing of oils and material.

“We save the government more than $8 million a year,” said Heidrun Bodeit, director of the Mannheim Laboratory Center, at Coleman Barracks – the place where the Army sends thousands of samples of lubricants and materials to be tested each year.

The lab, which belongs to the 21st Theater Support Command’s General Support Center – Europe, provides detailed analyses of oils and materiel, and as well as the testing of paint, enamels, varnishes and environmental pollutants. Through scientific processes lab technicians can spot contaminants and diagnose problems before they happen, allowing them to accurately predict the longevity of equipment.

“We can actually test everything except for food, water and medical supplies,” Mrs. Bodeit said, explaining that the laboratory center basically concentrates on two missions – the Army Oil Analysis Program and Material Testing.

“The AOAP involves testing samples from both aircraft and tactical and non-tactical ground end items, which are analyzed for quality assurance,” she said.

The AOAP is part of wider Department of Defense initiative that aims at pinpointing impending component failures through early detection. The AOAP, which has primary oversight in Europe, is a member of the Joint Oil Analysis Program that includes all the Armed Forces.

An oil analysis tells the customer how the equipment was used and its current condition, said Mrs. Bodeit. When moving parts make contact, wear occurs and miniscule metal particles can be found in the oil. Productions from combustion also become entrapped in the oil. The oil may also be exposed to external contaminants. In short, the oil becomes a working history of the machine and the chemists at the lab are the historians, so to speak.

The lab has 27 employees with roots that can be traced back to 1946, when maintenance personnel of the 60th Ordnance Group provided engineer equipment repair and overhaul support for Willys-Overland MB and Ford GPW. A few years later, the Ordnance Procurement Center was established with about 300 local national employees working in different branches.

“We are busy, even though the AOAP will be reduced due to new technology and requirements,” Mrs. Bodeit said. She envisions the material testing growing because of the new technology and the new requirements on the environmental side.

The lab is the only place in Europe where material testing is performed. The goal of material testing is to ensure serviceability and usability of supplies, avoidance of procurement cost, enhancing readiness and protecting the environment.

“The material testing involves cyclic testing of government supplies, inspecting testing of shelf-life items; procurement assistance and quality control of industrial operations,” she said.

There are cost savings to be realized in the material side as well. The lab touts the fact that it has shown that more than 70 percent of the samples tested there for shelf-life extension have shown positive results, allowing the government to save procurement money and reduce disposal costs.