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Reusable Wooden Packaging Delivers Armored Cabs to Mid-East for Army
Stewart & Stevenson: Texas manufacturer develops innovative reusable wooden packaging to deliver its armored cabs for the Army to the Middle East.

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 11/1/2006

SEALY, Texas — When Texas-based Stewart & Stevenson recognized an urgent need to protect U.S. troops and trucks in the Middle East, the company quickly developed its Low Signature Armored Cab (LSAC). The LSAC was designed to be interchanged in eight hours with the standard cab on certain Army transport trucks – medium tactical vehicles. The armored cab provides critically needed protection to crew from assault rifle rounds, land mines and artillery fragments.

   “The project was quickly picked up by the military,” said Stewart & Stevenson’s Brian Hakala. “They wanted to get going on it, and get going fast.”

   Stewart & Stevenson, an integrated oilfield services company that was acquired by Armor Holdings earlier this year, has assembled about 32,000 medium tactical vehicles for the Army since 1991.

   Brian, a packaging specialist, became involved with the LSAC project in the spring of 2004. The company recognized it would need to package the cabs in containers for shipment overseas, and Brian’s group was assigned the task in the early stages of development. This presented a radically different set of challenges than packaging or pallet professionals face when they typically are brought into a project in the latter stages – or, as Brian joked, “When it is too late to fix anything.”

   “We had a short lead time,” Brian said.  “We were designing the packaging at the same time our manufacturing group was ramping up for production. As a result, we didn’t have the installation drawings as we developed packaging.” The process required a steady dialogue with manufacturing personnel to validate the container design.

   Working with Stewart & Stevenson on the container project was Advanced International, a freight forwarding company in Humble, Tex. Advanced International, which has partnered with Stewart & Stevenson for over 30 years, has two shops for constructing wooden packaging; one shop mainly does crates for military applications while the other makes containers for broader, commercial applications.

   Both shops, which typically build highly custom packaging for unique equipment that is shipped around the world, are equipped with chop saws, multiple radial arm saws, drills and other tools. Advanced International purchases lumber mill-direct, predominantly Southern Yellow Pine. It usually buys heat-treated stock to avoid the need to segregate stock in inventory. Advanced International, which also supplies container and pallet radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to military customers and provides on-site packaging services, employs about 40 people in the two shops.

   The container to ship the LSAC had to be transportable on an Army 463-L
pallet aboard a C-130 cargo plane, noted Don Marks, packaging specialist at Advanced International. Besides accommodating the shipment of the LSAC, the container also was required to be able to store the standard cab that was being replaced.

   Collectively, the design team included Stewart & Stevenson, Advanced International, and TACOM, the U.S. Army Tank, Automotive & Armament Command.

   “We really utilized the cube of the box very well,” said Brian. “Initially we packed parts inside the cab, but that wasn’t what we wanted to do because it is completely dressed out with seats, dashboard and controls. So when we got down to final production design, we didn’t put anything in the cab.”

   Designing a container to fit the pallet footprint “wasn’t that big of a deal,” Don said. “The bigger challenge was that we were not just packing the cab but also all sorts of add-on equipment that went with it.” The list of other equipment included battery armor, fuel tank armor, and air conditioning, as well as many other pieces of armor that were going to protect other parts of the truck.

   “It was a challenge to figure out what was going in the container on a day-to-day basis,” Brian noted. “There have been lots of changes in other projects, but this was a little different because the cart was before the horse.”

   “Normally when you have a big project,” Don added, “you lay everything out on the floor, and then you say, ‘This is what we’ve got. Now, what are we going to do with it?’ ”

   In this case, however, the daily changes to the container contents proved daunting. “We had a fixed container size,” said Don. “It couldn’t change, but it seemed like every day someone would come over with something the size of a Ford Falcon and say, ‘This has got to go in there.’ ”

   “It was a team effort all the way,” Brian said. The collective effort produced an award-winning packaging.

   Aside from daily changes to the contents, a TACOM program manager dropped another bomb on the design group prior to production: TACOM determined that the cabs might have to be stored for years in Iraq, so they wanted a container with a long life.

   “Initially I thought of engine containers, which are metal containers,” Brian said. “They are high dollar cans. We spent the next two weeks coming up with preliminary solutions, including conversations with a metal container manufacturer.”

   Some members of the design team had attended past conferences of the National Institute of Packaging, Handling and Logistics Engineers. One contact at the conferences proved particularly valuable for this project. Randy Dutton, vice president of FPM Inc., had spoken at conferences about Intercept Technology, a material that provides protection against corrosive gases.

   “Intercept prevents corrosion caused by wood emissions — in other words, organic vapor off-gassing,” Randy said. “Intercept Technology can revolutionize how wood crating is used with regards to anti-corrosive protection.”

   By removing corrosive gases trapped within wood packaging and preventing the migration of additional corrosive gases through the packaging, Intercept Technology products can provide a number of benefits for crates and containers and their contents, including as a:

   • Pallet sheet and pallet cover over a palletized load to prevent upward migration of corrosive gases and wind blown contaminants from and through the pallet

   • Corrugate or wood crate liner bag;

   • Bag to individually wrap components in a crate or box;

   • Liner installed on individual side, top, and bottom crate panels;

   • Protective envelope over a very large custom skid with mounted equipment;

   • Battery operated air purification system (Active Foam Filtration System) to purge the corrosive gases from an enclosed container.

   After looking at Intercept Technology, the team came up with the idea of lining the crate top and bottom with Intercept Technology material. The team made a presentation to Jim Russell, the TACOM packaging representative, comparing the cost of the wooden container with Intercept Technology lining compared to a metal container. TACOM decided to go with the wood container with Intercept Technology lining.

   “It did not require a long lead time and wasn’t cost prohibitive,” Brian said. The decision making process was facilitated by the fact that the military already had some successful applications with Intercept in marine applications.

   The LSAC packaging process was undertaken at the end of the production line, something new for the manufacturing group. Luckily, the pre-cut, ‘turn-key’ packaging system allowed for easy packaging of the LSAC units. The manufacturing personnel had never been involved with packaging before.

   “We had to set up a whole over-pack line,” Brian explained, “and teach them the basics.  They did a fantastic job and quickly picked up what we taught them about packaging. That was a big part of the story itself. We were averaging 15 to 24 cabs a day.”

   There was still one more bump in the road for this packaging project, however. While the container was designed with a 96-inch height tolerance to fit in the C-130 aircraft, another call from the government presented a new hurdle. The cabs would be shipped on Boeing 747s, which have slightly less height clearance, in order to fully utilize all pallet positions on the 747 aircraft, given the curvature of the plane. Once again the design team quickly came up with a solution, turning 2x4 framing on its side to shave off critical height and get down to 93-5/8 inches.

   About 2,000 cabs were built in a production run that spanned 2004-05. “Between Advanced and Stewart & Stevenson, we got it done,” Brian said. “Everybody knew how important it was to get these cabs out there, so everybody really put a lot of effort into getting it done.”

   The project team was recognized this past summer with two awards from the National Institute of Packaging, Handling and Logistics Engineers (NIPHLE). At the institute’s annual meeting, the first place award for the long-life packaging category went to the LSAC re-usable package design. The container also earned the ‘best of show’ award.

   After a full on-site review of the LASC reusable container design in Kuwait, representatives of the U.S. Army Material Command Logistics Support Activity, Packaging, Storage and Containerization Center in Tobyhanna, Penn. made the following statement in their report:

   ‘After a review of the process, it was determined that the repackaging process was perfect for the application. By originally designing the container to be reusable, the contractor was able to very easily ship the old cabs home at a minimum in labor and material cost. This is an outstanding example of reusable packaging at work.’

   The inter-organizational project team worked diligently to provide an optimal packaging system for the LSAC. It is a compelling example of how packaging providers, their customer, and the customer’s customer can work together for an award-winning result.

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