Science and Technology News

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making Ammunition Safer for the Warfighter with Thermal Indicating Paints

By Carla Voorhees

Dr. Giuseppe L. Di Benedetto is a chemical engineer at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) located at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ.  He is the ARDEC Technical Lead on the Thermal Indicating Paints program, as well as the Technical Lead on other materials related research and development programs within the Advanced Materials Technology Branch.

As a chemical engineer in the U.S. Army at Picatinny Arsenal, I have the opportunity to work on new and exciting materials research projects that address immediate and future needs of the warfighter.  However, when I started working at Picatinny Arsenal, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my new job in the Advanced Materials Technology Branch.  I was familiar with some of the research and technologies being developed by the group from meeting and talking to some of the engineers and scientists at conferences while in graduate school.  Yet, I didn’t know which topics and issues I would have the privilege to work on or how quickly I would be assigned to them.  Well, honestly, it didn’t take long for my knowledge and expertise to be utilized to address the important issue of extreme temperature exposure of ammunition during transport, storage, and pre-positioning and its potentially deleterious effect on ammunition safety and reliability.

It was documented during Desert Storm operations that temperatures inside munitions’ containers sometimes exceeded 190°F.  Storing ammunition at temperatures beyond design limits could compromise their integrity and performance and lead to increased safety concerns when the warfighter attempts to fire them.  There is currently no foolproof method to know whether or not the safety of ammunition has been compromised.  This is where we come in with a potential solution to the problem: Thermal Indicating Paints!

Thermal indicating paints are special formulations of paint that change color (typically from blue to red) when exposed to a set temperature range.  They utilize thermochromic polymers to help trigger the color change at varying temperature ranges and act as an inexpensive, easily readable indication system to monitor environmental exposure history of an item.  This will enable troops and munitions managers to readily identify ordnance that may have been compromised.  The formulations are developed under a joint research program between ARDEC, the Program Executive Office Ammunition (PEO Ammo), and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).  Dr. Zafar Iqbal and his students in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science at NJIT have been a key component to the development of thermal indicating paints.  Dr. Iqbal is not only a former Picatinny employee, but also a former professor of ARDEC project lead, James Zunino (Materials/Chemical Engineer), and yours truly!  Our past experience together has resulted in a rapid progression of the program and the establishment of a good rapport within the team.

Since 2006, many different formulations have been developed which cover varying temperature ranges and applications.  We have the ability to adjust our formulations to meet the needs of a particular application or issue.  Do you need the paint color to be reversible and transition back to its original color (typically blue) once it is no longer exposed to the target temperature?  Sure, we can do that!  Or, do you need the paint color to be irreversible and not transition back to its original color?  Yup, we can do that as well!  Perhaps you have a need to know how long something was exposed to the target temperature range?  Well, that is currently being developed as we speak!  Thermal indicating paints have vast potential, and we are only scratching the surface as to their expected benefits, capabilities, and uses.  So once we have tackled the issue of survivability in harsh environments for use on ammunition for the warfighter, don’t be surprised to see this technology expanding and benefiting your everyday life.

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