Packaging Military Equipment for Overseas Shipment

by Steve Hanna

    Nearly 25 percent of the technical equipment shipped to the Middle East for the Gulf War was inoperable when it was unpacked. This happened because the equipment was not packaged properly before it was shipped. What might have been suitable packaging in the United States could not withstand the fine-grain sand that is constantly in the air throughout the deserts of the Middle East. All of the equipment had to be cleaned extensively before it could be put into operation.

    This is only one example of one of the biggest headaches that military logisticians encounter when moving sophisticated equipment around the world. Manufacturers spend millions of dollars designing the equipment, yet they often overlook the importance of properly packaging their products once they are ready for shipment. For example, should the packaging for a weapon system going to the nearest military installation for testing be the same as the packaging for a weapon system that is to be stored for 10 years in a bunker in the Middle East? The obvious answer is "no." Yet, many manufacturers pack equipment the same way regardless of where it is being shipped or how it will be stored.

Environmental Hazards

    Because many factors can adversely affect today's weapons, they must be protected from a full range of environmental stresses. Protection from contaminants such as sand and dirt is relatively easy, but corrosion and static electricity provide a greater challenge.

    A person touching a product can generate up to 10,000 volts of static electricity. In documented instances, munitions have exploded accidentally because of static electricity built up in the air. Certain everyday packaging materials, such as poly and cardboard, can increase the presence of static electricity greatly.

Packaging

    Sealing a product inside a poly bag will not protect it from moisture and corrosion. A poly bag enhances condensation within, and a metal part enclosed inside a poly bag will have visible rust within 2 days in a high-
humidity environment. This happens because polyethylene and polypropylene—the main ingredients of a poly bag—are porous and allow moisture to be transmitted through the material.

    A product wrapped in plastic, surrounded by foam, and placed in a wooden crate will have absolutely no protection against corrosion and static electricity. However, many packaging materials on the market today provide excellent protection against moisture and static electricity. These packaging materials meet certain military specifications for being either antistatic, static shielding, moistureproof, or all of these. For example, the bag that stores the Joint Direct Attack Munitions weapon system made by Boeing must maintain an interior humidity level of less than 20 percent and also dissipate a static charge of less than 1012 ohms per square for a period of 20 years.

    The packaging industry has been tremendously innovative in the past 5 years because it had to stay abreast of today's sophisticated weapon systems. Protecting a product from damage if it is dropped or hit is only the beginning. More weapon systems have been deadlined because of corrosion or other defects caused by airborne elements than because of physical damage sustained when dropped. A simple, correctly designed, flexible bag can provide greater protection from these elements at a lower cost than a metal container.

Determining Packaging Needs

    To determine his packing needs, the logistician should look at the materiel that will be shipped and determine what elements could affect its operation adversely. Those elements could be mold for food or clothing, corrosion for metal or electrical connections, or static electricity for capacitors or computer chips. This process will lead to a selection of packaging that will protect the contents from all potential hazards.

    Nothing is worse than transporting products halfway around the world and discovering that, due to poor packaging, the product is worthless. Determining packaging needs before shipping will help ensure that soldiers have the equipment they need when they need it.  ALOG

    Steve Hanna is the president of Specialty Bags Corporation in Dallas, Texas.