USAMMDA STEM Series: "E" is for Engineering
This article is part of our continuing series on STEM-related occupations within the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The acronym "STEM" is well known for describing the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. At the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, a strong foundation in STEM coursework remains critical to the organization's primary mission of developing and delivering quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of Service Members throughout the world.
In this four-part series highlighting the STEM-related work of USAMMDA, we will now consider the third component, Engineering, and how knowledge of this field remains vital to the ongoing work of the command.
Across our society, there are numerous definitions for engineering. With regard to the work of USAMMDA, however, the best description would have to include the design and creation of products that help to maintain the health and safety of our Warfighters across the globe — and these products may come in various forms.
To assist with this critical task, USAMMDA's Medical Support Systems Project Management Office oversees the command's Medical Prototype Development Laboratory, which is a high-tech engineering workshop run by a four-man team of engineering professionals. Led by Mark Brown, MPDL chief, the group is called upon often to solve the answers to logistical and mechanical problems that affect the health, welfare and readiness of our military personnel.
Brown said that he finds great satisfaction in designing mechanical items and solving the questions related to these. As the core of the engineering field involves all STEM areas, Brown believes that a firm grasp of these core competencies will better equip an individual to overcome the challenges faced daily in the field. He has firsthand knowledge of this, based on the work of his MPDL team in completing the tasks handed down to them.
"STEM concepts, especially engineering, are woven into nearly all of the activities we perform daily," said Brown. "Our work consists of developing concepts into products, and this involves using cutting-edge technology such as computer-aided design and manufacturing, three-dimensional printers, lasers, and computer numerical-controlled machine tools to design and fabricate precision components that we assemble to produce working prototypes. Although each project has different requirements, strength of materials, mechanics, statics/dynamics, physics, trigonometry and geometry are used often in the design and fabrication process."
Brown explained the engineering work of the MPDL team typically involves creating field medical equipment and unique laboratory testing devices that are not available "off-the-shelf." Some recent projects include the Sirkin-Hiles Rail System, or SHRAILTM device, which facilitates mounting commercial surgical accessories onto a standard NATO litter, and an automated bio-monitoring device that uses small fish (bluegills) to detect toxins in the water supply.
"In collaboration with our co-workers and colleagues, including engineers, biologists and chemists, the MPDL has been listed as a co-inventor on five U.S. patents to date," he said.
Clearly, engineering is an important facet of USAMMDA's work, but the MPDL is not the only place this knowledge is utilized. Within the MSS PMO, great feats of engineering also occur on a regular basis.
As a product manager within the MSS PMO, Jaime Lee's efforts help to progress the development and modernization of sets, kits and outfits, which include non-medical products in support of the military medical mission, such as shelters, medical treatment/evacuation platforms, power devices and HVAC systems — and engineering certainly plays a role in the realization of these critical items.
Currently, Lee is in charge of the TEMPER air-supported shelter project, which is critical to military medical readiness in the field.
"The Army Medical Department is procuring and fielding new TEMPER air-supported [TAS] shelters to replace aging TEMPER shelters that no longer pass fire-retardant requirements," said Lee. "These new TAS shelters are 50 percent lighter and can be erected 50 percent faster, and with fewer personnel, than the original TEMPER shelters."
Lee was tasked by the AMEDD to conduct testing on stocks of TEMPER shelters used in combat support hospitals in early 2012, and the results from particular lots indicated a failure with regard to fire-retardant capabilities. These findings prompted quick action by the Army to create the new TAS shelters to replace TEMPER shelters used over the last decade, and the solution involved a good deal of engineering expertise.
"The teams involved were tasked with refining the TAS shelters to meet the requirements of the AMEDD mission," Lee explained. "This called for numerous changes to the standard Force Provider TAS shelters regarding size, complexing, testing and meeting collective protection requirements — so completing the project did require quite a bit of engineering application and processes."
As these and many other advanced development efforts managed by USAMMDA involve a firm foundation in STEM studies, and engineering in particular, those interested in pursuing this field are encouraged to begin their STEM training as early as possible.
Going one step further, Brown believes STEM studies serve as the foundation for many other programs of study, and he offers very sound advice regarding this.
"I would highly encourage students to consider taking as many STEM classes as possible, especially those who may not be sure of their career path," he said. "This foundation of coursework offers so many options and will serve students well in many career fields. But for all engineering fields of study, STEM courses are core competencies."
While engineering expertise continues to remain critical to the USAMMDA mission, the fourth STEM component, mathematics, also plays a tremendous role throughout the organization. From financial budgeting to precise scientific calculations, we will reveal the importance of arithmetic to the men and women of USAMMDA in the final installment of this STEM series.
As a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, USAMMDA stands as the Department of Defense's advanced development activity for products to protect and preserve Warfighters throughout the world. USAMMDA remains the premier developer of world-class military medical capabilities, and the organization's efforts help to save the lives of Service Members, and civilians, each and every day.