The Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (PCAPP) destroys mustard agent in projectiles and mortar rounds stored at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot. Specialized technologies are paramount to the pilot plant’s operation. Some of the technologies will feature “off the shelf” equipment adapted to the unique needs of the systems they serve. Such is the case with the device known as the Munitions Handling Lift Assist or more simply, Lift Assist.
Commonly known as Industrial Manipulators, these air-powered, manually operated machines enable the safe, ergonomic and efficient handling of material of nearly any size, weight, or shape. At PCAPP, Lift Assists play an important role in the main plant’s two processing buildings — the Enhanced Reconfiguration and Agent Processing Buildings — as well as the PCAPP Static Detonation Chamber units. Operated by trained munitions handlers, the machines allow for the frequent movements of individual munitions (some weighing up to 95 pounds each) without physical contact or lift-related strain. Lift Assists are used in the Munitions Unpacking and Projectile/Mortar Disassembly System in the Enhanced Reconfiguration Building, as part of the Munitions Washout System in the Agent Processing Building.
Each Lift Assist can handle loads up to 120 pounds at rates greater than 55 munitions per hour. The devices stand 12 feet high with arms able to reach out 10 feet. Lift Assists can pick up munitions from floor height to as high as four feet.
Design specifications for the PCAPP Lift Assists required specialized gripping mechanisms, or end effectors, and enhanced safety features. These end effectors retain sufficient force to prevent accidental release during munitions transfers and if air pressure is lost.
Workers who operate and maintain Lift Assists received hands-on experience using them with inert munitions during extensive training prior to chemical agent destruction operations.
Some munitions will not be able to be easily processed through the main destruction plant. These problematic munitions include those that have leaked in the past and are overpacked, as well as “rejects” whose condition does not allow for automated processing. These munitions are safely processed in the Static Detonation Chamber complex.