The Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (PCAPP) is destroying mustard agent stored in mortar rounds at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot. Specialized technologies are paramount to the plant’s operation. Some of the technologies 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 both the Enhanced Reconfiguration (ERB) and Agent Processing Buildings (APB), the main plant’s two main processing buildings. Operated by trained munitions handlers, the machines allow for the frequent movement of individual munitions without physical contact or lift-related strain. Lift Assists are used in moving munitions onto conveyors leading to the Projectile/Mortar Disassembly system in the ERB, and as part of the Munitions Washout System in the APB.
Some munitions, including those that have leaked in the past and are overpacked, as well as “rejects” whose condition does not allow for automated processing, are being destroyed in the PCAPP Static Detonation Chambers complex where Lift Assists are also used.
Each Lift Assist has the capacity to 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 are able to pick up munitions from floor height to as high as 4 feet.
Design specifications for the PCAPP Lift Assists required specialized gripping mechanisms, or end effectors, and enhanced safety features. These end effectors ensure that sufficient force is retained to prevent accidental release during munitions transfers and in the event that air pressure is lost.
The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives is responsible for completing stockpile destruction operations by the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment of Sept. 30, 2023. U.S. public law mandates stockpile destruction by Dec. 31, 2023.