News | April 10, 2024

Lakehurst’s PHS&T Lab Keeps Military Cargo Moving Safely, Stored Securely

By Adam Hochron

Anyone who has purchased items online or from a store knows damaged or inadequate packaging often results in damaged contents. Proper packaging is often overlooked until there is a situation where the item(s) become damaged. For the Navy, improper packaging can result in loss of readiness as well as loss of capital. That’s why the work done by the Packaging, Handling, Storage and Transportation (PHS&T) lab at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst, New Jersey, is essential to supporting the warfighter.
The PHS&T lab tests barrier packaging materials and re-usable containers used for shipping Navy repairables worldwide, from items as small as a deck of cards to as large as a full-sized aircraft.
Along with ensuring the safety of items during storage and transportation, the lab tests barrier materials that protect items that are susceptible to damage from electromagnetic interference (EMI) as well as, static electric release events. In addition, the lab tests barrier materials that provide water and vapor-proof protection to items that are at risk for corrosion. Mitigating corrosion is an integral step in ensuring that the items issued to the fleet are ready for use.
The PHS&T lab has two locations at Lakehurst, building 333 for packaging materials testing and building 678 for container testing.

“Our standards are higher than commercial standards because our storage time and distribution environment is uncompromising,” lab manager Karen McDonnell said. “Our storage is not temperature and humidity controlled with a short shelf storage. Therefore, our packaging must be theatre-robust in all weather, and ready-for-issue after five, 10 and even 15 years of storage. Oftentimes, some may view proper packaging as more expensive, but the environment can be harsh and the items they protect are critical to readiness. In the long run, the packaging is negligible compared to losing an asset.”
“It all comes down to preservation and packaging. It all depends on the need of the item,” mechanical engineer Michael Ruff added.
The lab is currently testing Odor Barrier Bags that will hopefully provide the Navy with an additional manufacturer for food-contaminated plastic waste bags used on submarines. Waste management can be critical for the ship’s success as the crew can spend long stretches underwater without having a place to offload the garbage. The plastic garbage bags not only contain liquids but also prevents odors from spreading throughout the ship.
“Most people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a trash bag.’ But it is so essential that they can’t go on deployment without it,” Ruff said. “Most people look at it like it is regular plastic. But you can see how many different layers are in there.”
The lab also helped address a storage issue with bubble wrap used on ships where space is at a premium. The solution they found is a machine that can take what looks like a roll of regular plastic and inflate it into a very protective bubble wrap that can withstand an adult’s weight without popping.
“You go from this huge roll hanging from the ceiling to a roll that hooks onto this little machine, and it gives you as much as you need,” McDonnell said.
One difference between the more common bubble-wrap and what they tested in the lab, according to McDonnell, is that the commercially available version inflates the bubbles individually while the version they tested inflates whole rows to increase its strength and stability.

The lab also worked on another space saving system working with Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command and the Air Force to develop a Joint Modular Intermodal Container (JMIC). Unlike other storage containers that stay in one configuration taking up extra space on a ship, the JMIC collapses on itself and can be stacked for easier storage. The partners in the program all fall under the umbrella of PHS&T, which serves all of the Department of Defense.
Working on a much larger scale, the lab assisted in the preservation of an AH-1Z, a UH-1Y and a V-22 Osprey using a combination of desiccant, water vapor-proof barrier material and shrink-wrap. Ruff described the size of the bag used to enclose the aircraft as “enormous,” noting that the wrapping was more cost-effective than transporting the aircraft to another location for storage.
In addition to working with military partners, the lab also provides a unique capability with industry partners. When an original equipment manufacturer is developing a product that could be used for packaging, storing or transportation, the lab provides testing for the item and helps with development before making it available to the Department of Defense.
Adam Hochron is a communications specialist with Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst, New Jersey.