March 19, 2013 -- style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;">By Monique Randolph, Marine Corps Systems Command Corporate Communications
There was no fanfare or grand opening when the Gruntworks Squad Integration Facility opened the doors to its new digs in May 2012, but the occasion called for celebration—especially for infantry Marines.
Gruntworks was previously housed off base, but is now located directly across from the Marine Corps officer training schoolhouse—The Basic School—on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. The new location is more spacious and will save the Marine Corps more than $400,000 a year, said Mark Richter, team lead for the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad, or MERS, team at Marine Corps Systems Command.
The Gruntworks facility serves as a “workshop” for MERS, which manages the integration of all the equipment—from helmets and body armor to ammunition and batteries—for Marine Corps rifle squads, Richter said. The MERS team uses the Gruntworks facility to test existing and emerging equipment to help MCSC provide improved items to infantry Marines.
“Our team sits in on reviews for programs to make sure the human systems integration is done,” said Carl DeSantis, Gruntworks director. “We need to be involved at the very beginning of a program when things are in the prototype and design phase. That way we can make sure the Marine whom all the equipment is being laid upon is considered in the entire [acquisition] process, from concept to production.
“The program offices [at MCSC] are focused on whether a piece of equipment meets the specifications,” he said. “MERS is focused on how the equipment integrates with everything we already have fielded, as well as how it integrates with the human being.”
One way the MERS team addresses these concerns is through the human factors lab at Gruntworks.
The lab contains human factors data collection equipment, such as sensors that measure human anatomy, to help the team assess how Marines interact with their equipment whether they’re running, getting down into a prone position or trudging through the woods, Richter said. The equipment also helps them collect data about how various pieces of equipment fit different sizes of Marines—from the smallest female to the largest male.
Additionally, the lab includes heavy-duty sewing machines and a 3-D printer, which are used to develop prototypes for equipment modifications and designing new products, DeSantis said. Also in the works is an industrial textile pattern-cutting machine that will allow the team to receive patterns digitally, cut multiple layers of fabric at once and rapidly develop and test body armor prototypes on site.
Gruntworks also provides a collaborative environment for integrated product teams where MERS personnel work directly with product managers to develop new equipment, Richter said. For example, MERS is working with the Marine Corps Systems Command product manager for Infantry Combat Equipment to develop next-generation body armor.
“We have the complete suite of Marine rifle squad equipment at Gruntworks so project offices don’t have to incur the cost of maintaining their own,” Richter said. “We can fit Marines in complete combat gear and assist project offices with integration of the items they’re developing into the gear the rifle squad already has.”
Gruntworks has state-of-the-art 3-D anthropometry equipment that measures and documents human anatomy as well. The machine can measure everything from a Marine’s arm length and head size to the width and depth of the chest.
“This information helps us improve the fit of equipment like helmets and body armor,” Richter said. “It also helps us develop requirements for the seating and interface of Marines in new vehicle platforms, or platforms being upgraded such as the [Amphibious Combat Vehicle].”
Although Gruntworks is only about 70 percent operational now, the MERS team has big plans for the facility.
Unlike the previous facility, the new Gruntworks building is large enough to bring vehicle platforms inside. This will let MERS conduct assessments of the command’s vehicle programs on site. The team is in the process of acquiring a reconfigurable vehicle simulator, which is the hull of a military vehicle with movable seats, doors, and command, control and communication equipment components.
“The idea is to build the vehicle around the Marine,” DeSantis said. “In the past, we’ve built vehicles based on auto industry standards. Then we added armor, radios [and other components], causing the envelope inside the vehicle to decrease. Meanwhile, we were adding armor to the Marine, so he was increasing and becoming more and more jammed inside the vehicle. We’re trying to avoid that in the future.”
The simulator will also rotate and angle to simulate various situations and inclines Marines can encounter in combat.
“If you need to know how much force would be required to open the door of a vehicle rolled over on its side, or at what point a Marine would need some sort of mechanical assistance, the RVS can help us calculate that,” DeSantis said.
Additionally, the Gruntworks building’s multi-story capacity will accommodate the Operational Environment Simulator, planned for completion by the end of 2013. The simulator will include urban environments with doorways, walls, windows and even furniture unique to specific operating environments.
“The goal is to evaluate equipment in environments representative of the areas where we anticipate operating in the future—the Pacific, Africa and U.S. Central Command,” Richter said. “The OES will look, smell and interact like those environments.”
Once complete, the simulated environment will allow the MERS team to observe and record how Marines move and interact with the equipment they wear and carry in combat environments.
“We’re looking at things like how quickly the Marine is able to get through a doorway with his or her equipment, how the rifle interfaces with the body armor, or whether something interferes with or obstructs the Marine’s ability to engage a target,” Richter said.
The team can then use that information to make necessary modifications to existing equipment or recommend new requirements that better meet squads’ needs.
For now, the MERS team is focused on “putting the place together” and ensuring they get the facility enhancements they need so Marine Corps Systems Command can get Marines the best equipment possible, Richter said.
“When we look at equipment, there are three things we stress: simple, reliable and trainable,” Richter said. “You minimize the amount of training time a Marine needs for a piece of equipment by focusing on human factors and intuitive design.”
That is precisely what Gruntworks is here to do.