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US Army Selects Eckhart to Improve Artillery Loading Automation

Ergonomics and Mechanical Assistance to Improve Rates of Fire

The US Army has selected Warren, MI-based Eckhart to design and build automation systems to increase its self-propelled howitzers’ rate of fire. Under the ‘SPARTN Fire Faster’ programme, the Army Applications Laboratory managed a competitive process in which hundreds of potential industry partners were evaluated before selecting and funding five companies to lead the artillery loading modernisation effort.

Handling and loading artillery remains substantially similar today to the situation over the last hundred years. Soldiers working in the cramped confines of the vehicle are tasked with completing precision movement of projectiles up to 50lbs without mechanical assistance. Fatigue and musculoskeletal injuries are common. The US Army recognised an opportunity to find solutions used in the private sector – specifically in manufacturing environments – to improve the situation. Chris Sankovich of the Army Applications Lab in Austin, Texas, explains “The opportunity to improve solider safety and efficiency within the self-propelled howitzer is a challenge that we felt is best addressed by identifying and selecting qualified industry partners. Our role is then to help take industry best practices and work with our cohort companies for timely and successful incorporation to the US Army’s howitzer systems,” explained Chris Sankovich from the Army Applications Lab in Austin, TX.

Eckhart sees many similarities between soldiers loading artillery and the ‘lift & load’ work conducted daily by its industrial customers. Travis Turner, General Manager of Eckhart’s Davenport Operations, observed “In the Fortune 500 manufacturing environment that we have operated in for over six decades, there is an intense focus on optimizing the safety, ergonomics, and efficiency of technicians who perform assembly tasks each day. The Eckhart team has deep expertise working within tight ergonomic windows, where thresholds define the maximum allowable weights that can be lifted before mechanical assistance or a robotic alternative is required.”

Eckhart’s expertise solving operator safety and ergonomic challenges on manufacturing assembly lines provides a great starting point from which to help the US Army deploy mature technology and automation to help our nation’s soldiers. “We’re excited to be part of such an innovative program that affords us an opportunity to bring disruptive technology to the US Army. All stakeholders involved are committed to reshaping how industry works with the Army and reuniting American innovation and national security through the joint-partnership of our collective team,” Turner added.

U.S. Army Soldiers with Battery C, 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Task Force Al Taqaddum, reload an M109A6 Paladin howitzer during a fire mission at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, June 27, 2016. The strikes were conducted in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation aimed at eliminating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Iraq further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert/ Released)
Improved ergonomics and the provision of mechanical assistance and automation will significantly increase the capability of the Army’s self-propelled artillery, including a substantially increased rate of fire. (Photos via Eckhart)

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