The Rapid Equipping Force's Expeditionary Labs can make some handy little gadgets. Deployed to forward areas in Afghanistan, these Ex Labs, as they're called, recently ginned up a widget that can connect USB device chargers to a standard X90 military battery.
This is no big challenge state-side, but it's a bit of a challenge to make a ruggedized charger out in the hinter lands of Afghanistan. Soldiers are carrying more and more smartphones and other commercial gadgets into battle.
So last year, REF lab engineers, working on a request from soldiers, designed and built a plastic charger with an X90 port on one end and two USB ports on the other. They tested it, put a ruggedized shell around it and named it the X90 USB Power Supply device.
The REF deployed two of these highly-mobile labs to Afghanistan last year. These “Ex Labs” cost about $2.8 million each and include state-of-the-art equipment such as a Rapid Prototyping 3D Printer, a machine that can produce plastic parts that may not even exist in the current inventory. There’s also a similar device known as a Computer Numerical Control Machining system for producing parts and components from steel and aluminum.
In addition to the high-tech prototyping equipment, the labs include portable equipment carts filled with tools such as plasma cutters for precision metal cutting, welders, magnetic mounted drill-presses, electric hacksaws, routers, circular saws and jig saws.
“We can build stuff out of plastic; w can build stuff out of metal,” Master Sgt. William Pascual, operations NCO at the REF, said recently at Fort Belvoir, Va. “We can well, we can help with their electronic components … and we can help them with their kit work – say their is a certain part of their bag they need moved from one part to the other, we can do that as well.”
The labs also include satellite communications equipment for conducting video teleconferences with REF officials and engineers in the states. Once in theater, these expeditionary labs can be transported by truck or airlifted by helicopter to wherever they are needed.
In addition to this little charger, the REF Lab also used a similar process to design and build a protective, bolt-on cover for the air valves that protrude off of MRAP tires. These stem valves were breaking easily when the vehicles brushed up against dirt walls, causing the tires to go flat and bringing vehicles to a halt.