CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- An inventive kit that shortens logistics, simplifies on-site construction and allows for quick deployment of reusable and functioning shelters earned a patent in April for researchers at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.
To support both military and humanitarian operations, CERL Research Architect Justine Yu and Engineering Technician Tanner Wood received the patent for their Modular Assembly Shelter Kits, which feature the acronym of “MASh” as a salute to the name of Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals like those used in the television series M*A*S*H.
“I developed a desire to understand the ‘Points of Pain’ of the deployed Soldiers and researched their current approach to shelters. With that desire, my team and I comprised a list of shelter needs and did an architectural investigation to understand what is out there and what would best meet the goals on the list. With the architectural investigation complete, we realized not one concept would work individually. A combination of a few ideas as inspiration and some innovative design decisions resulted in the MASh Kit concept,” said Inventor Yu, a 10-year member of CERL’s Energy Branch.
With expertise in additive manufacturing and construction, testing and process design, co-inventor Wood served as a CERL contractor for three years before becoming a federal team member two years ago. “I would like to thank my team lead, Megan Kreiger, who helped me through some of the road blocks I had while I was refining the designs for the MASh Kit,” he said.
Yu said, “Conventional tents are heavy and bulky, less durable and require excessive space for transport to the point of need. Tents can be reused; however, disassembly and re-packaging are cumbersome and tedious. Lastly, tents have no ballistic resistance leaving the occupants in a very vulnerable state to enemy weapons fire and the blast radius of munitions. The notable characteristic of a tent is it is quickly setup without special construction skills.”
On the other side, Yu said, “Constructing longer duration ‘hardened’ shelters made of wood or concrete takes too much time and manpower to construct. The notable characteristic of these shelters is that they are durable and have some protective qualities.”
Wood pointed out that as a rapidly deployable expeditionary shelter, the MASh Kit is a modular hybrid between a tent and a conventionally constructed wood structure where limitations of each were overcome with the kit’s creation. Its construction does not require power tools or advanced construction skills, and the kit is reusable.
MASh Kit’s beginnings
From 2015-2017, CERL developed a news-worthy large scale 3D printer under the Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures program.
“We were able to create two 500 square-foot concrete structure proof of concepts. This technology is still under development for the intended use of the deployed Warfighter. After this project, there was a realization that this is great for missions that require longer durations, but we questioned ‘what about a more mobile force?’ and ‘What do they use for shelter?’ Tents or nothing! So a combination of a few ideas as inspiration and some innovative design decisions resulted in the MASh Kit concept.
“We developed this concept in 2018. We have small desktop models and digital models created. Our next goal is to print it full scale using ERDC-CERL’s large scale multi-material printer,” Yu said.
Commenting on creating the parts of the kit, Wood said, “Justine and I collaborated on the basic need and initial conceptual model, and I used my knowledge of woodworking joinery as well as 3D printing to design each individual refined piece. From there, prototypes were developed in the form of 3D printed scale models. Recently, we have begun work on printing the full scale components, and have successfully printed portions of the kit.”
Wood explained that an individual kit can be used as a small building, but because of its modular nature, multiple kits can be combined to increase the building size and allow for more uses.
How It Works
The patent application explains that the shelter kit includes headers, footers, upper horizontal beams, lower horizontal beams, roof, floor, and wall panels and vertical support columns. The horizontal beams have notched hooks which form cross joints when engaged with notched hooks of adjacent horizontal beams. The cross joints can be placed against the headers or footers, and caged into position by prongs of the vertical support columns.
“The horizontal beams can also include grooves for holding interior and exterior wall panels and interior ledges for holding roof and floor panels. Unique geometrically designed components offer deployed military or humanitarian responders with the ability to quickly manufacture and install such shelters in a wide variety of environments. Essentially, the kit can be used however it is needed in any configuration it is needed in,” Wood said.
Yu shared that an array of testing and demonstrations will be conducted at ERDC, adding that “these tests and demos will help identify areas of improvement, and we will continue to enhance the system until it fully meets the needs of the end user. The intended use is for military, as well as, disaster response and humanitarian relief operations. This modular construction allows the final structure to meet a range of functional, footprint, environmental, and user requirements for a rapid shelters in austere locations.”
This inventive team will be recognized later this year with patent plaque presentations by ERDC’s Office of Research and Technology Transfer leaders whose office coordinates patent applications for the organization’s scientists and engineers.