by Paul Lamonica, 2012 Summer Intern
This year, the B&W Pantex Plastics Shop began formulating a new method of mixing polyurethane molded parts for explosives, coatings, seals, cushions, tool covers and more. The old method consisted of mixing the components in a generic “ice cream bucket.” After the correct amounts of materials were mixed together, the mixture would be carefully injected into the mold to form the needed part.
At first glance, this process appears simple, but it took approximately two to three hours to make one mold. In addition, the cleaning process could expose people to hazardous chemicals. Some of the molds formed bubbles and voids after the mixture was injected. After rising concerns about the old mixing method, the Plastics Shop knew that it was time to start researching better
Months were spent researching solutions, and the group discovered a revolutionary type of mixer. This eco-friendly system, known as the dynamic mixer, resolved all of the previous problems with the ice-cream-bucket method.
When the dynamic mixer arrived in February, the Plastics Shop teamed with West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) to give students the opportunity to be engaged with this research. The mixer is residing at the university for research purposes, and Stephanie Steelman, a polymer chemist in the Explosives Technology Division, is the project manager and principal investigator for the
Devin Cook and Matt Dolezal, both mechanical engineering majors at WTAMU, have been working on this project since the beginning of this year.
Cook, a senior, has been working on the mold designs and optimizing software specifically for the dynamic mixer. “Engineering today is mainly done on computer, and having knowledge of all this software and technology will benefit me in the future,” said Cook.
Dolezal, who graduated from WTAMU in May, has been working with the mechanical engineering and chemistry research of the project, although both work together on all areas of the project. “I really enjoy how much I’ve learned from this experience; I think the knowledge and
skill sets I’ve gained will help me greatly starting my career,” said Dolezal.
Using the dynamic mixer, it now takes only a few minutes to produce each mold. There is minimal cleanup with no exposure to chemicals and there are no bubbles within the mold. The largest mold, which takes about five pounds of material, requires only three to four minutes to fill.
The project will be finished later this year, and the mixer will reside at Pantex starting sometime in March. “The new mixer will save the Plant money in the form of time, raw materials and personnel resources,” Steelman said.
Each year, the old method cost to the Plant is approximately $100,000 just in packaging and weighing materials for the Plastics Shop to use. The dynamic mixer will allow the Plastics Shop to decrease raw material and rejected parts by at least 80 percent and reduce employee hours and resources repackaging raw materials, said Steelman.
by Lauren O'Brien, 2012 Summer Intern
The summer intern program is one of three student work programs B&W Pantex offers. It has been implemented nine out of the 11 years since B&W Pantex took over the management and operation of the Plant in 2001, and the Explosives Technology Division has had at least one intern each year.
Mike Whitley, program manager in the High Explosives Engineering and Physics Department, said several summer interns have come back multiple times, and some, like Amanda Wiggins, who is now a section manager, have returned as full-time employees. Whitley believes this program is “definitely” beneficial to the organization.
“It gives interns exposure to what we do out here at Pantex,” he said.
One such intern, Charmaine Gobert, a first-time intern for Explosives Technology, is attending McNeese University with a major in chemical engineering. During her internship, she worked on developing piping and instrumentation diagrams for formulation processes. She also has been researching cost and design aspects for future synthesis operations. Through this experience, she enjoyed “being able to see [her] books come to life” as she worked.
“This internship has allowed me to make more sense of the principles, equipment and techniques I’ve only been able to see on paper,” Gobert said.
Another intern, Edward Flores, is majoring in mechanical engineering at Texas Tech University. This summer, his second at Pantex, he worked on a project involving a rigid-arm pendulum.
“The [apparatus] is used for skid testing of high explosives (HE). A piece of HE that’s placed in the pendulum arm is dropped at different angles and tested to see the ignition point and the ignition size of the HE after the rubbing of the two surfaces,” Flores said.
He enjoys working on Professional Engineer (Pro-E), which is a program that allows him to create two-dimensional drawings, three-dimensional images and complete virtual assemblies.
“My favorite part of the internship is getting to see several different explosions at the Firing Sites,” he said.
Both Gobert and Flores would like to return as full-time employees after they graduate this year.
“I have really grown to enjoy the environment Pantex offers,” Gobert said. “The work performed here is very interesting, and the people are genuinely quite friendly and helpful.”
John Woolery, B&W Pantex President and General Manager, believes the internship program is “super valuable” to the organization as it looks for prospective employees.
“We get a chance to check students out… and make sure we get the best and brightest,” he said.
Pantex Engineers Host Workshop for Girl Scouts
Don’t tell the young women engineers at Pantex that engineering is a career for men only. They just spent their Saturday making sure that old-fashioned notion winds up in the dustbin of history.
The half dozen young Pantexans, all around their mid-20s, put on a workshop called “Smart Cookies” to show more than 40 Girl Scouts that engineering is a great career for everyone, especially young women.
“There is no doubt that engineering has traditionally been viewed as a man’s career field, but that is changing,” said Savannah Gates, a process engineer at Pantex. “We want to continue that transformation by encouraging these young women to join us in the engineering field.”
Gates was joined by her fellow engineers Ashley Latta, Brandy Ramirez, Sarah Cox, Jessie Phifer, Raquel Barrera and Halianne Crawford in organizing the workshop. The Pantex engineers demonstrated the principles of a variety of types of engineering, including electrical, mechanical, civil and chemical.
The activities ranged from making a homemade battery from foil, pennies and paper towels soaked in a vinegar-salt solution to building cars powered by the kinetic energy of a mousetrap. The mousetrap cars proved so entertaining for the Girl Scouts, and took up so much of the day, that the women engineers were forced to postpone several other engineering activities that will be used as the basis of a second workshop later this year.
“It was amazing to see how excited these young ladies were to learn about engineering,” Phifer said. “You could tell our message really resonated with them, so I’m hopeful that some of these girls might be working with us as engineers at Pantex one day.”
On the storm-wracked plains of the Texas Panhandle, it pays to be ready for severe weather. The Pantex Plant has risen to that challenge, once again earning recognition from the National Weather Service (NWS) as a StormReady site.
“Pantex was one of the first entities of its kind to become StormReady,” said Jose Garcia, meteorologist in charge of the NWS’s Amarillo office. “Pantex is a special facility, and it is important the public knows it is prepared for severe weather.”
Garcia and other NWS officials were at the plant Wednesday to present Pantex officials with the recertification. He said StormReady status indicates Pantex has the weather sirens, shelters, notification technology and emergency response infrastructure to respond effectively to severe weather.
The StormReady program started in 1999 in Tulsa, Okla., and has since grown to encompass more than 2,000 sites. Pantex was the first nuclear site to earn the designation and remains one of only a handful that has achieved StormReady status.
Alonza Campbell, manager of the Emergency Management Department at Pantex, said the Plant has a long history of working hand-in-hand with the community. Pantex maintains contact with the NWS to anticipate storms and other inclement weather conditions. Pantex even uses and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios to alert residents living near the plant of emergency conditions.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility to our neighbors to be prepared for all types of emergency situations,” Campbell said. “In this part of the country, severe weather is a fact of life and it is one of the potential risks we have to be ready for at all times.”
Pantexans again hit the road Friday, December 7, to raise awareness about hunger in the Texas Panhandle during the second Pantex Run Against Hunger. Byron Logan, an officer from the Pantex Safeguards and Security Division, escorted by four coworkers and a Bearcat armored vehicle, made a 40-mile bicycle ride from Pantex to Panhandle schools and then to Highland Park schools. While at the schools, the Pantexans encouraged the students to support their schools’ food drives and the importance of giving to those who are in need. The students then had an opportunity to explore the Bearcat.
At Highland Park schools, four Pantexans took to the road for a 20-mile run to the High Plains Food Bank’s food drive collection center in Amarillo. Other Pantexans and family members joined them along the route. A group of Pantexans meet the runners at the food drive finish line, where they presented a $4,300 check to the food bank. The donation was from Pantex employees to support the runners.
The Pantex runners were Logan, Randy Stokes, Cliff Cawthon and Sherry Philyaw. Darla Fish joined them for the last five miles of the run.
“We wanted to do something to help people in our community who are struggling,” Logan said. “We run long distances, and we wanted to use that skill to raise awareness about hunger in our area.”