NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application Brig. General James C. Dawkins, Jr., was at the Pantex Plant last week to present Defense Programs of Excellence Awards to more than 80 people for their efforts over the past year.
Dawkins presented awards to 88 members of five different teams who worked on projects ranging from metallography of weapons components to analysis of plastic bonded explosives to work on the B53 and B83 weapons. In his comments, he emphasized the importance of the work done at Pantex to help ensure the safety of the country through maintenance of an effective nuclear deterrent.
Dawkins was joined by NNSA Production Office Manager Steve Erhart and B&W Pantex General Manager John Woolery in making the presentations.
Warhead Measurement Campaign- B53 Nuclear Explosive Like Assembly (NELA)
The Warhead Measurement Campaign team exceeded customer expectations by providing extraordinary support of the Defense Programs/Nuclear Nonproliferation warhead measurement campaign. The WMC objective is to obtain a standardized set of signature data from the enduring stockpile and some historical U.S. warheads, pits, and canned subassemblies to provide enhanced predictive capability for the national security community.
B83 Production Team
The B&W Pantex B83 Production Team achieved a significant NNSA milestone following the authorization of the new B83 Tooling Upgrade process by successfully completing the B83 Surveillance workload in FY12. The B83 Tooling Upgrade team, in its implementation of the new process and tooling, was faced with numerous challenges and delays throughout, but remained focused on the goal. They worked diligently to overcome all obstacles and achieved authorization for the new tooling and process on April 26, 2012.
High Explosive Automated Machine Tool Team
The Pantex Plant’s High Explosives Manufacturing department implemented an automatic machine tool changer and tool identification system to increase the safety and efficiency of high explosive machining operations. As tools are being loaded, information programmed on an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip on the tool ensures the proper tool is loaded and programed for the needed operation. The shift from administrative controls to engineering controls saves time and improves the safety of high explosive machining operations. The tool changer was officially approved and in use for explosive machining operations in the 2nd Quarter of 2012.
Plastic Bonded Explosive Polymers Analytical Team
The Gel Permeation Chromatography (GPC) lab is an integral part of surveillance testing for determining the molecular weight of the binder in plastic bonded explosives. During FY 2012 the GPC lab experienced significant increase in workload. By implementing efficiencies throughout the lab more samples are analyzed in a shorter period of time and instrument calibrations time was improved by as much as 83% in some areas. These efficiencies allowed the GPC lab to meet the scheduled deliverables as well as unscheduled requests to analyze anomalous polymer samples. The GPC scientist presented two papers to the NSE community at the Polymeric Material and Adhesives Conference (Polymac) detailing the new, more efficient methodologies.
Metallography Laboratory Team
The Pantex metallography laboratory team significantly improved metallography lab efficiencies, provided cost savings to the plant, and improved safety in their work processes during FY12. Improvements were made in the preparation of Special Nuclear Material (SNM) metallography specimens resulting in a 50% percent decrease in overall cycle time and a 45% decrease in premium hours worked in the metallography lab. The team also researched and implemented reusable and user friendly silicon molds that could be removed from the cured epoxy by hand without the need for hand tools. This improved not only the safety of the process but also had an indirect effect of improving the overall specimen quality. Metallographic analytical results, in some cases, were given to the customer the same day as the specimens were received. Cost savings are estimated at $30K for just the Pantex metallography lab alone in FY 2012. In addition to the improved epoxy implementation, the metallography laboratory analyzed chain links from new and old hoists after new hoists began to show early wear that exceeded allowances. The team provided chemical analyses results along with recommendations for a solution to the hoist manufacturer and Pantex system owners. Based on the recommendations and the analyses performed by the metallography lab, the manufacturer agreed to provide funds to replace the hoists, saving the government $160K in FY2012 while ensuring weapons production activities requiring hoists were adequately protected.
B&W Pantex volunteers dish up barbecue at the recent Amarillo Chamber of Commerce Good Times Celebration and Barbecue Cook-off. For more than a decade, Pantex has been a leading contributor at the event, which is the Chamber’s largest fundraising event of the year. Pantex firefighters cooked up more than 500 pounds of meat for the cook-off.
Pantex firefighters flush water from a fire hydrant at the Plant this week. Each of the 250 hydrants on the Plant are flushed and tested annually to ensure they function properly and flow enough water to provide fire protection capabilities at Pantex.
By repurposing an old decontamination trailer, rather than buying a new one, B&W Pantex Radiation Safety personnel recently saved Pantex approximately $100,000.
In 2012, the search began for ways to improve the emergency response capabilities of the Pantex Radiation Safety Department with a mobile decontamination trailer. The purchase of a new trailer through the U.S. General Services Administration was approved at a cost of $122,000, but B&W Pantex kept searching for a less expensive alternative.
The search led to an available trailer already at Pantex that was in critical need of repair. After a lengthy search, employees from the Radiation Safety Department found a local business that could refurbish the trailer for $23,000.
The trailer is fully equipped with four showering units, water supply, self-contained waste handling, two 80-pound propane tanks and its own generator. It is intended for use in decontaminating victims in the unlikely event of a radiological or chemical accident. The trailer is currently slated to be used to decontaminate victims prior to moving them into the site’s medical facilities, but it remains mobile and could be used in other locations.
Through innovative thinking and a willingness to look for new solutions to existing problems, B&W Pantex personnel improved the radiation safety capabilities of the site while utilizing a local small business to control the cost of the project.
Fabrication capabilities and skillset unique to Enterprise
In a little-known world deep within Pantex, parts and tools are machined to perfection - in one instance to within 39 millionths of an inch - to ensure the absence of variation. Perfection is sought because these aren't just any parts and tools. They are fabricated, modified and repaired for work on nuclear weapons.
"Everything we do is related to a weapons process or supports it in some form or fashion," said Danny Brito, Production Tooling section manager. "Some of the tooling we fabricate is classified and must be made on Plant site. Onsite facilities allow for availability of resources and quick turnarounds."
Tools and packaging created at Pantex to service and protect our nation's nuclear deterrent at times require the use of unique processes and materials made exclusively at Pantex.
One such process used specifically by Pantex in the Machine Shop is called Lumiclading. It coats and protects aluminum alloys, is electrically conductive and provides a smooth and durable finish suited for use in tooling and tester parts for nuclear weapons. New within the last five years, the Lumiclad black oxide process is in demand both by national laboratories and the United Kingdom.
Working hand-in-hand with the Machine Shop is the Pantex Plastics Shop. Molds for parts are at times created in the Machine Shop, and then sent to the Plastics Shop for use. Other times, the Plastics Shop forms PVC using a vacuum process, then sends it to the Machine Shop to be cut to specification.
"The two craft shops openly discuss any issues and share their vast knowledge to ensure we all are successful as a team," said Jody Elliott, Production Tooling craft supervisor in the Plastics Shop.
Adiprene, the material used most often in the Plastics Shop, was created at the Plant nearly 40 years ago and is specially designed to protect nuclear weapons. With its various colors denoting hardness, or durometer, Adiprene is used to make seals, packaging and tools. Most recognizable of the products may be the red W76 nose cone.
When asked the "coolest" thing made out of Adiprene, Elliott said, "Believe it or not, spatulas to support operations where working with high explosives is a concern."
It's the people behind the products that make the difference, explained John Herrera, Production Tooling craft supervisor in the Machine Shop. "Excellent math skills, blueprint reading skills and computer programming knowledge enable our craftsmen and women to do this kind of work,"
The Machine and Plastics Shops have built a solid reputation at Pantex and elsewhere for quality, Brito said, adding that the traits shared by these unsung heroes that set them apart are their attention to detail, dedication to their work and holding themselves accountable to produce a high-quality product.