Leading the Charge to Innovation
When many people think of a laboratory, they think of high school chemistry class, mixing chemicals and using basic equipment like thermometers, beakers and Bunsen burners. What may not immediately come to mind are ballistic testing, outdoor blast, environmental conditioning and body armor testing.
Unless, of course, the laboratory in question is Chesapeake Testing in Belcamp, Md., near Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Considered one of the top ballistic and non-ballistic testing labs in the country, Chesapeake Testing is headquartered in a state-of-the-art facility that includes climate controlled, indoor firing ranges, a forced entry/ballistic range, a mechanical testing lab, environmental conditioning lab, X-ray/computed tomography scanning lab, and outdoor range capabilities for small and large caliber munitions and blast testing. The company is a leader in innovative efforts to protect warfighters and law enforcement; however, this Harford County company has expanded into other non-military business sectors with over 325 commercial customers and an eye on new business opportunities, including sports equipment testing.
And while Chesapeake Testing’s facility is impressive, it’s the talented engineers and staff that truly make this company a worldwide leader in its field.
Chesapeake Testing employs a youthful team of ballistic technicians and engineers with years of collective experience testing bullet-resistant armors, personal protective equipment and vehicle armors. These talented professionals are led by a team of executive professionals, all of whom are degreed engineers. “We understand the requirements to maintain an independent test environment, and Chesapeake is the premier independent National Institute of Justice-accredited testing lab in the United States,” says Chris
Schueler, vice president of technical operations. “With over 60 employees, and a comprehensive in-house engineering staff, we continue to improve our facilities, equipment and methodologies, which results in a higher quality of testing for our customers.” Chesapeake Testing has implemented a rigid Quality Management Program that is compliant with the requirements outlined in ISO/IEC 17025:2005 and has been accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation as a Ballistic Testing Laboratory. Chesapeake Testing is also certified by the National Institute of Justice to perform personal body armor testing under NIJ Standard-0101.06.
Heading up this team of young engineers is Schueler. With an engineering background, Schueler received his Lean Six Sigma Certifications at Ford Motor Company and plans to implement that mindset at Chesapeake Testing. His aim is to take the uncertainty out of testing and replace it with cutting-edge technology and a scientific approach to the processes and procedures employed in its operations.
“With defense budgets decreasing, we are looking to the future to branch out into international law enforcement markets and other commercial sports markets and become less dependent on Department of Defense work,” says Schueler. “This is a very dynamic group to work with, and we have men and women who are so good they really stand out as industry-leading professionals. In all we do, Chesapeake Testing maintains a high standard of work ethic and provides a customer-friendly work environment,” continues Schueler. “Our customers are encouraged to observe all testing, but we also have implemented a voice/video system allowing our customers to witness their testing live from their own office.”
Schueler goes on to note that he believes Chesapeake Testing is the leading innovator in ballistic and non-ballistic testing services. Since the company’s inception, Jim Foulk has instituted, and Craig Thomas and Carty Ingram have driven and nurtured, an entrepreneurial spirit that fuels the company’s everyday approach to meeting the needs of its customers.
“Our competitors claim that there is a lot of ‘Black Magic’ involved in testing,” Schueler continues. “We are driving ourselves to provide our customers with a consistent and predictable test allowing them to save money and, more importantly, reduce their risk.”
Chesapeake Testing has the added ability to deliver innovative technology tools like X-ray Computed Tomography scanning. This technology is similar to an MRI image one obtains at the doctor’s office, and provides Chesapeake Testing the capability to obtain microscopic detailed 3-D images of the internal dynamics of materials and products, thus eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming destructive inspection. The company regularly utilizes this technology to provide quality inspections for customers prior to machining, to determine the material composition, to aid in failure analysis, as well as to solve geological mysteries for customers like the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Navy.
A Team Effort
The team that reports to Schueler includes Chris Peitsch, non-destructive testing/computed tomography X-ray manager; Cameron Showell, environment/materials manager; Kyle North, outdoor test operations manager; and Carty Ingram, ballistics range manager. Chesapeake Testing takes great pride in the fact that its senior staff serves on numerous specification and standards committees that provide guidance to the greater ballistics community.
With a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland and X-ray imaging training, Peitsch is responsible for planning, growing and sustaining the non-destructive testing division, including XCT scanning. “The process is similar to a medical CAT scan,” he says. “However, we can use more energy, and can take the time to produce data that has a much higher resolution.” Put another way, that means it is possible to determine where there are internal structural flaws that cannot be otherwise identified short of destroying a sample to view its internal composition. Peitsch adds that the technology is of particular interest to those in the aerospace and manufacturing sectors. “When it comes to the aerospace industry, everything needs to be lighter,” he says. “Our customers are working with new materials and processes, and it’s imperative that they understand, on a very high level, how everything comes together.”
Peitsch notes that while the company has had this technology for three years, in that time he has seen this technology become more widely accepted. It is also made possible because computers are now able to interpret the data XCT provides in a way that was nearly impossible as recently as five years ago. “Much of what we do is help educate our customers on how to make the best use of the data and to understand what it really means,” he notes. “In the end, our customers are the best experts when it comes to their products.”
Peitsch also makes use of BEMISTM (Bore Erosion Measurement and Inspection Services), an advanced inspection tool that uses lasers to map the inside of a gun barrel. “The wear that occurs inside of a gun barrel has historically been a very tricky thing to measure. This technology is the industry’s best and most precise method, eliminating user error through innovation in technology. We currently use this system in-house to perform detailed analysis on all of the gun barrels that we use in our day-to-day ballistics testing, to enhance our quality management efforts as it relates to consistency and repeatability in our test ranges,” Peitsch says.
After a one-year internship with Chesapeake Testing and a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Delaware, Showell was hired full time and given the task of establishing and expanding the company’s environmental/materials testing division. This division is responsible for various environmental and blunt impact simulations, tension and compression testing, and characterizing design properties on personal protection equipment including helmets, body armor and pad systems to numerous specifications.
“Our work uses machines that mimic real-world scenarios,” says Showell. “That would include traffic accidents or blunt trauma injuries. Our work is primarily for defense contractors, the military, universities and private industry research and development programs.”
Showell notes that his division’s primary goal is to work with customers to deliver a variety of services to help them test and/or validate product design. “We try to accommodate any test request and product requirement, no matter the complexity and strive to be a one-stop-shop for all testing requirements.”
Chesapeake Testing has also extended its reach into sports testing, in accordance with the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). “This is a national group that regulates all sports equipment that is used by little leaguers to recreational and professional players,” Showell says. “We are determined to meet standards that use the latest technology, rather than just doing the same old thing … this work is really part of my generation and not what was done 30 years ago,” says Showell. The long-term effects of traumatic brain injury in modern sports are driving the protection community to develop and test more effective safety equipment. These innovations from the universities and private sector R&D efforts must be rigorously tested to confirm their performance. Chesapeake Testing has invested in the equipment and training to provide these test services.
North, equipped with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, focuses his efforts on strengthening Chesapeake Testing’s capabilities in the outdoor testing arena and special weapons testing. “Current technology and instrumentation allow for greater precision and repeatability in testing,” he says, adding that by working with high-speed video cameras, he is able to measure the recoil of a weapon in slow motion – doing so makes it possible to determine the best ways to measure the performance of a weapon.
“Unlike other test labs, our engineers are able to collaborate and utilize multiple skill sets to best design a test around a customer’s requirements. This allows for each unique customer to receive efficient testing services and accurate data collection and reporting. By doing this, we are able to save our customers time and money. We satisfy their testing goals, and in the end strengthen our relationships with customers,” says North.
Ballistics Range Manager Carty Ingram supervises a total of eight ballistic ranges and is the person who keeps everything running smoothly. “I deal with all customer interaction and design and execute the testing depending on the customer’s need, from torso and head protection to transparent armor and vehicle armor,” he says.
Being one of the driving forces of Chesapeake Testing from its inception, Ingram continues to develop new business and maintain positive relationships with all customers.
Ingram also sits on the stab committee for the National Institute of Justice as an industry specialist, as well as the American Society for Tests and Measurements. “The NIJ sets test standards that certify us to test to their protocols,” he says. “I am very proud of the positive growth that Chesapeake Testing has seen over the years, due in large part to the quality people we have working for us. It is because of their integrity and commitment to quality that we have return customers who regard Chesapeake Testing as the premier laboratory in the industry.”
Ingram’s biggest challenge? “Educating customers to the dynamics of projectiles and how they affect armor,” he says.
Looking to the Future
Schueler believes that the future of Chesapeake Testing will be driven by its energetic staff of forward-thinking engineers and process professionals. Every day the playing field becomes clearer, as the world becomes more aware of the tragic and long-term effects of repeated head trauma to athletes in contact sports. Chesapeake Testing’s experienced engineering staff is self-motivated to drive the community in the investigation and mitigation of these types of injuries. “We are currently accelerating our efforts to move into the forefront of those issues that potentially affect every family like concussion and traumatic brain injury,” Schueler says. “We have invested in the latest sports equipment testing technology, including drop towers and a new linear impactor to perform NOCSAE and DOT testing. And, we will continue our proven methods in ballistics, testing the personal protection equipment worn by our warfighters and law enforcement officers.”
With all this sophisticated equipment and top-notch engineers, it’s clear that this is no ordinary laboratory. I95