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Sunday, March 7th, 2021

Automated robotic demilitarization system touted

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Sandia National Laboratories officials are espousing the benefits of an automated robotic system that has resulted in 700,000 Multiple Launch Rocket System submunitions being demilitarized.

The automated system, considered the most complex, automated robotic demilitarization system Sandia has built in the last 20 years, is owned by the Army and located at the Anniston Munitions Center’s Multiple Launch Rocket System Recycle Facility in Alabama.

“This is exactly the kind of thing to use robotics for — to get humans out of harm’s way,” Bill Prentice, Sandia software lead for the project, said. “Let the automation of robots do what they do well and have humans make advanced decisions on safety.”

The work safely reduces the stockpile of Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions that have been in storage. This enables the Army to recycle rocket materials and provide capabilities that did not previously exist.

The Army can now recycle the rockets’ aluminum warhead skin, steel grenade bodies and copper.

“Part of the challenge is when you demilitarize warheads like this, you’re working on munitions that are 10, 20, 30 years old,” Prentice said. “You test on inert munitions that are in pristine condition, but when you start cutting apart warheads and looking at live grenades, they might have some environmental effects that cause process abnormalities, such as grenades being stuck together during removal.”

Speeding up the process of demilitarization also reduces costs, per officials, who noted the automated robotic system is designed to demilitarize up to 21 warheads per eight-hour shift.