The Multi-Purpose Engineer Vehicle
May 28, 2010— St Thomas, Ontario
When military convoys need to leave a dangerous situation, they need to move fast. But the heavy excavating equipment the Canadian Armed Forces needs to help it do its job in Afghanistan and other combat environments hasn't been built for speed.
Thanks to Fred Smith, Vern Eck and the team at ARVA Industries Inc., the Canadian military now has a tractor that is a backhoe and loader, but which travels under its own power at convoy speeds of 110 kilometres per hour.
Called the Multi-Purpose Engineer Vehicle (MPEV), the excavator has a specially designed engine whose radiator system allows it to operate in temperatures ranging from -40 oF to 120 oF. The rollover-protected armoured cab is built to withstand the blast from roadside bombs. The MPEV was created to negotiate curves without leaning or bouncing, and can be driven by just one person. All that, and the MPEV can also fit inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft, the Canadian Forces' workhouse transport plane.
Now, Canadian soldiers no longer have to risk their lives by loading and unloading an unwieldy backhoe/loader from a trailer while their convoy is under fire.
"This is a remarkable Canadian success story," Smith says proudly.
Smith is the president and co-owner, with partner Eck, of ARVA, a small, 42-person firm based in St. Thomas, Ontario. The company took a major risk in 2002 by responding to the Canadian military's request for this special vehicle – a risk many companies would not consider. The military's contract called for a company to design, manufacture and test this new piece of equipment within a six-month window. It was a challenging request – could anyone manufacture the electronic diesel engine with the heating and cooling attributes necessary for a construction vehicle, as the Department of National Defence had specified? And given the timeframe, the MPEV would have to be made from conventional off-the-shelf components, which had never been designed to fit together. For a small company devoting the majority of its resources to this project, the risk of failure was high.
ARVA had a history of successful NRC-IRAP supported projects. But this time, "the NRC-IRAP team could also see that this was indeed a risky project." says Smith.
But ARVA's technical advisor with NRC-IRAP, Charlie Johnston, had faith in the company. And Smith, Eck and Terry McQuillen, the project manager, had faith in the ARVA team. So with the help of NRC-IRAP funding, in 2004, ARVA went ahead and built the first MPEV, which they then tested for 500 hours, around the clock, to make sure it performed to specifications. If the MPEV failed for more than four hours on any one day, the company would have to start all over again.
"We didn't have to start over. It worked like a Swiss watch," says Smith.
NRC-IRAP suggested that Finite Element Analysis (FEA) would be a very powerful tool enabling ARVA to further develop their rough concepts into a successful design. ARVA did not have this capability in house and asked NRC-IRAP for recommendations. With their personnel assistance and valuable guidance, as well as the funding they provided to us, ARVA was able to expand the scope of the FEA project and analyze more design alternatives," says Smith.
Smith also mentioned: "Meeting functionality within the weight restriction was very challenging and FEA proved a very worthwhile tool. The MPEV also needed to pass very demanding operational tests. The MPEV sailed through these tests with very few minor problems. These successes, in a large part, are due to the application of FEA during the design phase. "ARVA rebuilt the successful prototype as a production unit, and made a second one. By the third one, the MPEV turned a profit. To date, the company has built 30 of the $600,000 vehicles for the Canadian military, and is marketing them to other countries as well, including the United States.
ARVA is one of only three companies in the world that makes MPEVs, and the only one in Canada. It has won the praise of General Ray Henault, former Chief of the Defence Staff, who says: "The MPEV is globally deployable, able to operate in extreme conditions, and provides the operator with sophisticated protection from mine blasts. The vehicle will greatly enhance our operational effectiveness in the field."
ARVA, which also builds air transportable cranes and rail cars, is now working on the next MPEV innovation -- a remote-control system that would allow the MPEV to lead a convoy and take the brunt of roadside bombs, while being controlled by the vehicle behind it.
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