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TPI Cooling Vest (TPICV)

The Technical Products, Inc. (TPI) Under Armor Personal Cooling Vest (TPICV) is a personal cooling system designed to remove body heat by means of a fluid filled vest connected to a backpack-contained cooling system. The drinking water in the backpack is cooled/frozen and is used to cool the fluid that cycles through the vest, thereby cooling the individual Marine. The temperature of the coolant in the vest is regulated by a pump that controls the amount of coolant flow through a chilled drinking bladder, which doubles as cooling source and hydration system.

The vest comes in five vest sizes (S, M, L, XL, and XXL). Other components included with the system are pump assembly, backpack, four quick disconnect drain plugs, four quick disconnect caps, garment bag, large and small cleaning brushes, four "C" size NiMH rechargeable batteries, and four-cell battery charger.

Marines in today's conflicts are faced with unbearably hot weather, with temperatures up to 120 to 130F during summer months. Marines must drink a quart of water per hour, or 3 gallons of water a day, to keep hydrated and avoid getting heat stroke. Marines are even forced to stand down during the hottest hours of the day to prevent their bodies from overheating due to sun exposure and physical exertion. The heat is not only a health risk but can also affect morale and job performance.

While some Marine units have access to air-conditioning, most have no cooling system other than their own body's functions. The heat is compounded if wearing armor or sitting inside armored vehicles. Frozen gel packs, if available, can be inserted into pockets in flak jackets, but the cold is shocking and quickly runs out.

The US Marine Corps Forces Pacific (MFP) Experimentation Center (MEC) conducted a limited technology assessment (LTA) of the TPICV to assess whether the system is suitable for use by units in Iraq. The TPICV technology was inserted into a field exercise (FEX) at Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Center (MAGTFTC) at Twentynine Palms, Ca. during June 2004 with Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Service Support Group Fifteen (MSSG-15) designated as the assessment unit.

Seventeen TPICV systems, with eight participating Marines, were evaluated during the three-day assessment period. Weather during the assessment period was in excess of 100F each day. The military occupational specialties (MOS) of the target Marines were varied and included mechanics and supply personnel. None of the target Marines had access to air-conditioned facilities. Training was conducted prior to use using TPIprovided video and operator's manual. Data and feedback were collected each day over the assessment period through observation, interview, and survey forms.

As a result of the system's performance and collected feedback during this assessment it is felt that the TPICV ws not yet mature for military use. Survey results show that only 50% of users felt that the system effectively cooled them, while 38% of users had problems with their vests not cooling them properly. 12% of pump assemblies failed to work altogether.

Maintenance, which by experience took 30 minutes per system per maintainer, requires power, freezer, and laundry facilities on a daily basis if the system is used daily. The system lasted at most 5 hours starting with a completely frozen drinking bladder. The users were not able to drink from the system until the ice melted. Furthermore, because the Marine's drinking water is used to cool the fluid that cycles through the vest, as the drinking water is consumed so is the systems ability to cool.

Most users felt that the system would be more effective if the cooling time could be extended. While it was suggested that the user could "conserve" the ice by turning off the pump, the users did not do this because not wearing the system at all felt cooler than wearing the system while it was not cooling, so basically they would wear the system when they felt hot, then take it off after the ice melted. The amount of cooling the system can provide is limited by the amount of ice in the system, since the system does not "waste cold" by overcooling the user.

More users indicated that the system's drinking bladder alone, without the vest/cooling fluid, kept them cool. Cooling the Marines' drinking water by refrigerating, freezing or adding ice to their hydration bladders has as much cooling potential and may be just as effective a solution that requires less infrastructure and logistics support. The evaluators recommendation was that the TPICV should not be purchased unless improvements are made in the system's effectiveness, reliability and maintainability.




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