In a world fraught with natural disasters and unexpected events, there will always be a need for shelter no matter the circumstances. The necessity for emergency shelters can be found in instances such as natural disasters, airplane crashes, and people stranded outdoors, and search and rescue missions. In emergency situations, reliable shelter could be the difference between life and death.
Generally, emergency shelters fall within two categories: fast and light or sturdy and heavy. Fast and light shelters tend to be flimsy due to their lightweight nature, are prone to failure, and lack insulation. Sturdy and heavy shelters require significant time to set up and have a large storage footprint. Emergency shelters currently available fail to provide a comprehensive shelter that is lightweight, sturdy, insulated, reliable, and quickly set up.
The Foam Home team aims to create the Rapid Foam Shelter to meet criteria such as a maximum shelter weight of 15 lbs, have at least a 3:1 expanded to packed ratio, be more insulative than a standard tent or emergency bivy, and be deployable without the use of hand tools within 1 hour. Other included criteria are more in line with the rest of the industry such as being weather resistant, brightly colored, and able to accommodate at least one clothed 90th percentile male.
The Rapid Foam Shelter belongs to the emergency management industry. In this industry, companies have created products to alleviate the struggle of survival in emergency situations such as shelters of varying weight, size, and shape, or emergency prep kits such as first aid kits or roadside emergency kits. Since the Foam Home team aims to design a shelter for entrance in the emergency management industry, the team performed an in depth analysis of the emergency management market including SWOT analyses for identified competitors. The team also determined necessary product design specifications, and classified possible hazards for the product application. Foam Home’s competition falls within two separate shelter categories: fast and light, or sturdy and heavy. On the fast and light side of the industry, the main competitor is Zumro, whose air shelters have automatic deployment with a pre-assembled one piece design, come in a lightweight compact storage, and allow for customization of their emergency shelters. On the other hand, the competitor for sturdy and heavy emergency shelters is Intershelter, whose dome shelters are extremely strong, fire resistant, insulative, and have a long life expectancy. As for the buying patterns of emergency shelters, the demand for shelters usually peak whenever any type of disaster occurs. The distribution pattern for the emergency shelter industry is through sporting goods stores and other retailers that sell camping and outdoor accessories. For example, stores like REI or Scheels would be places to find emergency shelters.
Proof of Concept
The Rapid Foam Shelter (RFS) is a shelter designed to be deployed in the event of an emergency to prevent loss of life due to exposure to the elements. As such, it is paramount that the shelter be proven effective in harsh environments that include temperatures ranging from -10°F to 120°F, winds up to 50 mph, and heavy precipitation. Additionally, since the shelter is designed to start from a compacted state and expand to a fully deployed size, it is imperative that the deployability of the shelter be proven. The proof of concept for the RFS will include deployability testing to ensure the shelter can be deployed with both the CO2 automatic deployment system and the self-inflating properties of open cell foam as well as cold and wet environment testing to validate the insulating properties of the shelter design. The cold and wet environment testing will have a test user inside the shelter with a data acquisition system and vital sign sensors to track the internal temperature of the shelter and state of the user. As designed, the RFS should be able to pass the proof of concept tests and have the ability to be used in real-world emergency situations around the globe.
While the concept for the Rapid Foam Shelter (R.F.S.) is applicable to nearly any shape and size product, the final design will take the form of a traditional bivy sack; a semi-cylinder that provides just enough room for one person—up to a 90th percentile male—to lay down and be sheltered from the elements. The R.F.S. is designed to provide 100% reliable shelter from rain, snow, sleet, and hail in a package weighing less than 30 lbs that is easily transported and deployed by one person. The key aspect of the R.F.S. is its insulative design; a foam lined, CO2 filled wall on all sides of the user that is designed to create a survivable environment in temperatures as low as -10℉. Open cell foam provides for structure, stability, and comfort in inclimate conditions ensuring the shelter will function even in the event of a puncture. CO2 gas provides a thermal barrier more effective than traditional air filled sleeping pads with the convenience of automatic deployment and the protection from puncture and asphyxiation due to the high strength ripstop nylon wall material. Pre-deployment, the R.F.S. is vacuum packed into a small carry bag, utilizing a common Schrader valve to evacuate all air from the walls of the R.F.S. allowing the shelter to be highly compact during storage and transit. During deployment, the user simply removes the R.F.S. from the carry case and uses the included CO2 cartridge and cartridge tool to rapidly inflate the shelter via the same Schrader valve. With this design, the R.F.S. is reusable by purchasing 16g CO2 cartridges commonly found at sporting goods stores. The R.F.S and carry case are made out of flame-retardant, weather resistant, brightly colored materials which allows the end user to easily locate and use the shelter while being highly visible for rescue.
The purpose of the RFS shelter is to provide an easily deployable, insulative shelter that functions as a sleeping bag, pad, and tent while being lightweight and compact in its stored state. The utility to the consumer will be the R.F.S’s simple all-inclusive nature, as a separate sleeping, pad, and tent, and sleeping pad will not have to be bought, stored, or carried. Finally, the integration of these components allows the product to be lighter and more quickly deployable than the sum of its parts—a priceless feature in an emergency situation.
Assembly and fabrication of the Rapid Foam Shelter (R.F.S.) is tailored towards ease of assembly by fabricating it as a single piece, efficiently using the base materials, and also simplifying the inflatable structure. Assembly of a finished R.F.S. via a single piece is accomplished by creating the entire tent structure similar to how a box at the post office is made. The 3D structure is created as a single flat sheet, and then “folded” into its 3D shape (Fig. 1). This method saves material, increases strength, and retains insulative efficiency of the structure. It also allows all sections of the tent that are to be filled with CO2 to be interconnected and filled by one valve. The final dimensions and fit are ensured by creating the structure as a single piece, instead of creating several pieces and interconnecting them all.
The structure is laid out as in Fig. 1, with cut foam pieces in between two layers of fabric. Holes are marked, valves attached etc.…, and then it is sealed up via the application of a sealant and heat. The zipper is then attached to the radius of the end cap and the roof it interfaces with. The structure is then folded into its 3D shape and overlapping edges are sealed, creating a ready to deploy RFS. It is then vacuum packed into its carry case.
Testing and Results
Testing for the RFS prototype was done qualitatively more than quantitatively. The test plan for the product was to ensure that the RFS could hold CO2, deploy and be reused, pack into a duffle bag that was 1/3rd the expanded RFS size, and ensure a comfortable experience for the user. These criteria are based on the more tangible requirements of the project design specifications developed for the RFS.
Once the RFS prototype was completed, the shelter was deployed, compressed by hand, and re-deployed several times via a large CO2 canister. The shelter lost a small amount of gas in the insulating wall over several hours, and would need to be “topped off”. This plans to be mitigated by providing an additional CO2 canister in the packaging, as well as investigating a less permeable fabric than the currently used 40D Nylon. Packing by hand allows the shelter to compress down to less than 1/3rd its deployed size, while vacuum packaging was unable to be tested. POC testing of vacuum packing however, revealed that vacuum packed volume is nearly ½ the size of a handpacked shelter.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects qualitatively tested was a comfortable user experience. All members of the team were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the RFS. A select few of the crowd during Innovation day were allowed to lay inside of the RFS and reported the same. A benefit of this that those in crowd mentioned when they felt the 2” thick base pad was how well it would do to serve those who comfort camp with a large foam mattress and sleeping bag. The RFS lends itself to a high level of utility that combines warmth, comfort, and ease of use in this respect.
The only aspect of the project design specifications the RFS does not meet at the moment is its ability to withstand a small impact. The weight of the foam in the roof causes a small amount of sagging in the design, and does not support any kind of load. This was anticipated by the team, and the method of mitigation that will be used is an external or internal fiberglass rib to support the roof.
Overall, the product works very well, and has received very positive feedback from potential consumers that are interested in such a product.
Meet the Team
Zachary Crisafulli is a Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Nevada, Reno graduating in the Spring of 2018. Zachary was born at Yokota AFB in Japan and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. During his Sophomore year at the University, Zachary began interning with Southwest Gas Corporation (SWG) in Carson City, Nevada and has been gaining experience as an engineer in industry ever since. In January 2016, Zachary was hired at SWG’s subsidiary—Paiute Pipeline Company—as a Transmission Engineering Intern designing natural gas transmission pipeline installations and replacements, regulating and metering stations, valve assemblies, and in-line inspection tool launching and receiving stations. Through his projects at SWG and Paiute Pipeline, Zachary has gained valuable experience with project management, federal requirements, design standards, material selection, fabrication techniques, and the vital relationship between construction and engineering. Zachary’s most difficult engineering project was performing a flow study analysis on SWG’s distribution system to determine whether a new section of pipeline with potential customers would require flow reinforcement through modification of the existing system or by altering the new pipeline’s design. Zachary’s current goal is to graduate with his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering without any student debt while maintaining his 3.87 cumulative GPA. After graduation from UNR, Zachary plans to continue working for Paiute Pipeline Company as a full-time engineer. Outside of school and work, Zachary enjoys exploring the outdoors by hiking, 4×4, snowboarding, and swimming. Zachary’s love for the outdoors and off-road vehicles is the driving force behind his future goal of engineering products for enthusiasts like him.
Alessandro Ralls is a senior leveled undergrad at the University of Nevada, Reno striving towards attaining a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. Born in Anchorage, Alaska and raised in Reno, Nevada, Alessandro is an extremely motivated individual that is determined to overcome any task that he faces. Alessandro’s accomplishments consist of making the College of Engineering Dean’s List in the spring of 2016 and maintaining over a 3.5 GPA throughout the duration of his college career. Throughout his time at the university, he has attained a multitude of skills which vary from knowing multiple coding languages to quality management and analytics from his current internship at the HC-Companies. One of the most challenging engineering projects Alessandro has pursued is a Variable Gauge R&R Measurement System Analysis Project from his internship. This project consisted of Alessandro testing various material metrology methods on products to evaluate how quality can be improved with injection products. With the critical thinking skills that Alessandro developed from the university, Alessandro was able to analyze and define the root causes of the defects in the quality standards established and develop a definite and long term solution. In total, Alessandro’s short term goal this semester is to make the dean’s list and to begin initiating the process of enrolling into a master’s program at the university for both business administration and mechanical engineering. For his long term goal however, he is planning to work at an aerospace firm where eventually he plans to entrepreneur a high tech company and invent a new product.
JC Hancock is a first generation college student in the final year of her Bachelor’s of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. She was born and raised in Reno, Nevada, but plans on moving out of state once her education is complete. JC is also an intern for SA Automotive. The most challenging engineering project that she has been involved in is the Tesla Model 3 headliner project at her internship. She and the SA engineering team have been working for months to train operators, troubleshoot assembly robots, and redesign aspects of the headliner. It has been a long and stressful process due to Tesla’s strict guidelines, but she has managed to make substantial effort at seeing the project succeed. Outside of school and work, JC’s greatest accomplishments are being a role model for her family back in the Philippines and a successful daughter to her parents. After graduation, JC would like to pursue a job in the automotive industry. More specifically, she would like to work with the performance or safety of vehicles. On the other hand, she also dreams of creating a startup company with one of her close friends to pursue the life of an entrepreneur.
Blake Muzinich is finishing up his last two semesters for a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. Blake is from Roseville, California and started at UNR as a biology major before he switched to mechanical engineering. During his time at UNR he worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the Composites and Intelligent Materials Laboratory for two and a half years. During that time, he worked on a cross disciplinary project to produce two large scale self-sensing magnetorheological bridge bearings for the Department of Transportation. In addition, Blake designed and built a device for Dr. Matteo Aureli to study how subharmonic wave generation in a granular crystal structure is affected by hertzian contact stress. After his employment at UNR, Blake began working as a contractor for a small defense research and development firm called Advanced Materials and Devices (AMAD). During his continued employment at AMAD, Blake has worked on various projects for the Department of Defense and NASA; ranging from advanced missile lateral support systems to the next generation of lunar rover controllable force dampers. During his various employments as an engineering intern, Blake has honed his skills in mechanical design, thermodynamics, manufacturing, and mechanical testing. In addition to his employment at AMAD, Blake is a co-founder and CEO of a startup with two other partners. The startup, Black Lake Defense, aims to produce additive manufactured firearms solutions for the civilian and DoD markets, and is releasing its first product before the end of 2017. Finally, Blake’s goals upon graduation are to expand his company and continue his employment at AMAD as a full time Research Engineer.
Jesse Tye is a Mechanical Engineering student at UNR in his final year. Born and raised in Fallon, Nevada, Jesse attended college in California for two years after graduating High School. After a four year tour in the United States Coast Guard, Jesse is finishing his college degree with the G.I. Bill. During his time at UNR, he has maintained a 3.5 G.P.A and completed an internship at the private company Advanced Materials and Devices. While under their employ, Jesse learned the basics of machining and practical engineering application. He completed tasks such as design and fabrication of steel and aluminum parts for a multitude of projects, as well as fabrication of a much larger cooling tank and pump stand for heavy duty machinery. One of his most challenging project was during his internship, where he designed a CNC flood coolant system to replace an aging, low power system. Outside of work and school, he enjoys working on off-road vehicles and designing custom PC’s. He has successfully used his skills learned at UNR to design several projects in his off time such as custom truck parts and PC cooling components. Jesse’s current goals include maintaining a 3.5 G.P.A. and preparing to graduate by taking his final classes in interviewing for jobs. After graduation, Jesse aims to fill a full-time position for a company in the firearm or automotive industry local to Reno.
Christopher Rosa, the teams mentor, provided excellent feedback on proposed ideas for the project, as well as provide sound logic on how to approach the design of the RFS.