Painted the color of desert sand, the 40,000 pound behemoth sits silently.
Dignitaries and press mill about, looking in its sturdy doors, climbing ladders to peer at its powerful engine and remarking on its technology. The surrounding hangar-like production facility seems dwarfed by its demanding presence.
The MRAP has arrived in Lodi.
For many, it was a first look at the vehicle that is helping save the lives of Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan due to high-tech components built right here in Lodi.
The amazing Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle was on display at ArmorStruxx in Lodi on Tuesday.
For many workers at ArmorStruxx, it was the first look at a vehicle whose armor plating they help create at the plant on South Beckman Road in Lodi's industrial sector.
ArmorStruxx, a composite armor fabrication company, came to Lodi a year-and-a-half ago when it bought what used to be R.E. Services after that company went out of business.
The armor plating, which is made of a spun polyethylene gel called Dyneema, is specially pressed and molded like the pieces of a mechanical puzzle to fit the chassis and paneling of the MRAP.
When an MRAP is fitted with the ArmorStruxx technology, the super strong fiber can withstand the impact of bullets or blasts from IEDs (improvised explosive devices) which are blamed for one third military personnel deaths overseas.
R.E. Services used a pressing system that allowed them to manufacture various types of metal foils for use in electronics.
Those bright-blue two-story laminate presses, which would cost between $15 and $17 million to build new, were the reason ArmorStruxx settled in Lodi. With the heavy equipment already in place, ArmorStruxx was able to quickly set up shop and begin producing various types of armor plating.
When ArmorStruxx opened for production there were a scant 23 employees. For all of 2007 the company did $10.5 million in production.
"We're now at 207 employees and we did over $12 million in production this March," said Bob Doherty, president of ArmorStruxx. It costs approximately $40,000 to fit each MRAP with ArmorStruxx plating.
The company creates many forms of armor plating, including fire resistant coating, ballistic leak solutions (an extra means of protection that targets structurally weak areas of a vehicle) and Dyneema plating.
Dyneema (touted by its creator as "the world's strongest fiber") can be used in a variety of applications, not just armor. It can be used for creating rope, fishing nets, protective clothing, body armor and even for orthopedic implants.
But Dyneema is specifically used by ArmorStruxx for the protective lining (armor plates) that reside under the cold metal exterior of the MRAP.
Raw materials for the armor parts are stored and processed at ArmorStruxx' San Clemente plant, then brought to Lodi for laminate pressing. It takes three to four days to produce the plating through a series of extreme heating and cooling pressing techniques.
From Lodi, the custom fit armor is sent to BAE Systems in Santa Clara, where it is installed to the chassis of the MRAP. Other locations, like a BAE plant in South Carolina, is responsible for fitting the armor into the panels of the MRAP.
Overall, because of the various locations involved in fitting the armor, it can take 30 days to install the life-saving armor in a vehicle.
The fearsome MRAP, slated to soon replace the Humvee as the military transport of choice, costs an estimated $500,000 to construct, said Paul Singh, the armor project engineer with BAE Systems, the company that actually builds this series of MRAPs.
"We produce 10 vehicles a day," Singh said. The first four MRAPs were sent into combat in April of 2007 and now several hundred are in use. "This vehicle didn't exist two years ago."
So is there a warranty on this massive man-made marvel? Sort of.
According to Singh, BAE Systems field service representatives are imbedded with the Marines who use the MRAP. The field representatives go wherever the troops go to provide support for the vehicle.
Probably the most notable fact is that there have been no fatalities with any of the BAE-manufactured MRAPs that have encountered hostile activity, including roadside IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
In fact, as long as the outer hull of the MRAP isn't compromised in an attack, the occupants of the vehicle can continue to be safe.
"Marines feel confident that ours is the Cadillac of MRAP vehicles," Singh said.
Doherty sees a long-lasting relationship between ArmorStruxx and Lodi.
"The city of Lodi has been very supportive of ArmorStruxx," Doherty said.