Mobile Service Structure

Location: Pacific Test Range | Year: 2013 | Size: 14m x 14m x 20m



Tectoniks was approached by Lockheed Martin UK to provide a custom structure, designed and built to highly detailed specifications. The project involved the design, manufacture, testing and installation of a unique retractable structure to provide environmental protection for high-value assets prior to use.


The entire structure, measuring 14m wide by 14m long by 20m high, is mounted on a motorised base constructed from aluminium truss which sits on two ground rails enabling it to be moved up to 50 metres away from its home position at speeds of up to 10m/min. The structure also features a totally new design of inflatable roller door which provides a huge unobstructed opening measuring 7m wide by 17.5m high.

The building and all of its associated equipment, including ground rails, can be dismantled and packed into six 20ft shipping containers making it highly portable. In order to achieve this, the structure is comprised of inflatable walls, one of which is formed by the inflatable roller door which also acts as the roof. These elements are not only lightweight but can be packed into a very small volume. The inflatable sections are mounted onto two arched aluminium truss frames which provide exceptional strength whilst being quick to assemble and very compact when packed.

All of the building’s functions and systems can be controlled/monitored locally and remotely. Local control is achieved via a control panel and HMI screen located inside the building with remote control being possible via an ethernet link to a remote station with duplicate controls/displays. The various functions and systems include internal/external lighting, air-conditioning, door position sensing, CCTV, wind speed measurement, temperature/humidity measurement and parking brake control. Given the height of the structure, it is also fitted with aircraft warning lights and lightning conductors.

All of the components and materials used in the construction of the building are ATEX rated making it suitable for use with hazardous atmospheres.

Design Challenges

The structure is one-of-a kind. It was designed and built from scratch and there is currently no other structure like it anywhere in the world. It also contains many features which are totally unique.

The inflatable roller door is an entirely new concept. Its design greatly reduces weight which makes it possible for such a large door to be installed and operated. The door provides an unobstructed opening measuring 7m wide by 17.5m high. Since the door also forms the roof of the structure, the moving part actually measures 7m wide by 24m long.

The inflatable side walls are also unique. A new method for integrating inflatable sections with truss frames was devised and tested before manufacturing the final items. The walls themselves were designed and constructed using the techniques pioneered by Tectoniks to provide high rigidity inflatable elements capable of withstanding the required wind speeds.

Since the structure had to be suitable for use with hazardous atmospheres, the fabric had an additional antistatic treatment to ensure that no sparks would be generated during its operation. The inflatable walls and door, along with all the other components making up the structure, had to be electrically grounded which was achieved by running an earth cable to a ground spike via a flexible cable raceway (energy chain).

Making the entire structure retractable was also a challenge. This was achieved by fitting four rail-mounted motorised carriages to its base enabling the 40 tonne (including water ballast) building to be moved 50 metres in just 5 minutes.

The structure had to be lightweight, easily transportable and quick to erect whilst being robust enough to withstand extreme environmental conditions including wind speeds of up to 70mph. The combination of inflatable walls and roof with aluminium truss made this possible. The structure was first modelled using advanced 3d CAD before being subjected to rigorous structural evaluation which included Finite Element Analysis.

The Outcome

The structure was designed and manufactured at our factory in Shropshire. The initial assembly was conducted outside in February and March 2013. Despite the worst recorded weather for 100 years, which included 67mph winds and a foot of snow accumulation on the structure, the assembly was completed successfully.

It was then put through its paces by Lockheed Martin UK as part of their rigorous test and acceptance process which it passed with flying colours before being dismantled and packed ready for shipping.

Tectoniks designed, manufactured, tested and delivered the one-of-a-kind building on time and on budget in just seven months. It has now successfully completed its first overseas deployment in the Pacific Test Range.






2014 IFAI Award of Excellence

Images of this project on Flickr

Retractable Environmental Shelter