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New "Blasting Machine" may save the Arsenal tens of thousands of dollars, time

June 6, 2011

By John B. Snyder

WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- A newly installed ‘Barrel-Blaster Machine’ at the Watervliet Arsenal last month has the potential to save tens of thousands of dollars in production costs, which would be returned to the customer - the U.S. taxpayer - said the Arsenal’s Chief of Production Planning and Control Division.

“Due to the high quality of metal that we use in 155 mm howitzer tubes, a local 'abrasives' company had to first roughen up the barrel so that a chemical agent resistant coating could be applied, but no more,” Ray Gaston said.

“Not only did this outside work cost us about $200 per barrel, we also had significant costs associated with the transport of the tubes to the local company,” Gaston added. “With the purchase of a sandblasting machine we can now do this abrasives work in-house.”

Gaston said this extra step in the production is not typical of other product lines, but was required when the Arsenal shifted to a more hardened-steel forging for the Army’s new lightweight howitzer.

When the Army selected a new lightweight 155 mm howitzer several years ago, the Arsenal had to change its production methods to use a type of steel that would retain the same if not better capability, while reducing its weight by up to 40 percent.

What was discovered in the production process was that although the new tube was stronger and lighter, the exterior camouflage paint, or CARC, failed to adhere as well as it did for the former tubes, said Tim Allard, the Arsenal’s Acting Chief of Manufacturing Support Division.

Therefore, the Arsenal found that by roughing up the barrel surface CARC paint would adhere per the high quality standards required of today’s weapon systems.

“This truly is a great news story because it may create jobs at the arsenal, as well as make our production more efficient and responsive,” Allard said.

Allard said he believes that by bringing the sandblasting capability to the Arsenal that he may be able to move two employees from temporary employment to full-time employment. Additionally, when the Arsenal shipped tubes to a local vendor for abrasive coating, it took up to five days for the vendor to process the job.

“Now, if I need a tube painted today, I can have a tube sandblasted and ready for priming within one hour,” Allard said.

This new capability, which should reduce production costs and manufacturing time, came at no cost to the Arsenal.

The Army’s Project Manager for Towed Artillery Systems provided the funding of about $340,000 to purchase the sandblast machine from Empire Abrasive Company in Pennsylvania. With the help of a local Rensselaer, N.Y., company called Walter S. Pratt and Sons, the installation became a reality this month.

“Although we manufactured more than 150 barrels last year, we are currently looking at other uses, such as reclamation-type of work, to save even more money for our customer,” Gaston said.

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