Army manufacturer seeks to raise its quality, confidence of infantrymen
March 25, 2014
- Army Manufacturing: Where good isn't good enough.
- New quality control inspection process to enhance Soldiers' confidence in their mortar systems.
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (March 25, 2014) -- The arsenal recently announced that it was bringing on line more than $26 million of new or enhanced manufacturing capability this fiscal year.
Although this is great news to the arsenal workforce, it should be better news to the United States infantry.
Some of the new manufacturing machines will allow the arsenal to become more efficient. For example, a new million dollar computer-controlled, dual-spindle machine will be able to perform multiple machining functions, whereas, the machine it replaced could only perform one function. This will save a significant amount of direct labor hours due to a reduction in the number of times a machinist will need to set up an operation.
To an infantryman, however, the fact that the arsenal is more efficient probably is no concern of his. After all, he simply wants a weapon system that is reliable, troop friendly, and will maintain his competitive edge over potential adversaries.
There is one other consideration, however, that infantrymen demand in their mortar systems ̶ that they can fire their mortars without concern that their weapon system will cause them harm. After all, every second during a fire mission is critical, and the last thing anyone wants is for a Soldier to hesitate, even for a second, due to his concern that his weapon system may not be safe to fire.
It is with this last consideration where the arsenal's behind the scenes efforts to continuously seek ways to improve its quality kick in.
Earlier this month, about 200 gallons of water was slowly poured into the first of what seemed to be two holding tanks. Then, another 200 gallons of water was poured into a second tank. In one tank was a 120-mm mortar tube. In the other, a 60-mm mortar tube.
As five ultrasound transducers were being put into position over each tube, four arsenal quality assurance technicians were gathered around dual-computer screens listening to an instructor walk them through the dynamics of immersion ultrasonic test inspections. This type of ultrasonic testing is the first of its kind on Watervliet's production lines.
"With these machines the arsenal will be better able to detect indications of a crack or defect," said Thomas Larkin, a laboratory manager with Talon Test Laboratories who was leading the training. "This new capability will significantly add to the arsenal's quality control program because it will complement the arsenal's other non-destructive testing procedures, such as magnetic particle inspections."
The arsenal now has two ultrasound systems that can do much more than inspect mortar tubes, Larkin said. The arsenal could use this enhanced capability to support quality assurance inspections for the aerospace, marine, transportation, and medical industries. Inspection capability is only limited to the dimensions of the product that would fit in the tanks of this new technology.
But for now, the arsenal will focus on its mortar program, from 60-mm mortars to 81-mm to 120-mm mortars.
According to Fred Campbell, an arsenal quality control team leader, the arsenal currently puts each mortar tube through three magnetic-particle inspections. Magnetic-particle inspection is a non-destructive test that uses a magnetic field to detect surface and slightly subsurface discontinuities.
"With the ultrasonic machines, the arsenal will conduct two magnetic particle inspections and one ultrasonic inspection," Campbell said. "Although the mag-particle inspections are a great tool that has served us well, using ultrasound will give us additional visibility on indicators that may affect the quality of a mortar tube."
Each machine will pulse ultrasound waves through water into a mortar tube. This happens by using five transducers that measure every aspect of a mortar tube, externally and internally, and will detect indications of a defect down to ten-thousandths of an inch in length and five-thousandths of an inch in depth. The sound pulses are then captured and graphed on two computer screens that will be observed by a quality control inspector. Every inspector must be certified for this procedure.
If there is an indication that there might a defect that may cause the tube not to meet high quality standards, then another higher-level certified quality control inspector will review the results and make a determination on whether to accept or to reject the part.
Since its humble beginnings in 1813, the Watervliet Arsenal has always prided itself on its quality. After all, hundreds of thousands of troops have used the arsenal's products without incident. Despite that record, quality is not taken for granted at Watervliet.
Although these two ultrasonic machines make up just a small part of the arsenal's $26 million investment this year, they will be a huge part of the arsenal's inspection program that will ensure that our nation's infantry have the highest quality mortar systems in the world.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th anniversary in July 2013.
Today's arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $100 million.