WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (June 3, 2014) -- An infantry Soldier in Afghanistan quickly responds to a call for fire and loads a round into his 60 mm mortar system. He did not hesitate.

A Marine at Camp Pendleton conducts a fires rehearsal with his M777 155 mm lightweight howitzer section in preparation to conduct a fire mission. He did not hesitate.

An Airman scanned the night sky over Iraq as his C-130 gunship responded to a fire mission that launched a 105 mm round down on a target of opportunity. He did not hesitate.

Each of these missions, in combat and in training, has occurred and continues to occur almost daily throughout the world.

A call for fire initiates a thing of beauty called a "battle drill," as well-trained troops perform a series of tasks in an integrated and synchronized fluid motion. To an observer, this precision drill and sense of urgency to execute a mission is awe inspiring.

But what is more inspiring is what cannot be seen ̶ a strong sense of confidence the Soldier, Marine, or Airman has in his weapon system that the gun will not fail them in the heat of battle.

When survival on the battlefield sometimes comes down to seconds, in essence who fires first, those precious seconds may mean life or death. The last thing any military leader wants is for their troops to hesitate while conducting a fire mission in the heat of battle. Not even for a second.

For more than 200 years, the Watervliet Arsenal has through its high quality manufacturing provided the nation's war fighters with the immeasurable sense of confidence in their weapon systems. This strong sense of confidence is the value added to every weapon system and part that leaves the Army-owned and operated arsenal in upstate New York.

Beyond the cost of its products or its on-time delivery rate, many believe that the arsenal's number one contribution to a Soldier relies in the quality of its products. The arsenal's quality assurance process begins at the gate when raw stock or unfinished products arrive for manufacturing.

Bill Bryant, the arsenal's division chief for quality control, said that his team of 44 assures that quality products are produced by implementing a system of inspections where critical operations of the machining process are measured to ensure compliance to rigid technical requirements.

"Sometimes our quality assurance operations begin long before a vendor has sent us a product," Bryant said. "If the product is for a new product line or is from a new vendor, we sometimes will send a team of inspectors to the vendor's site for verification before the vendor goes into mass production."

Bryant has a rather flat organization in that his team is broken out into two divisions, Incoming Inspection and Quality Control. Incoming inspections range from procurement inspections to non-destructive testing to sling and gauge inspections. Quality Control inspections assure a high quality level for the production of major and minor components to weapon systems, as well as for large caliber tubes.

Before a machinist touches one baseplate forging, pre-formed tube, or breech ring, someone from Bill Potter's team seizes all pieces of the shipment to begin dimensional inspections to validate a vendor's quality. Potter is the arsenal's incoming inspection supervisor.

When a vendor's product is going to support a new product line or the vendor is new to the arsenal, Potter's team may conduct a thorough, time intensive inspection called a "First Article Inspection."

"First article inspections may take up to one week to accomplish as 100 percent of the technical data package is verified before the product is released to the production floor," Potter said. "The bottom line is that if the product passes here, it should not fail anywhere else."

In addition to conducting visits to vendors, verifying the quality on all procured parts, and conducting First Article Inspections, Potter's team is also responsible for calibrating more than 64,000 gauges.

Once the product has left Potter's area, it then travels to the production floor to a quality control team headed by Terry Buell.

Due to the enormity of Buell's area of responsibility, his quality control inspectors are broken out into three teams, which represent the major product lines. Majors components are large products such as breech rings, breech blocks, mortar baseplates, and howitzer carriers for the larger gun systems. Minor components are smaller product lines such as firing pins, mortar basecaps, and firing mechanisms. Tubes or "cannon barrels" represent all large caliber tubes such as 155 mm, 120 mm 105 mm, 81 mm, and 60 mm tubes.

Throughout the product life cycle while the product is at Watervliet, each one of those three teams follows, tracks, and measures the dimensions of critical machining operations. They will also check the products for conformity to the technical data package in regards to toughness and strength.

If at any point along the way, from the product's arrival until the finished product gets shipped, there is any question in regards to quality, the product is put on hold until engineers and planners from the arsenal and from Benét Laboratories can make a determination on its acceptance or rejection.

Before a product is rejected or scrapped, every opportunity is taken to salvage the product while not lessening the level of quality demanded by the technical data package. There could be any number of reasons as to why a product would be rejected after it has passed the incoming inspection. Sometimes cracks develop during a machining process due to a deformity in the material. While other times, it may be due to machinist error.

The bottom line is that every product that departs the arsenal has undergone a rigorous testing at each critical point in the manufacturing process. This is as true today as it was in 1813 when the arsenal began operations.

To ensure that no one takes quality for granted, the arsenal commander, Col. Lee H. Schiller Jr., often talks about the importance of the arsenal's quality and the impact a quality product has on our war fighters.

"What we do is to instill in the American fighting man and woman a strong sense of confidence that any weapon system stamped "Watervliet Arsenal" is the best on the battlefield," Schiller said.

Much has changed at Watervliet since it opened for business in 1813. But the one thing that hasn't changed is the arsenal's strong sense of purpose, as well as its sense of duty toward its customer ̶ the American war fighter.

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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.

Page last updated Tue June 3rd, 2014 at 00:00