WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Aug. 7, 2013) -- When the Arsenal "shutdown" operations last week to accommodate its annual summer vacation period and to conduct heavy maintenance, someone who is not familiar with Army manufacturing might have thought the sounds of heavy machining would have been silenced as darkness spread to more than one million square feet of manufacturing space.
But neither darkness nor a void of sound set in for two reasons. Although a large percentage of production personnel did depart for the beaches and amusement parks, many stayed on to do critical, focused maintenance. There was also something called supporting our warfighters and allies with the right weapon system, on time. That production support could not stop.
For last week, maintenance activity ran the gamut from conducting sling loads tests to cleaning florescent pits that are used to conduct quality control borescope testing. This heavy maintenance focus is conducted during this one-week period so that it does not impede tight delivery schedules.
For production, it was a great time to get caught up, said Glenn LaPier, shift supervisor.
"We had about 12 machinists and apprentices stay and work on critical production schedules for the 120 mm gun systems that will eventually be installed on Abrams tanks," LaPier said. "Overall, this was a pretty successful week in that we not only kept production flowing on critical systems, we also had our production cells set up for success when operations start up again this week."
For Charles Robinson, the shutdown meant that he and others were able to switch out the florescent fluid in the magnetic particle testing booths. Magnetic particle inspections is a non-destructive test used to determine if there are any surface deficiencies in any of the tubes manufactured at the arsenal.
"Without the shutdown, we would not have been able to change the fluid in all five magnetic testing booths," Robinson said. "This is such a critical piece to the quality control of our products that anything we can do to improve the process will improve the products that our Soldiers receive."
One other critical area where worked continued is on the creation of fixtures for certain lines of production. Before any product, be it a mortar baseplate or tank tube, can be manufactured, a special set of tools and fixtures must first be machined.
Fixtures to a car mechanic may be something as simple as a vice on a workbench. In essence a tool that holds a part in place. For an arsenal machinist, fixtures will hold everything from mortar baseplates to howitzer tubes through the machining process.
Focused maintenance went beyond the production bays and touched on just about everything within the arsenal fence line.
With an augmentation of personnel from the manufacturing directorate, the arsenal's public works operations made significant gains in the shortened week. Due to sequestration, the arsenal, like many other Army installations, has been reduced to a four-day workweek. Amid all the outside maintenance challenges, public works also contended with a real-world situation as two water mains had to be repaired. Nevertheless, a large majority of the critical planned maintenance projects were completed, said Thomas Herold, the arsenal's public works supervisor.
According to Herold, public works completed critical maintenance on boilers systems, waste treatment plant systems, electrical sub stations, and water main valves. To help with safety, parking lanes, crosswalks, and parking lots were repainted.
Although the Arsenal leadership has always called this annual maintenance event a "shutdown," some at the arsenal wince when they hear that term because they believe the arsenal has been in continuous operation since 1813…and it has. To them, the term "shutdown" shouldn't even be in the Arsenal's vocabulary.
The annual shutdown, typically conducted the last week of July or early August, is a wonderful opportunity for critical, focused maintenance to be conducted and a very good tool to manage vacation time so that the arsenal does not have a surge of vacationers at an inopportune time during production.
Last January, the Secretary of the Army acknowledged what the Watervliet Arsenal workforce has known for nearly 200 years, their skilled craftsmanship and machining capability is unequaled anywhere in the Department of Defense. The Honorable John M. McHugh designated the Watervliet Arsenal as a Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence (CITE) for cannons and mortars.
The Watervliet Arsenal's dedicated and highly-skilled workforce contributes to our national security by providing U.S. and foreign militaries the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. The Arsenal is also DoD's sole manufacture of large caliber cannons, from 105 mm to 155 mm, as well as DoD's manufacture of choice for 60 mm, 81 mm, and 120 mm mortar systems. It celebrated its 200th anniversary on July 14, 2013.