By John B. Snyder, Watervliet Arsenal Public AffairsMarch 30, 2017
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (March 2017) -- Whenever a new manufacturing machine is brought on line here, the first questions by visitors usually are: How much does the machine cost and what capability will it enhance?
But with the latest installation of a hollow-spindle lathe, there might be a better question to ask -- How much safer will the machine be for machinists, machine tool operators, and for apprentices?
The Arsenal is currently in the final stages of installing a lathe that will be used for the manufacturing of howitzer and tank barrels. Beyond the enhanced machining capabilities the new lathe brings, there is one significant safety improvement the new lathe has over the 35-year-old machine that it is replacing.
"No longer will our machinists have to step up onto a cable track to adjust the tooling or to take measurements of a barrel," said Frank Salvatore, an Arsenal equipment specialist. "This has been a safety issue for years, but with new technology we are able to greatly mitigate the potential for an injury."
Salvatore explained that with legacy lathe systems, there is a tracking system that runs along the front and back sides of lathes. These tracks, which somewhat resemble tracks on a tank or self-propelled howitzer, protect the cabling and hydraulic lines that run the length of the lathe. The problem is, according to Salvatore, is that the tracking is above the floor and in order for machinists to change tooling or to take a measurement, he or she must step up on top of these tracks.
Machinist Christopher Herold is charged with proving out the new lathe with a production barrel for an Abrams tank. During his testing earlier this month, he said that he has found several other safety improvements to add to the cable track system.
"It is great now having the cabling and wiring underground so that we (machinists) are no longer prone to tripping or slipping on the cable tracks," Herold said. "But in addition to the cable tracks, the new machine also has a key locking mechanism, improved lighting, and warning sensors that will go off if a door is accidentally left open, all of which greatly enhance the safety for machinists and machine tool operators."
Herold added that the new machine's safety standards should set the standards for future machine purchases.
"If the technology is available to make our machines safer, as was the case with this machine, we should make the investment in that technology, because in a long run it will improve our capability," Herold said.
What Salvatore purchased and Herold tested is great news to the Arsenal's Safety Manager, Matthew Church.
"Any new machine that comes into the Arsenal with the technology that is available today does provide a better feature of safety than just a few years ago," Church said. "With engineering controls such as press brakes, guards, and several other safety additions on new machines, the operators and other, nearby employees will be better protected from potential injury."
Church added that every machine is an asset to the organization, however, people are the Arsenal's biggest asset. If there is any way to have a new machine more safe, it is a win for the Arsenal and for the employees, alike.
Salvatore agreed with Church and Herold, "We will never again see above-ground cabling and wiring on any future lathes that we install here."
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 on July 14, 2013. It is a subordinate command to TACOM LCMC and the Army Materiel Command.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and allied armies to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark had revenue in fiscal year 2016 that exceeded $126 million and provides an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.