By John B. Snyder, Watervliet ArsenalJune 6, 2017
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y., (June 2017) -- Is there or should there be any limitations on the number of quality control checks in the manufacturing process for weapon systems that will end up in the hands of U.S. troops? The obvious answer is no, but most people probably would be surprised at how thorough the quality assurance process gets at the Army's arsenal for cannon manufacturing.
The Watervliet Arsenal's quality assurance operations often begin before the raw stock materiel that will eventually be machined into a part for a tank, howitzer, or mortar arrives here, said William Bryant, the Arsenal's chief of quality control. Quite often, the Arsenal will send an inspector to a vendor's site to verify the quality of the materiel before they ship it to the Arsenal.
Regardless of whether or not there is a pre-inspection at the vendor's site, the Arsenal's incoming inspection team will examine every product that arrives to ensure that the product achieves the high standards as directed by a technical data package.
And, if the raw materiel is going to support a new product line or came from a new vendor, the incoming inspection team will conduct a 100-percent inspection, called a First Article Inspection, of the piece.
If anyone followed a product as it left the incoming inspection site and through the Arsenal's production bays, they would see literally hundreds of quality control inspections made by machinists, quality control inspectors, and from the Arsenal's government oversight team before the product even makes it to packaging for shipment.
Even when the product is prepared for shipment, the Arsenal's quality inspections continue.
In a nondescript corner of the Arsenal there is a two-man woodshop operation that is tasked with making boxes in which products will be placed for shipment.
According to Michael Dworakowski, the senior wood worker, he and coworker Patrick O'Brien manufacture about 1,000 boxes a year for such products as 120-millimeter mortar tubes, mortar baseplates, howitzer muzzle brakes, and cannon breech blocks.
"This is a high-volume operation where priorities can change at any given moment," Dworakowski said. "We typically get about a month's heads up on what our future production requirements will be, but due to the nature of military readiness, our priorities may change if there is an urgent requirement made on behalf of our troops."
This flexibility to meet the needs of the Soldiers is one of the main reasons why the Arsenal still retains a box shop operation, said Tim Allard, the division chief of the Arsenal's manufacturing support division.
"At one time, we used to manufacture the packaging for every product, but through the years, we found it more economical to have an outside vendor make the larger boxes," Allard said. "However, we did not want to give up our flexibility to respond to the urgent needs of our troops and so, we retained the box operation for minor components."
Nevertheless, even this small team of carpenters, who prepare minor components for shipment, is not relieved of oversight by a quality control inspector or from international standards.
Fred Campbell, a quality control inspector, said that he visits the box shop almost daily to ensure that every box is built to standard.
"What these wood workers do is very important to the Arsenal's quality control," Campbell said. "If they (wood workers) do not mark the boxes correctly, the product may not arrive where it is needed. Additionally, if the products aren't packaged correctly or the boxes made to standard, hundreds of hours of manufacturing operations, as well as tens of thousands of dollars, may be wasted if the products arrive damaged."
In addition to the tough inspection process conducted by Campbell and his team, every container must also meet export standards developed by the International Plant Protection Convention to ensure that all wood has been treated to prevent the transport and spread of disease and insects.
Given that some of the Arsenal's products were recently shipped to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, it is understandable that quality control, from incoming inspection to final packaging, is one of the main reasons why the Watervliet Arsenal is still in operation after 203 years.
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.