CAAA Employee loads a decoy flare into the laser etcher.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
A close-up of the laser etcher beam at work on a decoy flare
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

CRANE, Ind. -- Crane Army Ammunition Activity has “etched” out a new product that will help save the activity thousands of dollars annually. By purchasing a Trumpf Trumak 5000 Laser Etcher Station, personnel in the Countermeasures Division of Manufacturing and Engineering Directorate can permanently engrave critical tracking information and serial numbers into the casings of MJU 57 A/B decoy flares.

Decoy flares are used in aerial countermeasures to counter a surface-to-air missile or other “heat seeking” projectile. In the past, the tracking information on the flares was stenciled on the casings with ink. This process was more time consuming to produce and proved somewhat ineffective because during transportation, the ink would rub off making the information illegible and the flares difficult to identify after shipment.

“The quality and durability of the inked markings was mediocre at best,” said Mark Benstin, Countermeasures Division Program Manager. “Laser marking was seen as a vast improvement to the quality and durability.”

CAAA Mechanical Engineer Larry Mattingly and Mechanical Engineering Technician Carey Carlisle, researched a variety of laser etchers before finding one that would suit CAAA’s needs.

After meeting with Trumpf engineers, they determined that some sort of “holder” would be needed to keep the MJU-57 A/B casing in place inside the machine for the laser etcher to work properly and safely. Mattingly and Carlisle designed an air-chuck that, when screwed onto the laser etcher table, holds the decoy flare MJU-57 A/B in place. This fabricated air-chuck can also be used for etching MJU 32 A/B and MJU 38 A/B.

To etch the information on a decoy flare, the operator lifts the door of the Trumak station and attaches the casing to the air chuck. The door is closed and the computer program tells the laser what information to etch on the flare. Each engraving is done in less than one minute. The laser etching machine has a laser beam that can make precision paper-thin cuts in an object as small as a semi-conductor all the way to large cuts in 1.25 inch thick steel.

James Ferguson, an explosives handler, operates the laser etcher machine. “I etch about 300 MJU-57’s a day in about eight to 10 hours,” he said. “This is enjoyable and it keeps me busy. It’s pre-programmed in the computer and all I do is change the batch numbers and start it up and shut it down. It’s much quicker than manual stenciling.”

The laser etcher has been so effective at engraving the MJU-57A/B flares that another one was purchased for the MJU-61 A/B program.

Benstin said that the best part of using these machines is that the customer has been very happy. “They have started adding laser markings as an option in their flare drawing packages and have even considered making it a requirement.”

“Working with decoy flares is rewarding. It’s nice to know that what we’re making is going to save lives,” said Marilyn Chandler, an explosives handler. “I’ve been in this program for a long time and it’s very gratifying.”

CAAA was established in Oct. 1977 and maintains ordnance professionals and infrastructure to receive, store, ship, produce, renovate and demilitarize conventional ammunition, missiles and related components. The Army activity is a subordinate of the Joint Munitions Command and is located on Naval Support Activity Crane.

Related Links:

Crane Army Ammunition Activity

CAAA on Facebook