Ammunition Quality Control: INDUSTRY 4.0

Quality Control in the ammunition industry requires each process be closely monitored to protect against costly production mistakes. Cartridges are an assembly, most bullets are as well, so it behooves manufacturers to mitigate errors at the component level, before costs of the assembly is realized. However, even with performing as many upfront checks, such as; first article inspection, SPC sampling and final audits an extra process of 100% inspection is required to ensure end users are protected from critical defects. Neither inspection process is new to the industry, but the way they are performed has drastically changed thanks to the framework of Industry 4.0.

Traditional first article inspection consists of measuring a few parts with manual gauges. Operators or the QC Department use hand micrometers and/or custom mechanical gauges to measure specific features at each step of the process (before starting mass production). The problem is the mechanical gauges used are labor intensive, subject to operator error, extremely slow, expensive to calibrate and can’t provide adequate data required to successfully monitor production equipment, a far cry from Industry 4.0.  

After parts are produced, manufacturers check parts through 100% inspection/sorting to find the “needle in a haystack”.  Traditionally, 100% inspection is several humans placed at tables to inspect parts, one by one, searching for that needle in the haystack.   Human inspection can, at best, only achieve 85% effectiveness and that’s sorting white from black marbles. “For most inspection tasks, missed defects typically range from 20% to 30%” (Drury & Fox, 1975). Again, this process is highly ineffective and far from conforming to the Industry 4.0 framework. 

Recent developments with Automated Inspection Equipment (AIE) has propelled ammunition quality levels. AIE equips manufacturers with an ability to measure much faster, much more frequently and with much higher accuracy. Semi-Automatic, 3D gauging machines replace the custom manual gauges and performs inspections in a fraction of the time. And provides instant, meaningful inspection data.  

The gauging machines provide complete dimensional layouts in seconds, only require calibration once per year using an inexpensive gauge pin and can be integrated into the companies’ network for data collection and traceability. A huge step forward for any organization moving toward new manufacturing standards.

Fully automated, 100% inspection machines replace humans sitting at tables visually inspecting parts for defects.  And the defect detection results go from a high of 85% effective to 99.99%. These systems meet Mil-Std-636 inspection requirements and inspect at rates higher than production levels. Since every round goes through the system, data is collected on each piece as well as each feature, including visual or cosmetic defects.  The data can then be used to identify problems upstream, whether it was faulty material, defective tooling, or other random unforeseen issues, that “needle in a haystack”.   

Interconnection, Information transparency, technical assistance, decentralized decisions are the four main pillars of Industry 4.0. In order to stay competitive, AIE will be one of the most important decisions for ammo manufacturers as businesses move into the next industrial revolution.