Bringing out the big guns
By Canadian Packaging staffAutomation General Cartoning Robotics Howell Munitions and Technology
Munitions manufacturer Howell uses ammo packaging line from MGS Machine.
LEWISTON, Idaho—Howell Munitions and Technology manufactures ammunition and other projectiles at their state-of-the-art facility in Lewiston, Idaho, U.S. Currently producing over two-million rounds per day, their annual growth rate of 100 percent creates both production challenges and opportunities.
To meet rapidly rising customer demand, Howell needed to increase their packaging throughput while reducing labor requirements—they turned to MGS Machine in 2016 and selected an integrated packaging line.
“MGS really helped us get to the next level and grow in the market. Our new packaging line helped us double our output of rifle ammo while enabling us to redirect 34 people. It paid for itself in just four and a half months,” says Howell Munitions and Technology maintenance supervisor and process engineer Jeff Hammrich. “It’s unusual for a munitions company of our size to automate packaging at this scale, but the results speak for themselves.”
Hammrich continues: “Before we installed this integrated line, all our packaging was done by hand. It was a very labor intensive process, with 45 people working each shift. Hand packing demanded repetitive motion, which put our people at risk for injury and increased our workers comp costs. Plus, there’s a labor shortage in our small town that makes it difficult to hire and retain employees. We needed a better solution.
“I had great experiences with MGS at my last job, so I knew their automated packaging equipment was the best option. These days, we have just two people operating this line during each shift.”
Leveraging MGS’s expertise in product handling and secondary packaging, Howell’s line integrates a VersaSort bulk feeder, vision inspection system, Adept Cobra robot, RCS cartoner and laser printer. Packaging up to 350 parts per minute, this system produces 20- and 50-count cartons, which go to market under Howell’s Freedom Munitions and X-Treme Bullets brands.
“One of the great things about this packaging line is its flexibility to handle all five of our rifle ammunition casing sizes,” Hammrich relates. “The entire line takes just half an hour to changeover. Everything is modular – just remove a change part, drop a new one in, lock it down and away you go. The first carton out is always perfect.”
First on the line is the MGS VersaSort bulk feeder, which separates, orients and transitions ammunition into a scalloped conveyor. This gentle feeder uses an opposing belt system, which controls surges and eliminates the cosmetic scuffing of product often caused by traditional vibratory or circular bowls. The VersaSort at Howell presents the ammo in a steady flow to the downstream vision inspection system.
“Previously, we were manually inspecting for missing projectiles or primers, but human abilities drop way off after three hours,” says Hammrich. “A machine never gets bored or distracted.”
After inspection, the Adept Cobra robot stacks the ammo into multiple layers in preparation for cartoning. Its vacuum sensing feature confirms no product was dropped during the transfer. Hammrich says the company selected the four-axis robot for its speed, accuracy and repeatability that MGS programmed to integrate into the line.
Next, the intermittent motion RCS cartoner from MGS erects the carton blanks and fills them at speeds of up to 20 cartons per minute.
Its modular design accommodates a wide variety of carton sizes and styles with fast and easy changeovers. Featuring a servo-driven carton transport system and heavy-duty welded frame, this machine is built for precise movement and reliability.
Its compact footprint is among the smallest in the industry, while the open design provides easy access for cleaning and maintenance.
“We selected the RCS for our integrated line based on my past experience with this equipment. I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years—know this is one of the most dependable cartoners out there,” says Hammrich. “MGS customized our cartoner to include a barstock frame, which is becoming the new standard in munitions manufacturing. It prevents gunpowder from building up in the tubing, which is incredibly important from a safety perspective.
He continues: “Overall, this integrated line is designed with safety and ease of use in mind. The moving parts are well-guarded when the line is running, yet we have great access for cleaning and maintenance. All of the machines on this line are controlled from the 10-inch, color touchscreen HMI that’s located on the cartoner. Its ease of use simplified training, too. We sent two of our operators to train with MGS, and then they came back and taught the rest of our team.”
Summing up, Hammrich was impressed by the work ethic of MGS before, during and after the equipment installation.
“From the beginning, they saw our vision and designed the perfect packaging solution for us. We appreciate that they take ownership of the entire line, including third-party components.
“With the help of this equipment, we improved our bottom line by doubling our rifle ammo output at the same time we reduced our labor requirements. Our higher throughput enables us to get products out the door faster, which our customers appreciate. We love this automated packaging line.”
About MGS Machine
Founded in 1979, MGS designs and manufactures secondary packaging and product handling equipment for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, personal care/cosmetics, foods, household and consumer products and more. Focused on providing innovative and reliable automated packaging solutions and superior customer service, MGS has successfully fielded more than 16,000 machines in 27 countries around the world. Company information available at www.mgsmachine.com.