Time to Reload

Ammunition reloading equipment manufacturer RCBS replaced manual surface finishing with an automated diamond-crystal operation from Brush Research Manufacturing to overcome ergonomic and quality problems – and increases production efficiency up to 70 percent.

The use of manual processes for surface finishing operations can be far more costly than properly automating the processes with the right tools. Repetitive motion tasks and other ergonomic deficiencies not only result in discomfort and injuries, but also in operator fatigue that shrinks productivity and compromises product quality.

In the case of RCBS (Oroville, CA), a member of the ATK Security & Sporting Group (Minneapolis, MN) and a leading producer of high-quality ammunition reloading equipment for over 60 years, concerns about just such a scenario involving a manual surface finishing operation resulted in a company goal to eliminate the risk of injuries and operator fatigue problems.  It also led to significant, productivity and quality gains that were later estimated in the 60 percent to 70 percent range.

Among its products, this manufacturer offers a variety of steel reloading dies for rifles and pistols that are typically sold in sets for each caliber to be reloaded. “We produce hundreds of thousands of these dies every year,” says Tim Taylor, a RCBS engineer. “So the achievement of consistent, high quality surface finish as well as avoidance of worker discomfort became a high priority that got a lot of attention.”

One of the production processes involved the hand finishing of steel ammunition reloading die bores, where workers wrapped emery cloth on rods and polished the internal surface of the dies which required extensive manual labor on every die. “The problems with this laborious process included some inconsistencies in the surface finishes,” explains Taylor. “But this resulted from ergonomic factors, and those were a big, big consideration. Because this was a repetitive-motion job, some workers experienced discomfort or problems with their wrists, shoulders and backs.”

According to Taylor, this led the company to explore process improvements that included CNC equipment and other types of tools. While at a trade show, Taylor discovered what looked like a possible solution to his surface finishing and ergonomic requirements: a flexible ball-style honing brush made by Brush Research Manufacturing (BRM; Los Angeles, CA) that could be tailored to meet the die bore finishing and also attach directly to the recently acquired CNC machine tool RCBS had acquired.

The BRM tool, known as the Flex-Hone®, is used widely throughout industry for deburring, plateau honing and deglazing. Available in many sizes and finishing materials, this unique brush-hone is composed of a shaft from which extended nylon filaments mounted with hundreds of abrasive grit globules attached. This customizable precision hone is used on materials ranging from soft nonferrous materials to carbide and ceramics to easily remove even microscopic shards and fragments, and is highly effective for edge blending, plateau honing, polishing and chamfer operations.

The company’s Flex-Hone for Firearms line already enjoys a positive reputation within the industry for extending the life of firearms. Beyond producing a beautiful finish, the hone removes the microscope “peaks” and “valleys” that can affect the performance and life of the firearm As a result, many firearm manufacturers are utilizing the this system in their final finish requirements.

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