By Ann Roosevelt

ATK [ATK] continues modernizing the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo., even as the plant produces about 1.4 billion cartridges a year as the primary production source for small caliber ammunition.

“The only remaining small caliber Army ammunition plant is Lake City…we are considered a national asset,” Randy Wisian, ATK Lake City director of modernization, told Defense Daily in a telephone interview.

Lake City produces a mix of 5.56mm, 7.62mm, .50-caliber and 20mm cartridges.

In 2008, ATK has received some $43 million for modernization for Lake City from the Army.

“We are continuing taking down some of our high-speed equipment for upgrade and refurbishment, doing it one line at a time,” Wisian said. The 5.56 line is the first of five production lines to be worked on. “When that first line is done and complete, we’ll move on to the next.”

Primarily the work is to put in new, modern, electronic control systems, he said. This is to improve reliability. The machines are disassembled, worn parts are replaced and upgrades go in.

“We’re using machines that were purchased and installed in this facility in World War II,” he said. Ground breaking in 1940 was done by then-Sen. Harry S. Truman. At one point there were as many as 12 small caliber ammunition plants around the country, which dwindled down to Lake City after the Vietnam conflict.

Modernization is complex, done around a fully functional factory producing ammunition. ATK and the Army want a plant that is “available, viable and reliable” source of quality ammunition.

Additionally, ATK and the Army are introducing lean, six sigma principles, looking at each production process to ensure it is done in the most efficient manner.

Wisian said they constantly explore ways to simplify the process, for example, changing conveyer systems, or locating machines closer to one another to reduce the amount of parts travel.

Automation has its place as well, he said. While personnel pack long bandoliers by hand into military specification ammunition boxes on pallets, automation moves in to stack the pallets and ready them for shrink wrapping and shipping.

In 2000, ATK was selected to operate Lake City, and with the Army is implementing the modernization program to increase capacity, efficiency and quality. The plant’s expanded capacity is now 1.6 billion cartridges a year.

The modernization focus is to improve electronics on current machinery and modernize mechanical aspects of the production process. The joint program has increased annual production capacity at the plant from 350 million rounds in 2000 to a capacity of 1.4 billion rounds expected in 2008 and about the same in 2009.

The demand for increased ammunition for training and the war on terror drove demand in 2001 where the plant was producing less than a fourth of today’s cartridges. The plant had been reduced to save money and then sized for the pre-9/11 production. Production capacity was immediately increased by taking some older machines, upgrading them and refurbishing them and putting them back to work. This led to the modernization plan for the long term viability for the plant.