By Audra Calloway
ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (March 10, 2014) — Picatinny scientists and engineers have established a pilot production facility to create the Army’s only in-house process for scaling up chemical compounds, a move that could save money by not having to rely on costlier compounds from outside suppliers.
The Picatinny engineers are manufacturing tetranitrocarbazole, or TNC, the compound that serves as the “first-fire” composition for pyrotechnics, such as illumination rounds, signal grenades, mortars and artillery rounds.
The “first fire” is what starts ignition within the system.
“This is the only pilot facility like it in the Army, and ARDEC is trying to leverage its expertise for developing manufacturing processes,” explained Stacey Yauch, chemical engineer with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.
“Most of the military’s explosive manufacturing processes are developed by the contractors,” explained Yauch.
“An ARDEC engineer might develop the compound, but the manufacturing process is typically developed by the contractor,” Yauch explained. “It’s difficult for the government to find competition between sources to get a better price because the contractor who develops the process always has an upper hand in the competition.
“If we develop the process here, we can then provide it to industry to attract potential manufacturers, which would mitigate risk to manufacturers on process development cost and time.”
Development of the process to produce TNC scale up is being done by ARDEC and the Program Executive Office Ammunition’s Project Manager Joint Services.
The pilot-scale production process will be developed in the Flexible Nitration Facility at ARDEC. The production process will be optimized, documented, and transitioned to a full-scale facility to produce TNC at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, Crane, Ind.
The pilot “scale up” first began in a lab with chemists creating grams of TNC initially, eventually working up to two pounds of the substance. While in the lab, the engineers recorded data such as heat rates, reaction times and temperature, and optimized the process as best they could.
Next, ARDEC transitioned the lab scale process to the pilot manufacturing facility that includes crystallization and nitration equipment.
“At this point it’s not a lab anymore,” Yauch said, “You’re not working with beakers and test tubes. It’s regular equipment used in industry, but at a smaller scale. Once it leaves this stage it evolves to full-scale production.”
So far, Yauch and her team have successfully produced small quantities of TNC. The next step is to reproduce a couple of batches at the 10-to-20-pound scale.
“Right now we’re in 20- or 30-gallon reaction sizes,” Yauch said. “When you’re at a 10 or 20-pound scale you can start modeling what will happen at full scale when you’re making thousands of pounds.”
However, the process at the pilot production facility is different than the process working in a lab due to the nature of the different equipment.
“You have a general optimization of your temperatures and times, but it will change when you bring it up to this scale,” Yauch explained. “There’s a learning curve. Initially we didn’t get amount of TNC expected, so we stopped to determine the cause we were able to determine the reaction was not complete due to low temperature and short residence time. Once the problem was identified, we were able to obtain purer product on the second trial.”
The TNC process created by ARDEC could be ready to transition to manufacturers by the end of March 2014.
Once the TNC production process is completed, it will be transferred to the Project Manager Combat Ammunition System for use in mortar and illumination rounds.
- ARDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.