Moral, ethical or political arguments aside, anyone engaged in manufacturing activities should be able to appreciate the engineering feats accomplished in the development and production of weapons.

Undeniably, many of mankind’s finest minds and vast resources have been directed to produce them. From before Archimedes, to Da Vinci and beyond, weapons rank as some of mankind’s finest technical achievements.

For purposes of this discussion, consider the design and production of small arms—the work accomplished and the mechanisms used. Whether the cylinder of a revolver indexing into position or the slide of a pistol returning to battery, these devices are ingenious in the way they tackle a specific problem.

Firearms are both evolutionary and often revolutionary, always striving for a perfect balance of design, material, process and result. With hundreds of years of refinement, guns are also ideal studies in design for manufacturability. They are often produced in the thousands and in some cases by the million.

Made of the finest alloys and polymers, modern rifles, pistols and shotguns employ precision machining, forging, stamping or casting along with deep hole drilling, injection molding, even riveting and welding.

From experience I can tell you firearms is also a brutal development field—mechanical devices that need to be simple to operate, robust, accurate, and resistant to shock, climate and debris. They must be light in weight, easily maintained, ergonomic and perform thousands upon thousands of violent, sharp operations flawlessly in the harshest conditions—reproducibility and repeatability in the extreme.

Essentially initiating, containing and directing a powerful detonation, each component is critical with very few compromises possible. They are a clever use of simple geometric shapes fitted together to achieve mechanical advantage. Accurately cut dovetails, levers, linkage, cams, pins and springs combine to resist pressure, friction, heat and wear. Lasting for generations, they are perhaps the ultimate example of durable goods. If only everything else was designed that way.

Ever look at something beyond its intended purpose? The mechanical solution to your engineering problem may already exist just in a different application.
Think of the work accomplished by a semi- automatic firearm mechanism. There are many types but essentially it is a form of reciprocating machinery with operating principals that are exceeding simple and efficient.

Consider the speed at which the goal is accomplished, the motion, the reactive in-line nature of loading, extracting and ejecting a cartridge. This is useful and transferable to many processes and should be of interest to anyone engaged in the pursuit of manufacturing efficiency. The technology has already been proven, produced and scaled, we only need to adapt it.

For example, a weapon’s operating mechanism has an external housing called the action, part of which is known as the receiver. The action’s size and receiver length is largely determined by the size of the cartridge it is intended to fire. So the same would be said in the case of a workpiece. It should be easily recognized that there is no great difference between cartridges and round stock when fed through a magazine, the same with square or flat material.

In this adaptation, eliminate the cartridge ignition system altogether, recess the bolt face to accept the workpiece and you have a simple, repeatable device designed to cycle quickly and accurately. Instead of gas from a projectile tapped from the barrel to initiate motion, air or electric motors could be substituted.

So the progression would work like this. The workpiece carrier is released and driven forward under spring pressure. As the carrier passes over the magazine, a workpiece is stripped from the magazine and driven into accurate position. Then the machining operation takes place. After, the part is then dropped, ejected or directed to inspection. The workpiece carrier is then driven back via compressed air against spring pressure to repeat the cycle.

Here is some food for thought for the applications guys. It may not be as simple as it sounds, but it is achievable. The operating mechanism has already been created, only used for another purpose. If you have rotary tool changers, rotary spindles, multiple axis and spindle speeds well over 100,000 RPM, why not create a workpiece loader by adapting a mechanism that is designed to function at 50 operations or more a minute? Speeds and feeds right?

Such devices already exist with simple ejection, trigger and even safety systems that could be easily redesigned to be engaged with solenoids.

But even if that seems too ambitious, revolving cylinder work piece holders seems simple enough and there are other manually operated rifle action types that would suit. The bolt actions of Mauser or the lever actions of Browning are superb. Even loading a workpiece one at a time by hand in almost the blink of an eye is better than 10-30 minutes per set up.

The grander point is that in looking for that engineered solution, if you are blinded by any stigma you are limiting your creativity. Firearms is a field of study and development as dynamic as that of the internal combustion engine and one of the largest single categories at the U.S. Patent office.

A solution to one problem may in fact be the solution to many, so why expend the energy creating the same result. “Design In” and mechanize your process. So what if the progenitor device was a firearm? Weapons are merely machines. Just look at it a different way and it may help you develop your poka-yoke, your idiot-proof device. Consider it a crossover technology, a tangential benefit.