Arkansans con­trive faster ammo-maker

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - JOHN MAGSAM

Avid sports­man and gun dealer Ja­son Pruett of Blytheville started a small am­mu­ni­tion-mak­ing busi­ness a few years ago, pro­duc­ing com­plete car­tridges with a sin­gle pull on the arm of his Dil­lon press. Then his arm got tired — re­ally tired.

Pruett, a com­puter pro­gram­mer, and his buddy Ja­son Carter, an en­gi­neer, put their heads to­gether and de­vel­oped a way to mech­a­nize and au­to­mate the process of mak­ing am­mu­ni­tion with a pro­gres­sive press. The re­sult was the Am­moBot. When mated with a Dil­lon Su­per 1050 reload­ing ma­chine, the small, roundish Am­moBot sped up pro­duc­tion. And there were no more tired arms.

Pruett and his friend re­al­ized the de­vice was some­thing other small am­mu­ni­tion-mak­ers and reload­ers would want to use, so af­ter more than a year in de­vel­op­ment, the com­pany sold its first Am­moBot in late 2014.

“It takes a man­ual press and turns it into an am­mu­ni­tion plant,” Pruett ex­plained. “It doesn’t get tired. It doesn’t get hun­gry. It doesn’t ask for a break. All you have to do is stand there and watch it go.”

Pruett and Carter sub­mit­ted a util­ity patent on the de­vice in 2014, and it was fi­nal­ized in May. The com­pany has a patent pend­ing on im­prove­ments to the ini­tial ma­chine, and it in­tro­duced its third gen­er­a­tion Am­moBot, the Rev 3, this month.

The Dil­lon Su­per 1050 pro­gres­sive am­mu­ni­tion press, made by Dil­lon Pre­ci­sion Prod­ucts Inc. in Ari­zona, me­chan­i­cally pre­pares and primes the car­tridge case, loads the car­tridge with the right amount of pow­der, and seats and crimps the bul­let in one stroke of its op­er­at­ing han­dle, ac­cord­ing to com­pany ma­te­rial. It can pro­duce about 1,000 fin­ished car­tridges in an hour’s time, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

The Am­moBot mech­a­nizes that stroke, and the com­pany’s most re­cent model can pro­duce up to 2,800 rounds in an hour, Pruett said.

Am­moBot’s pri­mary cus­tomers are com­pa­nies that process spent car­tridge cases for re­sale, small-scale am­mu­ni­tion mak­ers, as well as pro­fes­sional shoot­ers and com­pet­i­tive shoot­ers who tend to burn through a lot of ammo.

U.S. gun and am­mu­ni­tion com­pa­nies in the U.S. that serve the civil­ian, law en­force­ment, mil­i­tary and ex­port mar­kets are ex­pected to ac­crue to­tal rev­enue of $13.3 bil­lion in 2017, ac­cord­ing to a re­port the re­search firm IBIS World re­leased in June. Of the seg­ment, 47.6 per­cent of sales will come from small arms while 30 per­cent will be from small-arms am­mu­ni­tion.

The re­port in­di­cates that con­sumer anx­i­ety over fur­ther gun-con­trol leg­is­la­tion was a ma­jor sales driver for the civil­ian mar­ket in re­cent years, but it an­tic­i­pates a slow­down as

the mar­ket nor­mal­izes. It fore­casts an in­dus­try­wide rev­enue in­crease at an an­nu­al­ized rate of 3.5 per­cent over the next five years to $15.8 bil­lion.

In 2013, civil­ian gun sales from the na­tion’s largest firearms man­u­fac­tur­ers surged dur­ing calls for more reg­u­la­tions af­ter sev­eral mass shoot­ings re­sulted in panic buy­ing and na­tion­wide short­ages of some firearms and am­mu­ni­tion. Sales then flat­tened out and even slumped as man­u­fac­tur­ers cut prices to re­duce stock­piles.

But sales spiked again in late 2015 af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack in Paris killed 130 peo­ple, and mass shoot­ings in the U.S. and am­bush at­tacks against po­lice con­tin­ued into 2016. Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency is ex­pected to re­duce gun own­ers’ anx­i­ety be­cause of his vo­cal sup­port of gun own­er­ship.

Rob South­wick, pres­i­dent of South­wick As­so­ci­ates in Florida, a mar­ket re­search firm spe­cial­iz­ing in hunt­ing, shoot­ing, sport fish­ing and out­door recre­ation mar­kets, said am­mu­ni­tion and firearms sales are set­tling back into a more sus­tain­able level af­ter the sales volatil­ity of the past five years.

While some shoot­ers took up reload­ing dur­ing the ammo drought, he said the vast ma­jor­ity of shoot­ers still buy their am­mu­ni­tion from re­tail­ers, with most of the sales com­ing from ma­jor am­mu­ni­tion-mak­ers like Rem­ing­ton, Fed­eral, Winch­ester and PMC. He de­clined to break out mar­ket-share for the re­spec­tive com­pa­nies, say­ing the data was pro­pri­etary in­for­ma­tion.

In Arkansas, North Carolina-based Rem­ing­ton Arms has a large-scale am­mu­ni­tion plant in Lonoke, and gun-maker Sig Sauer of New Hamp­shire re­cently cen­tral­ized its am­mu­ni­tion pro­duc­tion at a new plant in Jack­sonville.

Gary Kieft, sales man­ager for Dil­lon, said us­ing an unau­tho­rized af­ter-mar­ket prod­uct like the Am­moBot on a Dil­lon press voids its war­ranty but added that over the years a cot­tage in­dus­try has grown up around ex­tras and other com­po­nents de­signed for the com­pany’s ammo presses.

The Dil­lon 1050 Su­per press re­tails for $1,800 to $2,000, depend­ing on setup and ex­tras. Com­bined with a Rev 3 Am­moBot, which sells for just shy of $1,400 with­out up­grades, an as­pir­ing am­mo­maker can have a mech­a­nized sys­tem for around $4,000. The small­est, ded­i­cated com­mer­cial am­mu­ni­tion-mak­ing ma­chines sell in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

At this point, Am­moBot isn’t the full-time fo­cus of Pruett, Carter and their third busi­ness part­ner Tom Smith. They all have other jobs and em­ploy a hand­ful of part-time work­ers.

Pruett said they started the com­pany with per­sonal funds, and Am­moBot is debt free. He de­clined to give spe­cific rev­enue data but said the com­pany has seen solid an­nual sales growth each year.

Am­moBot mar­kets pri­mar­ily through word of mouth, YouTube and so­cial me­dia, such as an Am­moBot users group of Face­book that has more than 930 mem­bers. The com­pany also acts as a spon­sor at shoot­ing events to get the prod­uct in front of more po­ten­tial cus­tomers and build brand aware­ness. Am­moBot spon­sors two com­pet­i­tive shoot­ers, Hunter Cayll, “The No Handed Shooter” of Ten­nessee, and Mike Steven­son of Jones­boro.

“Mostly its a grass-roots ef­fort,” Pruett said of the com­pany’s mar­ket­ing. “They buy from us be­cause they know some­one who has one of our ma­chines. Peo­ple trust their friends. You can’t buy that.”

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