Cutting edge technology

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Boom! A tank shell explodes, shattering its target with precision – but this time there are no fatalities nor injuries. This wasn’t a shot fired in anger but from a tank on a British Army firing range.

But what happens to the shells from there? The uninitiated will be surprised to learn of the efforts taken to ensure the shells cannot be salvaged and sold on to third parties for future use.

Tees Business finds out more…

Expertise at providing hi-tech automated systems for the defence sector helped Applied Integration secure a unique contract for machinery designed to safely decommission such British Army tank shells.

Already boasting many years of experience designing state-of-the-art systems for nuclear submarines, engineers at the Stokesley firm were part of a Ministry of Defence supply chain working to a new directive for the safe disposal of munitions.

Nottingham firm McIntyre, leaders in the field of recycling machinery, turned to Applied Integration to design and build the safety-critical automation and control systems for a rare machine designed for a truly unique purpose.

The contract revolved around a 2015 military directive around the demilitarisation of munitions that requires a process known as ‘disfigurement’ whereby munitions classified as either FFE (free from explosive) or FFEH (free from explosive hazard) are crushed or sectioned to prevent re-use or subsequent sale as a recognisable weapon.

Applied Integration director Garry Lofthouse explains: “The shells are cut or crushed – disfigured in military language – to ensure they can’t be used again.

“These are large, military standard 155mm diameter shells measuring a metre long. The weapons disfigurement system is basically a massive pair of hydraulic shears.”

While McIntyre built the hydraulics, they contracted Applied Integration for the required control and automation systems.

Safety is understandably critical throughout the entire process, but the Tees firm’s vast experience of meeting and exceeding demanding defence sector expectations ensured such issues were in safe hands.

Lofthouse says: “Given the operation of huge, razor-sharp cutters and small potential for explosives, safety on the machine is a high priority so there is a multitude of safety systems in place.

“The machine is remotely controlled so operators do not need to go, nor are they allowed to go, within close proximity while the machine is operating. A protective curtain around the cutting mechanism is there purely in the unlikely event of an explosion.

“Laser beams create a safety cage around the machine. Our systems ensure that when the beams are broken, the machine automatically ceases operating. In addition to all that, cameras focused on the machine provide a high definition video stream of the operation at all times.”

John Dyson, one of Applied Integration’s highly-skilled lead engineers, led a small team throughout the project’s six-month turn-around.

“The safe disposal of munitions was something completely different for us but McIntyre turned to us due to our proven capabilities and experience within the defence arena,” adds Lofthouse. “Our experience of automation and control systems, particularly around military systems, gives us a competitive edge over rival firms.

“The quality demands within the defence sector are exceptional but we have the processes in place from years of working on defence-related systems to meet even the very highest of requirements.”


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