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Scranton plant integral to military weapons manufacturing

Inside a fortress in downtown Scranton, fire melts metal to create the shells of weapons of war.

The Scranton Army Ammunition Plant has had many names over the past 70 years. There’s nine buildings and 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Since the mid-to-late-90s, the plant has focused on creating 155-millimeter artillery shells, which today are aiding the war in Urkraine.

“There's no redos here," said Richard Hansen. He's a veteran and serves as the Scranton
Army Ammunition Plant's Commander's Representative.

On Wednesday, April 12, WVIA News toured the Scranton plant, which is on the national historic register.

The shells start out as 20-foot steel bars, weighing about 2,000 pounds. The bars are cut down to 14-inch- 115-pound billets. A piece of metal is analyzed from each bar to ensure that the steel has the correct chemical properties for the missiles, said Hansen.

A robot places the steel into a flaming furnace. The metal is heated up to 2,000 degrees and then forged. The billet goes from 14 inches to a little over 30 inches to start to form the missile shape.

The stretched out billets are still red hot when they’re loaded onto a conveyor belt and into the building’s basement on what the plant calls “the subway.”

The shells are around 1,700 degrees as they roll along the belt. An operator pulls them off the line to do a series of inspections, including determining interior length and exterior dimensions.

“We want to make sure that if we're having any issues with our press operation that we find it here and then we shut the system down we make any adjustments we need to make," Hansen said. "It's a continuous operation. Once we start, we're content we can continually operate indefinitely.”

After the metal runs through the subway system’s series of inspections, it’s onto the nosing department.

“An 800-ton press will come down over the top of it and actually form the nose," said Hansen.

Once the metal is formed into the missile shape it goes again through another series of inspections, including a test that mimics the pressures inside the tube of the Howitzer, the device that launches the missiles. It’s then ultrasonically tested to make sure there are no cracks.

Hansen said the shells are tested more than 30 but less than 100 times.

If the metal fails an inspection at any point, it’s sent to the scrap yard to be recycled.

"There's nothing more important than ensuring that every single round that leaves here is the proper size and weight so that it's able to perform its mission," he said.

A copper and brass band is added near the base of the missile. That allows the Howitzer to engage. Chemical coating is applied to protect it.

The number one priority at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant is safety and quality.

“We want to ensure that when the warfighter uses this round that it works as it's designed to work," Hansen said before the tour.

Construction on the building started in the late 1800s and was completed in 1912. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad operated the facility as a locomotive, steam locomotive and railcar repair facility until 1951. The army bought the property in 1952.

Hansen is a retired Navy aviation maintenance officer. He's a Scranton native who walked past the plant on his way to high school curious about what was inside.

Over 40% of the plant’s staff are veterans, he said.

Older weapons are also demilitarized at the plant and 5"/54s – navy gun rounds – are also produced there.

One of the last steps before the shells are shipped off is a coat of Army green paint. Miles away from the Scranton plant in Iowa, the artillery shells become the weapons of war.

Hansen said that all the facilities that make up the organic industrial base for the United States military are very important to the country’s security.

“Scranton is just one piece of the organic industrial base and I believe it's as important as any other piece," he said.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.
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