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Arkansans contrive faster ammo-maker

by John Magsam | July 30, 2017 at 1:58 a.m.

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 ammo-maker 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."

SundayMonday Business on 07/30/2017

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