Hub of the High Explosives Center of Excellence

  • Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015, 12:00 am

The Pantex Plant manufactures high explosives to support the nation’s nuclear deterrent. Nuclear weapons require both high‑explosive charges and special nuclear material. Pantex’s experts manufacture the main‑charge high explosive by making the raw munitions powder, heating it in ovens and pressing it into a solid. The main‑charge high explosive surrounds the nuclear core, or pit, of a weapon.

For more than 50 years, the Pantex Plant has manufactured high‑explosive charges for every weapon in the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Much of that work is carried out in six aging facilities. But soon, high‑explosive operations will be conducted in the site’s newly built High Explosives Pressing Facility. The one‑of‑a‑kind HEPF will consolidate processes in a single modern facility, increase manufacturing throughput by 180 percent, and over the life of the facility, save $92 million in high‑explosive transportation costs.

For Lennon Mings, HEPF represents a quantum leap in high‑explosives operations. “This is a huge advancement,” said Mings, a high‑explosives pressing engineer. “While Pantex has always been at the forefront of pressing operations, HEPF will allow us to increase not only productivity but also our capability both in the size of explosive components and in improved process control, which equates to a better quality product.”

HEPF Fast Facts
  • 45,000 square feet
  • 16 air handlers
  • 582 sprinkler heads
  • 709 electrical devices
  • 726 light fixtures
  • 8,750 linear feet of fire protection piping
  • 14,160 linear feet of process piping
  • 52,073 linear feet of electrical conduit
  • $66.7 million construction contract cost to date

Mings and other Pantex engineers and technicians helped design the processes in the new facility so that equipment and tools are within easy reach, which drives efficiency, nearly doubles throughput without adding personnel and increases worker protection. Moreover, detailed information in the design model will aid in machine maintenance and repair.

Not surprisingly, the new facility will change how Mings does his job. “HEPF will be more reliable, which will free up my time to play a more active engineering role in operations,” he said. “I won’t spend nearly as much time troubleshooting issues with ovens and ancillary equipment that support pressing.”

In addition to more efficient processes and a revitalized infrastructure, other HEPF benefits include improved safety and reduced transportation costs. The 45,000‑square‑foot facility consolidates packaging, staging, pressing, machining and density operations, which decreases risks and costs associated with transporting a main‑charge high explosive from one building to the next.

“Because process facilities are scattered, today a main‑charge high explosive moves all over the site,” said Robert McClary, who heads up Pantex’s High Explosives Manufacturing organization.

“Every time you move it, there’s a risk … the potential to drop it or have a vehicle accident. With HEPF most everything is in one place, so we significantly lower that risk and save on transportation costs.”

Now that HEPF construction is complete, CNS personnel are prepping the facility for startup. Tooling is being moved in, network and security systems are being added and detailed procedures are being developed so that operations can begin by fall 2016. “We’ve got the keys to the building and now are readying it to make it operational,” McClary said.

Once operational, HEPF will be the hub of the Department of Energy’s High Explosives Center of Excellence for manufacturing.

“I grew up in Amarillo and for many years didn’t know the important role that Pantex plays in national security,” said Monty Cates, director of Explosive Operations at Pantex. “Now, as an employee, I can tell you we meet the mission daily. When we leave our homes in the morning to come to work, our goal is to protect our families and our nation. We know HEPF is key to securing America’s future.”