Fabrication capabilities and skillset unique to Enterprise
In a little-known world deep within Pantex, parts and tools are machined to perfection - in one instance to within 39 millionths of an inch - to ensure the absence of variation. Perfection is sought because these aren't just any parts and tools. They are fabricated, modified and repaired for work on nuclear weapons.
"Everything we do is related to a weapons process or supports it in some form or fashion," said Danny Brito, Production Tooling section manager. "Some of the tooling we fabricate is classified and must be made on Plant site. Onsite facilities allow for availability of resources and quick turnarounds."
Tools and packaging created at Pantex to service and protect our nation's nuclear deterrent at times require the use of unique processes and materials made exclusively at Pantex.
One such process used specifically by Pantex in the Machine Shop is called Lumiclading. It coats and protects aluminum alloys, is electrically conductive and provides a smooth and durable finish suited for use in tooling and tester parts for nuclear weapons. New within the last five years, the Lumiclad black oxide process is in demand both by national laboratories and the United Kingdom.
Working hand-in-hand with the Machine Shop is the Pantex Plastics Shop. Molds for parts are at times created in the Machine Shop, and then sent to the Plastics Shop for use. Other times, the Plastics Shop forms PVC using a vacuum process, then sends it to the Machine Shop to be cut to specification.
"The two craft shops openly discuss any issues and share their vast knowledge to ensure we all are successful as a team," said Jody Elliott, Production Tooling craft supervisor in the Plastics Shop.
Adiprene, the material used most often in the Plastics Shop, was created at the Plant nearly 40 years ago and is specially designed to protect nuclear weapons. With its various colors denoting hardness, or durometer, Adiprene is used to make seals, packaging and tools. Most recognizable of the products may be the red W76 nose cone.
When asked the "coolest" thing made out of Adiprene, Elliott said, "Believe it or not, spatulas to support operations where working with high explosives is a concern."
It's the people behind the products that make the difference, explained John Herrera, Production Tooling craft supervisor in the Machine Shop. "Excellent math skills, blueprint reading skills and computer programming knowledge enable our craftsmen and women to do this kind of work,"
The Machine and Plastics Shops have built a solid reputation at Pantex and elsewhere for quality, Brito said, adding that the traits shared by these unsung heroes that set them apart are their attention to detail, dedication to their work and holding themselves accountable to produce a high-quality product.
Joint Test Assemblies heighten confidence in nuclear stockpile
A mock nuclear weapon leaves California aboard a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. Radars in the United States and across the globe pick up its movement. Minutes later, the mock W87 plummets to earth over Kwajalein Island. Though it carries no special nuclear materials and, as such, is not capable of a nuclear yield, the value of this JTA is beyond measure.
Information gathered from the weapon’s sensors and instrumentation allows scientists and engineers from national laboratories to assess its performance to ensure that the weapon
functions as designed. This vital program enables the laboratories to annually validate the effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile to the President of the United States.
The Joint Surveillance Flight Test Program, under which JTAs are administered, is a collaboration between the NNSA and the Department of Defense. Testing has been ongoing for the life of the stockpile, and there are currently JTAs for all weapons except the W84, for which testing was discontinued several years ago.
“The labs design the JTAs, and we build and ship them to the military for test flights,” said Curtis Chamberlain, Pantex Production manager. “We also do post mortem or disassembly of the JTA after the flight on the B61, B83 and W80.” Others, such as the high-fidelity JTA, which use main charge high explosives, are destroyed on impact, though data gathered during the JTA’s flight is transmitted to naval ships or to ground stations.
Building the JTAs is a more detailed process than building a full-up nuclear weapon, according
to Chamberlain, because of the telemetry or “brains” that measure performance. Unlike protocol for production technicians elsewhere onsite, those working on JTAs can work alone and call on others for assistance when needed. “These guys are meticulous,” said Chamberlain.
“The most challenging part of these builds is the uniqueness of each build within the same
program. With those challenges comes the most rewarding part of building these units — we
confront and address each challenge and get the job done,” said Trey Gillman, Production section manager. “The production techs I have worked with and now supervise are some of the best on Plant site, and I consider that one of the biggest rewards also.”
JTAs are built using parent-unit parts to test their in-flight capabilities along with off-the-shelf and
vendor-supplied components, explained Ronnie Navarrette, Production Tooling department manager and former Production manager over the JTA program.
Technicians see the process from beginning to end — times four. Parts from recovered JTAs
may be used as many as three times if the mock weapon is dropped using a parachute. At their
fourth use, the parts are used on JTAs that are sent into free fall.
“JTAs are one of our end products, and I like the fact that they are actually used by our military,”
said Navarrette. “I like the deterrence value that they provide, playing an important role in
the security of our nation. And, they leave some fascinating contrails behind.”
For 20 years, the Pantex Lunch Bunch Club has been working to develop the gift of gab.
This week, the members of the Toastmasters International club gathered at Pantex to celebrate two decades of learning to be better speakers and better leaders. About 20 members, including three who were there for the founding of the club, celebrated the achievement, said Roger Coffey, one of the charter members.
Coffey said the club started in 1993 as a way to create a Pantex speaker’s bureau. Members worked to develop better presentation skills to represent Pantex at other sites and in the community. Over the years, more than 100 Pantexans passed through the organization, improving their public speaking skills by creating speeches and presentations for other members.
Many of the Lunch Bunch crew advanced to area, division, district and regional Toastmasters competitions.
For much of the past decade, the club was honored annually as a President’s Distinguished Club based on the members’ high level of achievement and participation, Coffey said.
Pantexans showed their community spirit June 13 when employees, along with their families and friends, volunteered their time at two local nonprofit organizations.
More than 40 volunteers came to an America Supports You Texas event to assemble care packages for our troops in Afghanistan. America Supports You Texas was founded in 2005 to create awareness and support for active military men and women, as well as veterans in our area. Over 200 boxes filled with snacks, personal care items and books were mailed overseas the next morning.
Another group of Pantexans and their families went to the High Plains Food Bank to lend a hand with its community garden. The garden was severely damaged in hail storms last month. The majority of the garden’s produce benefits children and afterschool programs throughout the year.
The garden has only two full-time employees and relies heavily on volunteers to help out. With the help of the Pantexan volunteers, the garden is expected to recover and produce fruits and vegetables well into the fall season.
More than 100 Pantexans attended the annual Armed Forces Day Celebration at Pantex Wednesday. For more than 15 years Pantex has hosted a lunch and ceremony to honor those who fought to keep our country free. This year, the Pantex Fire Department Honor Guard presented the colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem.
More than 700 Pantexans are veterans of the armed forces.