The second stage of our discovery of Nexter’s Ammunition Business Group is described in the text “Cooking up ammunition” posted on 17th December which recounts our visit to Nexter Munitions in the centre of France. From there we moved north to the heart of Belgium’s Brabançonne region for the third stage of our European tour and the discovery of MECAR.
The story of this Belgian company began in the trenches of WWI when, in 1916, a French army officer, Edgar William Brandt, invented a pneumatic 60mm mortar of which 3,000 were ordered for the French infantry. In 1938 Brandt founded a mechanics and weapons company in Belgium, the Société Anonyme Belge de Mécanique et d’Armement. This later became MECAR and the company has been based in Petit-Roeulx-lez-Nivelles, south of Brussels, for more than 75 years.
Acquired by the Nexter Group in May 2014, MECAR has since clearly turned the corner achieving a turnover in 2014 of almost €200m. The company, which emerged somewhat scathed after a period spent under the disastrous management of the British Chemring Group, is now enjoying the industrial and commercial strategy at the heart of ABG: investing in people and equipment. It was thus a company with plans for the future that we visited on Thursday 17th December. A company where older and younger employees work side by side, where the latest tools stand besides very old ones, where manual work is done in the shadow of high technology.
And amongst this high technology, the very latest entered service on 18 December. It will revolutionise the way munitions are quality controlled. For many years every piece of ammunition was scanned by X-ray before being visually controlled by a technician. But it is obvious that the concentration of a human will drop hour by hour particularly when s/he is carefully examining 300 items a day. To counter this, MECAR has chosen to integrate into the loop new software based on a neural algorithm. Henceforth, any flaws will be automatically detected by the software which will adapt and “learn” to recognise other flaws autonomously. A first set of data has been developed for 90mm caliber ammunition. To integrate the software MECAR called on the services of a small local company, Rovi-Tech. Based at Aiseau-Presles (Charleroi, southern Belgium), this small company has worked for over 20 years in the industrial imagery sector.
We could also, of course, have told you about the first contract signed with India this year; of the integration of the APFDS-T (Armour Piercing, Fin-Stabilised, Discarding Sabot -Tracer which is an anti-tank munition based on a tungsten arrow) onto “Russian” 100mm shells; of the construction of a storage site in southern Belgium which will open in 2017, a project launched with Belgian companies CMI Defence and FN Herstal; or again the consumable shell being developed for 90 and 105mm calibers.
These are just some of the results amongst others of the €7m that Nexter has already invested in the development of MECAR.
Rendez-vous tomorrow for the last stage of our voyage to the heart of ABG!