Pneumatic Pnews

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tech Force 99: Part 1

by Tex Force

A reader who calls himself sav300 asked for a look at the Tech Force 99, so today I'll begin.

Where it came from
As you may know, Compasseco redefined the Chinese air rifle; not just in America, but for the entire world. They did it by starting a product improvement program on certain Chinese airguns and accessories to bring them up to European and American specifications. They knew the Chinese were capable of building better products, but nobody was showing them what was needed or desired in the airgun arena. So, they stepped in.

The target was the TX200
Compasseco knew that the TX200 from Air Arms was the most highly regarded spring air rifle of the day (the late 1990s, and still true today). That became the target. Could a Chinese air rifle be made as well as a TX200? It would have to equal it in fit, finish, power and accuracy. Compasseco was dealing with the Shanghai Air Gun Factory, an employee-owned and operated firm. They still had operate within the laws and regulations of the People's Republic of China, but those laws and regulations had relaxed in the area of consumer products, so almost anything was possible.

The challenge
To a person who doesn't understand how a factory operates, it might seem that all you have to do is make each piece exactly like a TX200, then assemble them and you're done. That's the same as saying that it doesn't take a sculptor to chisel an elephant out of a block of marble - just remove everything that doesn't look like an elephant!

When a factory undertakes a new design, they have to figure out how to achieve it with their existing equipment. If the Air Arms plant in England uses a $500,000 CNC mill to produce a certain part and the Chinese plant has a 30 year-old turret lathe that is only one-tenth as accurate, they have to figure out how to use their machine to do the work of the CNC mill. Even the Chinese cannot afford to spend an hour to make a part that is made in England in four minutes! When the difference cannot be made up by spending more time and care, other manufacturing processes (finishing, for example) are brought to bear to make up the difference. If the British plant can obtain seamless hydraulic tubing with a micro-finished interior that they can pass a reamer through once and end up with a compression chamber, but the Chinese plant can't, they have to find a way to work around the problem.

So, you don't just build a TX200 on the first try! Compasseco and the Chinese engineers formed a team that examined the rifles currently being built and selected the QB 36 underlever as a good starting point. The 36 was a Chinese attempt at producing a higher quality air rifle, so it was already headed in the right direction. And, it was an underlever.

Improvement by increments
The design team selected several features that needed improvement and set to work on them. Among these were the uniformity of the compression chamber, the quality of the mainspring, the quality of the front and rear sights, the quality of the underlever latch and the quality of the stock. Each of these features took many hours of engineering design work, prototype fabrication, and testing and sending samples back and forth from China to the United States. Several times a year, Compasseco representatives visited the plant in China for design reviews.

The short version
To cut to the chase, the first major milestone in this project was the introduction of the Tech Force 97 rifle. It was unveiled at the 1999 SHOT Show in Atlanta in February. Yvette Hicks, a Compasseco rep, could cock the rifle with one finger! A report written by Jess Galan gave 1/8" groups at 10 meters. It was quite a rifle!

Continued next week...


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