Home Bots & Bullets U.S. Army automates loading of howitzers

U.S. Army automates loading of howitzers

by Marco van der Hoeven

The U.S. Army has is working with robotics manufacturer Eckhart to design and build automation to increase the rate of fire for Self-Propelled Howitzers. By way of the SPARTN Fire Faster program, the Army Applications Laboratory managed a competitive process in which hundreds of potential industry partners were evaluated before selecting and funding five companies to lead the artillery loading modernization effort.

Handling and loading artillery is substantially similar today as it has been for the last hundred years. Soldiers working in cramped confines are tasked with completing precision movement of projectiles up to 50lbs with no mechanical assistance. Fatigue and musculoskeletal injuries are common. The U.S. Army recognized an opportunity to find solutions at use in the private sector and specifically in manufacturing environments to improve the situation.

Chris Sankovich of the Army Applications Lab in Austin, Texas, explains, “The opportunity to improve soldier safety and efficiency within the Self-Propelled Howitzer is a challenge that we felt is best addressed by identifying and selecting qualified industry partners. Our role is then to help take industry best practices and work with our cohort companies for timely and successful incorporation to the U.S. Army’s Howitzer systems.”

Lift & load

Eckhart sees many similarities between soldiers loading artillery and the lift & load work that is performed by their industrial customers every day on American manufacturing lines. Travis Turner, General Manager of Eckhart’s Davenport Operations, explains, “In the Fortune 500 manufacturing environment that we have operated in for over six decades, there is an intense focus on optimizing the safety, ergonomics, and efficiency of technicians who perform assembly tasks each day. The Eckhart team has deep expertise working within tight ergonomic windows where thresholds define the maximum weights that can be lifted before mechanical assistance or a robotic alternative is required.”

Eckhart’s expertise solving operator safety and ergonomic challenges on manufacturing assembly lines provides a starting point from which to help the U.S. Army deploy mature technology and automation to help our nation’s soldiers. Turner continued, “We’re excited to be part of such an innovative program that affords us an opportunity to bring disruptive technology to the U.S. Army. All stakeholders involved are committed to reshaping how industry works with the Army and reuniting American innovation and national security through the joint-partnership of our collective team.”


For over 60 years and based in Warren, Michigan, Eckhart designs, builds, and sustains advanced industrial solutions that enhance the quality of life. Eckhart’s proven portfolio of Industry 4.0 technology includes autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), collaborative robot systems, traditional robotics, assembly automation & simulation, 3D printing tool development & production, and Factory of the Future consulting for the world’s largest manufacturers. Eckhart serves an established and loyal blue-chip customer base of leading industrial original equipment manufacturers including 3M, Boeing, Pepsi, Stryker Medical, General Electric, Tesla, Cargill, Toyota, Mercedes, and Caterpillar.

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