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INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT – Ramping Up to Protect Ukraine

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT – Ramping Up to Protect Ukraine

BY JAMES CARELESS

Ramping Up to Protect Ukraine

Based in Ingersoll, Ontario, IMT Defence has been supplying client-designed precision projectile bodies to the Canadian and US military since World War 1. Today this ISO 9001:2015 certified company continues to play a vital role in national defence by manufacturing, machining, and finishing metal projectile bodies ranging in size from 40 mm to155 mm for their defence clients. (The integration of these shells with explosives is managed by their military users.)

Not surprisingly, the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine has boosted demand for IMT Defence’s precision projectiles. “In light of what’s happening now in Ukraine, Canada and most Western countries are assessing their military readiness, including what stores of munitions they have in place and their capacity to produce more,” said Remo Assini, President of IMT Defence. “To fulfill their needs, IMT Defence has spent the last year focussing on increasing our output to meet current and future demands.”

EARLY TO THE FIGHT

IMT Defence has been in the fight to defend Ukraine from the beginning. “It was early 2022 when we received calls from the US Army wanting to know what our capabilities were and how fast we could ramp up projectile production,” Assini said. “This was right at the time that Russia had gone into Ukraine. Back then, the industry’s capacity to produce precision projectiles had decreased due to the peacetime situation we were in. Even Afghanistan didn’t necessarily use a lot of artillery rounds.”

The Ukrainian conflict changed matters as Canada and our NATO allies started supplying substantial amounts of ammunition in all sizes to Ukraine. Mindful that Ukraine’s defence was burning through shells, “we started discussions with the US about IMT Defence increasing our capability and capacity,” said Assini. “That’s what got things rolling.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has boosted demand for IMT Defence’s precision projectiles

BOOSTING CAPACITY 

What is ‘rolling’ at IMT Defence today is a concerted effort to increase its output substantially. To make this happen, the company is currently building a new production line to serve the US Army. When it is ready to go into production in 2024, IMT Defence’s new line will be able to make anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 more projectiles per month. “Right now, we’re producing 2,500 to 3,000 155 mm projectiles monthly,” Assini told CDR. “This gives you an idea of how big an increase this will be.”

To operate this line, IMT Defence expects to add 150-200 new employees to its roster. Currently, the company has about 200 people on staff. “Canada would like us to add a similar increase in manufacturing capacity as well, [depending] on what we are doing for the US,” said Assini. “That is the next project that we’re looking at right now, to duplicate the massive expansion that is already underway.”

Ramping up to protect Ukraine is no easy matter. “Increasing production doesn’t happen overnight,” Assini explained. “To make room for the new production line, we have to add on to the building. We also need to find the employees capable of doing this kind of skilled labour.”

So far, supply chain issues caused by COVID have not slowed IMT Defence down. But the company is not out of the woods yet.

“We really didn’t see anything more than minimal disruptions during COVID-19,” said Assini. “There were a few hot spots, but the team reacted pretty quick. In fact, I think we’re seeing more of an impact after COVID with some of the labour shortages going on now. A significant number of people have left the workforce and now we’re getting to the point where we’re trying to find people and a lot of them have retired. As a result, it’s a bigger challenge to get people now than it was during the early days of the pandemic.”

QUALITY IS PARAMOUNT  

There’s a good reason why IMT Defence’s products are called ‘precision projectiles’. To consistently and reliably reach the targets that they are aimed at – many of them quite distant – these projectiles must be manufactured exactly to the specifications of their military customers. At the same time, the projectiles’ materials must be of the very highest quality, to prevent premature explosions at ignition or during flight. This is why quality is paramount in IMT Defence’s production process, from start to finish.

“Quality in a projectile is a safety feature,” Assini explained. “When ammunition is fired, there are friendly soldiers all around, so you need to make sure that it’s safe. Quality is also vital in ensuring accuracy so that the round reaches the target. Some of these products travel as far as 20-22 km. Future rounds, they’re looking at ranges of 40-70 km. Quality plays a big role in ensuring that you can achieve those ranges.”

According to Assini, IMT Defence’s new line will be able to make anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 more projectiles per month

BIGGEST CHALLENGES

With so much going on, it is not surprising that IMT Defence is dealing with major challenges in its quest to ramp up production.

“The biggest challenge right now is finding and getting acceptable lead times on new equipment,” said Assini. “Our US customer on the current project is really pushing for us to reduce these lead times and accelerate the program. The companies who make this equipment are all busy themselves, plus some of this equipment – based on its large size – just takes time in order to manufacture and put in place.”

As for finding skilled workers for the new line? “We’ve obviously hired some recruiters to help find them,” Assini replied. “We’ve also implemented more in-house training so we can take our people with lesser skills to train them and get them up to speed. As well, we’ve been more aggressive in our local job advertising, using radio ads and billboards and signage wherever we can and social media to attract people. So far, we’ve seen some success in bringing in more people, but the big work is going to happen in 2024 as we get closer to starting up the new line.”

One thing is certain: IMT Defence is committed to helping Canada and the US defend Ukraine against Russian aggression. With over a hundred years of such service to its name, this company is more than equal to the task.

James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

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