Email This Page
What do you think? Add your comments in WARPIG's REC TALK Forum
IPMc produces Worr Paint
by Bill Mills
On July first, 2002, International Paintball Manufacturing in Saint Petersburg, Florida announced its grand opening. On February 13th, the same year, they invited WARPIG.com to take a sneak preview of the facility and see the very first paintballs to roll off of their production lines.
While IPMc is now producing paintballs for the world-wide market, they have teamed up with industry leader Bud Orr of Worr Game Products to produce the Worr Paint paintball as their exclusive brand in the United States.
Dawn and I arrived at the plant in the morning, eager not only to see the historic first paint from the plant, but also to see the whole manufacturing process. In the past, many paintball manufacturers have been quite secretive about their techniques - this was not the case with IPMc and WGP, in fact Bud Orr stated that he plans to allow factory tours on a regular basis, especially before and after World Cup when many teams are only a couple hour's drive away from the factory
Bud introduced us to Jeff Danta. Jeff is not only the plant manager for International Paintball Manufacturing, but also the designer of much of the factory's layout. He has a long career in the softgel industry, and has overseen the production of some major brand paintballs in the past.
Jeff started our tour by showing the factory map. More prominent on the map than the walls and machines were color coded paths that showed the paths that employees and equipment take through the entire manufacturing process, and the clean-up afterward. Jeff explained that the art of making a paintball that is consistent is tied tightly to keeping everything in the manufacturing process consistent. That includes how long materials sit between stages, and one way to help control that is to be very specific about the routes they take between machines.
Danta showed us the receiving warehouse. This is where the raw materials are delivered. The gelatin arrives in a granulated form, in large bags on palettes. Jeff said they had already drawn up plans for a bulk receiving facility where full truckloads of gelatin could be unloaded directly into storage bins, but that would wait until a cost analysis showed them which delivery method was most effective.
From the warehouse, the gelatin goes to giant cooking vats. Here it is heated and slowly mixed until it turns from powder to a warm, thick liquid. Careful control of mixing speeds, and pressure inside the tank is very important to make sure that air bubbles do not froth up the gelatin, as they could cause problems down the line. The gelatin is then piped into large stainless steel flasks.
The steel flasks are of a double wall construction that surrounds the gelatin with a heated water jacket. Except when being moved, the flasks are constantly plugged into electrical power so that an onboard thermostat and heating elements can keep the gelatin at exactly the right temperature. The gelatin then goes to a mixing station, where a device that looks like a cross between a small outboard boat motor and an electric hand mixer is used to stir pigments into the gelatin to give the shell it's color. Since it was important to see the fill inside of the paint to check for separation, or other possible problems, the test paint being produced while we were there skipped past this step, leaving the gelatin nice and clear.
The pigments and fill of the paint were similarly mixed in large rolling flasks, though for them, temperature and pressure were not nearly as critical.
Then came the big room. The flasks of gelatin and fill were wheeled into the encapsulation room. While we were there, the first of these machines was operational, and two were being installed. Two more would fill up the room. Jeff also showed us that one of the walls in the room was temporary, and would eventually be taken down doubling the size of the room for another row of five machines in a mirror image layout.
For the first test runs, the paint fill was transferred to the encapsulation machine one bucket full at a time. This would soon be replaced by a pump system. Behind the encapsulation machine two flasks of gelatin were hoisted into the air, and hoses linked them in. The machine drew in the gelatin through the hoses and it was spread evenly on a large, chilled, slowly rotating steel drum. The cold temperature chilled it down into a clear rubbery sheet, and a thin layer of oil on the drum prevented it from sticking (this is what sometimes gives paintballs their slightly oily texture).
The gelatin came a way from the drum in a wide ribbon, and traveled over a set of rollers up and around to the front of the machine. On the other side of the machine, another drum and rollers were producing an identical ribbon out of gelatin from the other flask. These two ribbons would become the two halves of the paintball shell.
At the front of the machine, the two ribbons came together, sliding down the sides of a wedge. At the point of the wedge, they were squished together by a pair of rolling dies. These two dies have oval shaped pockets in them, and sharp cutting edges around the pockets. As two pockets come together they create and cut out what is basically a sandwich of two disks of gelatin. At the moment it is forming, the wedge squirts just enough paint to blow this sandwich up like a balloon, a moment before the top edge is sealed together.
The paintball sticks in one of the two dies, until it is flicked out by a fast spinning roller, and drops down one of to chutes onto a conveyor belt. At this point the ball is very soft and squishy, like a small water balloon. The belt takes the ball and dumps it into a 5 stage dryer. The dryer is basically a long a tumbling basket. By keeping the balls moving which circulating air around them, it prevents them from settling to one side and developing a flat spot. Once the paint makes it's way through the dryer it is placed on flat trays and moved into a drying room.
According to Danta, having a drying room next to each machine helps streamline product movement, and makes it easier to trouble shoot if any problems arise in the paint. In each drying room, air flows from ventilators on one side to an exhaust on the other.
The air in the drying rooms, and the whole facility is very carefully treated. It is first dehumidified (all the moisture is removed) and then specially cleaned and chemically enhanced moisture is added back into the air. This allows the exact humidity and temperature of the air to be precisely controlled.
Out of the drying room, the paint is bagged, boxed, and send on it's way.
Through the spring of 2002 IPMc manufactured, tested, adjusted, and manufactured more paint with constant feedback from Worr Game Products, selected paintball fields, and WGP sponsored teams like Missouri Magic. IPMc refined both the quality of the paintballs they were producing, and their colors and fills. This process led to the actual grand opening announcement on July first, and the availability of Worr Paint from Worr Game Products.
Copyright © 1992-2012
Corinthian Media Services. WARPIG's webmasters can be reached through our feedback form.