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By Bill Mills - Aug 2004
In the last several years, the paintball loader market has exploded. Players have gone from having one choice in agitating loaders to a variety of agitators, and now even a whole slew of sorting loaders. The simpler, agitating loaders covered in the original WARPIG Ballistic Labs Loader Lineup helped feed paint more efficiently by mixing up paintballs either when the paint jammed, or in anticipation to prevent a jam.
Sorting loaders represent the next level of operation. They either store and feed paintballs in a sorted fashion, or actively sort the paintballs out of a loose grouping into a single file line for feeding into the paintgun. Some sorting loaders provide pressure on the paintballs to push them into the paintgun’s breech with more force than that provided by gravity alone.
With a new variety of loaders on the market, the time had come for a new WARPIG Ballistic Labs Loader Lineup to see how the new sorting loaders compare.
First, lets take a look at the loaders.
The Ricochet 2KX uses the faceted deflection design that is common to all of Ricochet’s product line. A four bladed impeller spins inside of a sorting cup and drives paintballs along a circular path, bringing them over the feedneck to the paintgun, where gravity takes over. A bend sensor in the feedneck detects when a ball moves past, and activates the 9 volt battery powered motor to sort more paintballs.
The Ricochet Apache works on exactly the same principles as the 2KX, though it came to market first, and is backed by a beefier power supply, utilizing a pair of 9 volt batteries. See a review on the Apache here.
The ViewLoader eVLution 2 is ViewLoader’s upgraded follow-up to their earlier product, the eVLution. The eVLution 2 features a distinctive football shape, and an internal sorting cup where a flexible armed impeller drives paintballs in a circular pattern, and into a side path which then bends down to the feedneck. Break-beam infrared sensors detect when there is a gap in the feedneck, and activate the dual 9 volt powered impeller to supply more paintballs to the top of the feedneck. Because of the break-beam system, and lack of spring tension, the eVLution requires gravity to draw balls from the feedneck to begin its operating cycle. See a review of the eVLution 2 here.
The Z-Board is an upgrade ViewLoader offers for the eVLution 2. While the rest of the loader remains the same, the logic software which determines how and when the loader operates designed to improve performance. This difference is most noticeable as the loader empties and the motor and impeller assembly changes the pitch of the sound it creates, as it changes speed.
The HALO-B loader is a sorting loader from Odyssey Group International. The HALO-B is the follow up to the original HALO, which moves the product from gravity initiated to a true force feeding loader. The heart of the HALO is its sorting cone, a device somewhat like a roulette wheel sitting in the center of a sorting cup. The drive cone pushes paintballs around the sorting cup, and into a feed tunnel which bends down to the feedneck. Driving the HALO-B is a coil spring that is linked to a belt drive system and motor. The coil spring inside the drive cone keeps a constant pressure on the paintballs, pushing them against the breech of the paintgun, waiting for the chance to feed. Reflective infra-red sensors detect a change in the aspect of the surface of the paintballs in the feed neck, which allows the HALO to detect ball motion without requiring a gap in the line of paintballs. The internal belt drive serves to not only transfer power, but also act as a slip clutch, allowing the motor to slip if the loader tries to drive the paintballs too hard when the breech of the paintgun is not empty. The HALO-B is powered by six AA batteries, and a review can be found here.
The HALO Victory Board is a controller board for the HALO-B with higher performance software than the stock board. It features 5 operational settings, each designed to provide best performance under a variety of operating conditions. These modes differ in how quickly they ramp up the speed of the drive cone, and how fast they stop it in different loading situations.
The Q-Loader is a different type of loading system in which the paintballs are pre-sorted into a spiral line inside a spring loaded pod. Rather than re-loading a hopper from a pod, the Q-Pods lock onto a mount on the paintgun, and are swapped, an empty for a full, when the player needs more paint. The Q-Loader has no electronics, and relies simply on the constant spring pressure to drive paint from the loader, though the feed hose and too the breech. A review of the Q-Loader can be found here.
For testing, each loader (except the Q) was loaded with a fresh set of Energizer alkaline batteries, and the HALO Victory board was set to its highest setting. All testing was performed with DraXxus Hellfire paint, shipped a single day by truck from National Paintball Supply’s Daytona warehouse to Palm Bay, Florida where storage was under climate controlled conditions.
The original Loader Lineup compared agitating loaders by testing their maximum feed rates on a test stand built out of a WGP Autococker body, and operated in open bolt mode to feed paintballs into a catch box. For this newer lineup new tests and equipment came into play.
In the past, many people comparing loaders, looking to find maximum feed rates have performed drop tests with the idea that how fast the loader empties itself will indicate how fast it feeds on a paintgun. While a drop test does not take into account the start and stop fashion in which paintballs load into a paintgun, it does at least give one look at loader performance speeds. Unfortunately most loader drop tests measure not only the amount of time needed to dump a given amount of paintballs, but they also add or subtract from that two times the reaction time of the person operating the stop watch or other timing device used in the test.
To eliminate human reaction time, loader drop tests were performed by setting up a test stand with the capability of electromechanical timing. An FBM clamping feedneck was mounted in a vise on an adjustable height platform, and set up so that paintballs would drop from the feedneck into a catch box. The catch box was equipped with a bend sensor which provides electrical resistance when it flexes. Electrical current was passed through the sensor, and an analog to digital converter and graphed over time, to be able to show the start and stop times of the loaders. Tests were run with 100 balls dropped from each loader through the catch box and the total number of balls dropped was divided by the time taken in order to calculate a balls per second drop rate. Three trials were performed for each loader and those scores were averaged to arrive upon final numbers. In some trials there was a noticeable pause before the last one or two balls dropped. In these cases the late balls were not counted either for time, or in the total number of balls fed. In addition to the raw numbers, the feed graphs produced also gave an interesting picture of how smoothly each loader fed paintballs, some feeding consistently and smoothly and others in bursts. No data was recorded for the Q-Loader as it emptied so fast that it overwhelmed the catch box. The paintballs were forced into the box so fast that they bound up against the sides of the box and jammed after only 20 to 50 paintballs had fed through the box.
The final results of this test were as follows:
For full test data, and graph samples of the catch box output showing feed consistency, click here. It should also be noted that it may be possible, at least in theory, for a sorting hopper to feed faster on a paintgun than in a drop test. Because both the HALO Victory Board and the eVLution 2 with Z Board vary their motor speed under different feed conditions, it is possible that they may not run at full speed during a drop test.
While a drop test can give an idea of which loader is likely to perform best, it is not a direct indicator of how fast a loader will perform on any given paintgun.
Because different paintguns operate in different manners, a standardized test was set up with multiple paintguns that would simulate real-world use.
The catch box used in the drop tests was built with a padded path to decelerate paintballs. Paintballs fired into it at the velocities provided when a paintgun is fired without its barrel in place result in the paintballs being safely captured and dropped into the bin in the lower half of the box, while the bend sensor can confirm the rates of fire (either with a paintball or blast of air) achieved by the paintgun. The test paintguns were mounted on a Custom Cylinders gun stand, with the WARPIG Ballistic Labs trigger bot using a pneumatic actuator to pull the paintguns trigger at precisely timed rates. Each loader would be fired on a real paintgun in a very tough loading situation, a burst of 10 shots fired at a consistent rate.
Many times discussion of rates of fire achieved by players, paintguns or loaders are based on taking the time value between the two closest together shots in a string, rather than the two slowest. This leads to some high and impressive numbers, but not numbers that reflect a continuous rate of fire. Loading at high rates continuously is a serious task for any loader.
On the paintguns which featured anti-chop eye technology, the anti-chop systems were activated during testing. It is quite possible for any given feeder to operate faster with any of these paintguns, when the eye is off and the paintgun does not wait for the ball to fall or be pushed far enough into the breech to activate the eye before initiating the firing sequence. Similarly many other factors such as trimming hopper neck length, selecting a paintgun feedneck of an appropriate size, bolt speed, bolt friction, fine tuning bolt position and ball detent strength and position may all lead to configuring a paintgun and loader combination to achieve maximum feed rate.
The goal of this test however, was not to see how fast a particular system can perform under unique optimal conditions, but rather how these loaders would perform on a few different paintguns under the plug and play conditions utilized by the vast majority of paintball players who don’t spend a couple of cases of paint tweaking their hopper and gun to the max.
Each hopper was filled with fresh paintballs to approximately one half to three quarters of its capacity. It was then test fired for a string of 10 shots for three trials at each given rate of fire. After each 10 shot trial, the paintballs were reloaded into the hopper, handled only by gloved hands to minimize the risk of contamination by moisture or body oils. At each rate of fire, the number of paintballs fed was counted. For any test cycle in which two of the three trials fed all ten balls, the loader was then tested again at the next fastest rate. In other words, two out of three successes were considered a “pass” in order to allow for random chance misfeeds. For each hopper and paintgun combination, the highest rate of fire that yielded at least two trials with all ten balls feeding was considered to be the maximum, continuous fire federate.
This test created a highly demanding situation for the loaders. In order to be considered a success at a given rate, they had to start from a dead stop, and then immediately begin feeding at that rate for a full string of 10 shots.
The test paintguns utilized were a Matrix LCD, OGI 03 (with anti chop eye), Airgun Designs ULE (with level 10 anti-chop bolt), and a Smart Parts Vision equipped Shocker 03 with HE bolt kit.
To give an overall performance ranking, the top on-gun feed rates for each loader were averaged and the results were as follows:
Interestingly, performance for each loader was not the same from paintgun to paintgun. In some cases, similar models, such as the eVLution 2 with and without Z Board performed the same, while on others, the higher performance Z Board was able to achieve a faster feed rate.
More surprisingly, performance ranking of the feeders was not the same from paintgun to paintgun. For example, the Q-Loader achieved the fastest rates on the Matrix, 03 and Shocker. On the Matrix it was a full 4 balls per second faster than the HALO Victory. On the ULE however, the HALO Victory Board reached the fastest rates, beating out the Q-Loader by two balls per second.
Both the HALO B and the Q Loader had a difference between their highest and lowest maximum achieved rates of 7 balls per second.
These differences underscored the concept that maximum feed rates involve more than just the loader. Rather, feed rates involve the interaction between the loader, the paint and the paintgun.
For the full on-gun performance data click here.
While this data may be used in choosing a loader, and represents continuous loader performance in real-world configurations, it should not be misapplied, with the idea that the maximum feed rates achieved here are the maximum rates at which a particular loader is capable of feeding either under the best tuned situations, in shorter bursts, or in situations where the rate of fire is alternating such as the uneven rhythms generated by a person pulling a trigger where it may start out slow, and increase over time.
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