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Russian Manufacturing Technology Is Slowly Being Localized

September 23, 2020

Via Kalashnikov Group.

Two weeks ago the manufacturing enterprise Kalashnikov Group released a video clip on its Youtube channel to promote a CNC machine with “5-axis milling.” The new hardware combines direct energy deposition or “DED” and additive processes to form complex metal shapes in real time. It wasn’t specified if the “machining center” where these computerized tools are being installed will be the Izhevsk plant, also known as the main production facility for Kalashnikov Group’s small arms including its brand new AK-200 series. Besides weapons the company has expanded its portfolio to different verticals such as vehicle parts and watercraft.

For the Kalashnikov Group to brand its own additive manufacturing tool, which brings several processes together in a single machine, is a logical step for a company that guards its production methods by keeping all operations in-house. It’s common knowledge the Kalashnikov Group’s Izhevsk plant forges its own weapon-grade steel and molds the critical parts needed for the Russian military’s small arms; these important stages are never outsourced to suppliers elsewhere. It seems the development of the DED-type 5-axis milling machine was also pursued to meet the government’s requirements for self-sufficiency, also known as import substitution, as a workaround for sanctions that imposes limits on dual use equipment imported by Russian companies.

An interesting detail shared in the Kalashnikov Group’s video clip is the exact size of parts the 5-axis mill can reproduce; these are described as “complex shapes under 300 kilograms” with dimensions of “600x500x500 millimeters.” The measurements indicate a variety of parts not necessarily suited for small arms and other heavy weapons. The Kalashnikov Group does have a growing catalog of robots and unmanned aircraft whose functioning requires high strength forms and gears. For this year’s ARMY 2020 the Kalashnikov Group even teased an upcoming hovercraft able to travel at 40 knots called the Haska-10 that, by the looks of it, is fully indigenous and may not have any parts supplied from abroad.

The DED manufacturing process is the latest outgrowth of additive manufacturing, itself the proper industrial-scale application for the 3D printing beloved by hobbyists. The DED process has a conical nozzle injecting the material in layers with flawless precision at rapid speeds. For Kalashnikov Group to lead the way in the coming generation of Russian computerized machine tools is a serious break from a longstanding open secret in Russia’s manufacturing sector, which is a reliance on imported CNC machines from either Germany or South Korea. Even during the heyday of the Soviet Union, state-owned factories had few problems recapitalizing their production facilities with machine tools imported from West Germany and Japan.

Even as Russia grapples with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic the Kalashnikov Group has a busy year ahead of it. Aside from its trademark assault rifles the introduction of locally made 5-axis CNC machines with DED technology may impact related sectors with immense strategic value to the Russian Federation such as automotive manufacturing and aerospace, with either having civil and military verticals. This suggests full-rate production of Kalashnikov CNC machines may reach thousands of units to equip entire production facilities. It remains to be seen how far the heavily consolidated model for technological innovation can be pushed amid the doldrums of the early 2020s.

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