Photron High-Speed Cameras Capture Ballistics Behavior in Product Testing

September 2016

By: Wendy Telford

Often times a products design can look great on paper and engineers are then tasked with taking those designs and bringing them to life. First comes the daunting production stage, followed by design models and then a final prototype.   What happens next, it’s time for product testing.

Nobody wants a product that can’t live up to its specifications, so companies are tasked with demonstrating and validating their products various capabilities, functions, and performance.  That’s where Energetic Materials & Products, Inc., otherwise known as EMPI, in Round Rock, TX comes in.

EMPI uses Photron high-speed digital cameras to capture images of products during testing.  By using Photron high-speed cameras EMPI can take thousands of pictures in a single second and then replaying them in slow-motion speeds. This allows engineers to see how their product is actually performing and sometimes the results are surprising.

In a recent case study, EMPI was tasked with testing a bullet that was designed to travel through water to reach its target. In order to complete the testing EMPI had to build a special enclosure, a 100-foot-long water tank to be exact, to house the test.  Initial results showed that a part failed and the bullet did not stay on track.  Using Photron’s high-speed camera, engineers were able to see exactly when and how the bullet failed. After some design revisions which were based on the high-speed images obtained during the testing process, engineers were able to correct the error. When tested a second time, the bullet worked perfectly during testing and performed as intended.

EMPI specializes in reactive materials technology to develop new products for a wide range of industrial and defense applications. Reactive materials are a class of materials that, when solid, are non-explosive.  When subjected to a strong mechanical or electrical stimulus they undergo rapid burning or explosion.   Some customers already have their concept and product plans.  EMPI can use their resources in design, fabrication and testing to help their customers reach the marketplace.  EMPI is also equipped to come up with innovative solutions in response to customer demand/need.

John Granier, Vice President of EMPI uses a variety of Photron high-speed cameras for product testing.  He recently acquired a Photron AX100, Photron’s newest “mini” lightweight camera (1.5kg).  The megapixel AX100 provides frame rates up to 4,000 frames per second with exceptional light sensitivity and image quality.  Granier finds Photron cameras ideally suited to his studies of ballistics because many of them are specifically designed to withstand high-G loads.

Granier has also found that fast frame rates are crucial to measuring a field of fragments and that light sensitivity is essential for capturing details of complex projectiles in flight.  He noted that Photron cameras hold up well in his outdoor test area, generally a harsh environment with heat, dirt and debris.  Durability in the field is important for his testing of a wide variety of military and industrial products.

When testing projectiles, Granier needs to slow down the action. Some common questions Grainer seeks to answer during testing include:

Did the bullet stay intact?

Did it remain stable?

Was there pitch or yaw?

Was it accurate in its flight path?

Did the payload, usually an explosive or electronics package, perform as designed?

These are all things that he can study in stop action mode or slow playback speeds using a high-speed camera.

In addition to the military there are explosive and pyrotechnic applications for industrial and commercial customers.  Law enforcement may adopt products that help safely disperse crowds, reducing injuries.  And salvage teams need products that allow fast, remote explosions for some applications.  An EMPI product, the TEC Torch, is a lightweight thermal breaching tool that can be used by military, law enforcement and first responder emergency personnel.  Its cartridge holds combustion products which are moved through a nozzle for a few seconds before heating the target, thus eroding the target material.  During product development, Photron high-speed cameras were used to validate product performance and to document safety data. 


Energetic Materials & Products, Inc. (EMPI) – EMPI specializes in a core technology of reactive materials with scalable and tunable output.  Engineers, scientists, and technicians apply this core technology to develop new energetic tools and devices for wide range of industrial and defense applications.  EMPI offers the full spectrum from concept to production of technologies based on explosives, pyrotechnics, and ballistics. 

Photron – Photron manufactures a wide variety of high speed digital imaging systems. Photron high speed cameras are used by research customers worldwide, providing reliability and high performance in the most challenging imaging applications.  Their imaging products include megapixel image resolution recording at up to 21,000 frames per second (fps), four megapixel (2K x 2K) cameras, high-definition 1080 resolution for broadcast imaging and ruggedized systems with miniature camera heads for on-board automotive safety testing.  In addition to providing innovative high speed camera systems Photron also endeavors to offer the highest quality support to its customers through experienced and trained technical staff.