PCP Ammunition: Polymer Cased Ammo

PCP Polymer Case Ammo

As of December 2013, PCP Ammunition announced they are ready to start commercial sales of a polymer-cased .308 Win round.  The new ammo will use a 168 grain Sierra MatchKing HPBT bullet, by far the preferred bullet for law enforcement snipers.  Additional specifications have not yet been released.  The following is the original article we wrote on the ammo from the 2012 SHOT Show.

One of the most interesting ammunition vendors at Media Day 2012 was PCP Ammunition, out of Reston, Virginia. What immediately strikes the eye is the multi-colored casings. What those colors mean may very well revolutionize the way we shoot in the future.

PCP Ammunition is now offering Match Grade ammunition using polymer cases and top quality bullets from Sierra, Barnes, and Berger. In addition to reducing overall cartridge weight by 30%, PCP claims that the new polymer casings actually increase accuracy across the board in the different cartridges it manufactures. The revolutionary polymer case design has a patent pending.

PCP’s literature states that the company has “created a revolutionary loading and inspection system that far surpasses anything available in the world”. The company uses “best in class” loading equipment and integrates this with a fully automated loading, primer, and bullet sealing system. The system continues to an “every round” quality control process that uses machine vision to verify that the cartridges have the correct appearance, sealing, and dimensions.

PCP states that this patent-pending technology is based upon the latest military brass sorting and inspection system. These cartridges are designed to meet SAAMI specifications in dimension and pressure.

The development of a polymer casing is huge to the ammunition industry for several reasons. First, as we’ve seen in recent years, ammunition costs have been much more volatile with the rise and fall of the precious metals market.

PCP Polymer Case Ammo

Second, for anyone who has to carry a lot of ammunition or carry ammunition long distances, weight becomes a critical consideration.  Humping a few hundred rounds up and down some mountain in Afghanistan sucks, and lightening the load would be a welcome relief for many a soldier or Marine.

A 30% reduction is huge! Even if you don’t carry or haul a large amount of ammunition, the reduced weight should have a big impact on ammunition prices due to the saved costs from buying metals, and the reduced shipping costs due to lighter weights.

Third, the reducing or elimination of heat transfer to ejected casings has big implications for military and law enforcement shooters who often are firing multiple rounds in close proximity to other shooters.

Finally, if, as PCP claims, the polymer casing can seal better in the chamber during firing this could result in a more consistent discharge of the bullet at maximum pressure and resulting in greater velocity and accuracy.

I got to talk with PCP Senior Adviser, Pete Forras, at Media Day and he provided me with some interesting information on a very interesting new development in ammunition.

In addition to being 1/3 lighter than traditional brass-cased cartridges, the polymer cartridges have little or no heat transfer. What this means is that as multiple rounds are fired through a rifle (currently PCP only makes rifle ammunition) and the barrel heats up, the heat will not transfer to the casings that enter the chamber.

Forras told me that, in essence, you could catch a polymer casing in your hand that had been fired through a barrel with hundreds of rounds through it in a short amount of time.  Having been on the receiving end of burning brass many times this is definitely a benefit of polymer casings!

Forras explained the science behind the polymer. When a cartridge is fired the brass casing expands slightly outward engaging the chamber and then releasing the bullet from the pressure that’s built up. According to Forras, brass casings often do not completely engage the chamber due to minor deficiencies in the casing or wear in the chamber. This causes the release of the bullet before or after maximum pressure is reached, which causes differences in velocity and ultimately accuracy.

The PCP polymer casings are designed to completely expand and engage the interior of the chamber to maximize the pressure of the cartridge during firing. The bullet leaves at the ideal pressure which increases velocity and accuracy.

Foras stated that PCP has conducted it’s own tests and discovered an increase of 65-75 fps consistently across all their different cartridge calibers.

Currently PCP Ammunition has polymer cased cartridges in the following calibers:

  • 5.56 mm
  • .308 Winchester
  • 6.8 mm
  • .300 Win Mag
  • .338 Lapua
  • .50 BMG

According to Forras, the prices of each caliber will correspond approximately with the prices of “premium” brass cased ammunition. However, Forras did say that PCP is currently seeking contracts with the military. If those contracts go through, Forras said that production will increase and the price will go down.

PCP Polymer Case Ammo

I was able to fire some PCP .308 Winchester ammunition at Media Day. I was able to hit a steel target at 100 yards with no problem, and the recoil seemed to be less than traditional ammunition. The casings did not jam, or become disfigured upon ejection after firing. With their casings topped with Sierra, Barnes, and Berger bullets I’m excited to do more testing of these cartridges under more controlled circumstances than Media Day allows.

Forras advised that the PCP polymer cased ammunition will be ready for commercial sales in March, 2012. I plan on buying a few cases in 5.56 mm and .308 Winchester to test on the rifles I own and use. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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About Aaron

Aaron is a sergeant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a trainer, supervisor and SWAT sniper. In addition to his broad tactical knowledge, Aaron is an experienced hunter using bow and both modern and blackpowder firearms.

Comments

  1. Presumably not reloadable.

  2. Correct 9mmLargo! For now at least. The advancements in polymer technology has made this ammunition possible. A rep told me that the polymer is designed to meet or exceed the tolerances of the metal cases, but fell short of endorsing reloads. It might have something to do with there being two cases joined together to make one.

    • The single-use aspect isn’t a problem, as long as the buyer knows it. I only asked because none of the recent press coverage mentions it.

      It’s also not surprising. Other non-brass cases, like steel and aluminum, are generally not reloadable either.

      Brass is only reloadable due to the modest and predictable work hardening associated with its ductility and malleability. Plastics tend to be not very plastic in this regard :).

      Evidently PCP injection-molds the upper case with the bullet already in place. That pretty much says: single use.

  3. Thanks for the added insight 9mmLargo! Despite its singular use these cartridges still offer some benefits that shooters may want to take advantage of.

    I’m particularly interested in the claim that the polymer has a complete and better seal on the bore during firing than the brass/metal casings. That seal is supposed to increase velocity 65-75 fps across the board on cartridges. I also like the thought of carrying lighter weight ammunition when I’m in my police function. I’m interested in anything that reduces the 50-70 extra pounds I carry on a call-out. And like I said above, shooting the .308 cartridges seemed to have less recoil than what I’m used to. Perhaps that was the rifle, although I shoot the G&A Rock, which is a heavy framed and heavy barrel sniper rifle. Or perhaps the better seal allows more energy to go out the barrel instead of backwards.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  4. J.S. MAC says:

    What an interesting concept – it boggles the mind as to what this could lead to. Good article, thanks for sharing.

  5. J.S. Mac,

    The PCP rep told me that they are currently working with the military for test trials on their ammunition. It makes sense – many of our guys over seas are going into the field with as many as 20 loaded magazines, not to mention the guys with 200-round box ammo for the SAW or belts of ammo for the M240. The savings in weight, both to ship it, and to carry it, are huge benefits. The polymer cases also don’t get as hot as brass – a real plus.

    I’m sure that if the military picks this up, even in limited quantities, we’ll begin to see a whole new line of polymer-cased ammunition.

  6. Hi Guys
    PCP is nothing but a continuation of the PCA, the company that went bankrupt few years ago. The concept is excellent: Light weight, higher or equal velocity with less powder (ask me why, I can explain !) , less recoil, and much much reduced muzzle flash… Yes. all in theory is great. But can the PCP succeed where the PCA failed (to be a military round completely replacing brass ammo)? the answer is no.
    I will answer a few of your questions here:

    1- No , this is not relaodable and will never be. Why? Ok, here how it works: PCP took the case of PCA and split it in two. They joined (actually welded it, and I will explain more later on) it at the center, where it is comletely protected by the barrel. Now the top part, is injected together with the projectile.(you are right 9mmLargo) and the way this is done is not just that simple. It is not just sticking the projectile into the mold and injecting polymer around. The Projectile has to be grooved first (what is known as the cannelure). Those grooves have as a main purpose to get the polymer to really hold the projectile. But it also serves a more important purpose: the PULL TEST, meausred in lbs(This is the amount of pull rquired to delodge the projectile from the polymer – keep that in mind I will get back to it later). In the 223 caliber, the pull requirement is between 45 – 65 lbs. Polymer will not give you more than 50 to 52 (if you are lucky) no matter what you do… Why? because the pull is determined by the depth of the grooves (cannelures) around the projectile. The deeper those grooves are, the higher the pull is. But then, we have a probelm here too: the deeper the grooves are, the more is the risk that the polymer neck will detach and leave with the projectile, running a high risk of gumming the gun.
    So: how can we re-insert a new projectile into the fired shell and keep it there? my tests showed no more than 15-20 lbs pull, and that is a no -no.. with glue?? that is an even bigger no-no !! the reason that you can reload brass, is simply because you can “re-squeeze” the neck against the projectile, and thus get it to the minimum pull needed for it to work ( By the way, minimum pull in regular brass cartridges (bfore first firing is aprox 65 Lbs on average !)

    2- yes Aaron you are right. The PCP (or PCA) has a better seal, but not necessarily because it seals better than brass.(after all, both cases are dimensionally the same size due to SAMMY requirements) The reality is, when the primer ignites the powder, both cases expand to the limit, and are held to their maximum by the chamber wall. Now two things happen here: 1- the brass expands when fired but stays in its expanded form, while polymers expand and literally come back to their original size due to the material memory. (that’s why you always re-size a fired brass round before re-loading it). 2- And I do not pretend to understand the reason of this: the internal explosion of powder in the polymer case, seems to be higher than that of the brass case.(and it recoils less – go figure) One expert told me that due to the non-conducting charateristic of the polymer, little loss of heat occurs between the cartridge and the chamber wall, thus more energy is conserved in the shell

    3- PCP’s brass base cap still has to make it’s proof that it does not detach at higher temperatures (talking for a military round now). PCA had a brass base cap too, but that had it’s share of detaching, causing weapon jams. Just like the PCA, the PCP also has a grooved brass base cap.. The difference ? ok.. In order for the base cap to hold onto the polymer ( or vice versa), the base cap has under cuts that the polymer “pours” into when injected. Whether the brass cap “lip” goes inside the polymer case (PCP) or outside it (PCA), those grooves are really essential. BUt in the PCP method, the projectile is injection molded, the base cap is injection moled !!! so how can we fill up the case with powder if both ends are closed?? enter the polymer welding method. I have to say, by the way, that it is the smarter way to make inside base caps, because in this case the brass base cap is simply cold-headed, thus making thousand of acurate pieces per hour on standard cold heading machinery. While in the case of the outside base cap (PCA) the base cap was first cold headed for the main form, then lathes took on the task of cuttig the grooves that stuck onto the polymer.. Long and expensive method, and a major reason that contributed to the failure of PCA (at least from the financial point of view).
    But back to the black part: according to my “quite extensive” knowledge of these materials, the black is the only color that can be used to weld the pieces together.. you can ask the PCP rep about that, I am sure he cannot deny it.. BUT>>> here’s the problem for both types: when you start fring those rounds in automatic (and semi automatic) guns in the hundreds, and when the temperature builds up in that barrel to 750 – 800 deg, nothing is gonna hold those two pieces together… The polymers, in general, are liquid injected between 450 – 575 degrees… you do the math ! (by thw way, that is why the polymer cased ammunition was a better success in the military SAW, because actually the base cap is not totally inserted in the chamber in the way the M-4 or M-16 are)

    Conclusion: I love polymer cased ammunition, it is an excellent replacement for brass “eventually” in the sports and commercial (excluding police forces which are considered commercial) markets. However, it is lunar years before it can replace brass as a service round. Polymers have yet to cover two important factors together: ridgidity for the base, and malleability for the neck… untill that happens, we are just going to enjoy the rounds as “potential” substitute..
    One last thing: I do not know how much they are selling PCP’s.. But it should be at least 25 to 30% cheaper than brass or else it will end up as the PCA.. Why? because, the manufacturing process is simply much easier: It takes about 23 steps to finish a brass round, it takes a max of 9 steps to make the polymer round. Material: Brass has quadrupled in price in the last ten years, and although polymer went up to due to the oil instability, the polymer is still cheaper to make the case. Other materials are the same: primers, projectiles, powder … So no reason for the polymer cased ammunition to be equal to that of brass,,,
    Hope this was of benefit to you guys…happy hunting (and shooting !!) to all..

    • Great insight Richard! Thanks for a very technical look to a new concept in ammunition. It is obvious you have some technical knowledge and have researched this topic. Your comments bring critical information for our readers and are greatly appreciated.

      I agree that PCP will need to work on the price situation if they want to be competitive. Having a single use cartridge at the same prices as “premium” brass cartridges, will not likely sway many serious hunters, or shooters into switching brands – regardless of weight savings. The ability of serious shooters to reload factory loads (and the challenge to meet those results in your own reload) are too big an appeal for many shooters, in my opinion.

      One area I would like to research more is about the potential for casing failure resulting in failure to fire or failure to eject that you mention. Your argument about the manufacturing process and the temperatures used to mold the casing, as opposed to a higher barrel temperature after multiple rounds therefore causing failure, seems to have merit.

      However, the Senior Advisor for PCP Pete Forras (an engineer if I remember correctly) told me that “the heat will not transfer to the casings that enter the chamber”. He even claimed that, “in essence, you could catch a polymer casing in your hand that had been fired through a barrel with hundreds of rounds through it in a short amount of time”.

      I would not think they would make such a bold claim in a selling point, if the science that could easily be tested was not there to support the claim. I wonder if there is not some kind of chemical process that creates some kind of barrier that reduces heat transfer through the polymer. Definitely something to check into, and way too much science for me to answer.

      I’ll try to check back in with PCP and see if I can more information on that. However, I imagine that it will be some kind of proprietary or patented method that will not be disclosed.

      Regardless, thanks for the comments and insight. The concept of polymer ammunition is still very intriguing for anyone who has seen the outrageous rise in traditional brass ammunition.

      Aaron

  7. Hello Aaron
    Mr Forras is absolutely right about the fact that you can “immediately” pick up a polymer case after firing, even if you fire 100′s. I’ve done that so many times. I do not know if he also told you that the trajectory of ejected cases ( firing auto from an M4 or M16 for example) follows the same path, that you can actually stand near the shooter and have the fired cases fall into a container you hold. If you have seen brass going all over the place when shot auto, you will know what I am talking about. As a matter of fact, at a certain time this was a big problem for troop groups shooting from trenches or closed areas, that the brass was causing burns to some soldiers.

    I agree that heat transfer from the case to the barrel is less than that of brass. Way less. I do not have a percentage number. However, I personally have measured gun temperatutes going in the 800′s, and although Mr Forras is right again about the short time that a case stays in the chamber before it is fired, please remember I am talking about a “service round” not a commercial one. No hunter is going to shoot a hundred rounds then loads one into the chamber and wait. However, if you take this test (it is called a cook-off test) then the result will be different from what he is saying. 7 out of ten times the gun will eject the base cap (the brass part) only.

    To the meritt of Polymer case , I would like to mention that a Polymer case failure is a much better one than a brass case failure (which is almost a “catastrophic failure” each time). It is so much easier to clear a shooter’s gun from a jammed polymer cas than that made of brass.

    I wish PCP or anyone else can perfect this round to be a reliable substitute for the brass service round because our boys (and girls !) deserve that.

    • Richard,

      The “cook-off” test makes complete sense, and I’m on the same page with you now. I can definitely see how a hot barrel and chamber from 100′s of rounds fired in a short time, could create that recipe for failure on a polymer casing.

      Let’s hope that the scientists and engineers can find a solution for that problem. I agree, the polymer casing concept has a huge potential for recreational and professional shooters alike.

  8. Aaron.

    I have just lately become interested in polymer cased ammunition. One issue that I did not see discussed in your article is that with polymer cased ammunition your weapon will run hotter. After firing 100 rounds, you have combusted 100 quantities of powder. Each powder burn generates a fixed amount of heat from the combustion. With a standard brass case, a portion of that heat goes into the case and is expelled from the system with the ejected case. If the ejected polymer case is not hot, where has the heat energy that was expelled with the brass case gone? Since the bullets are the same, no additional heat is leaving the system there. Since the propellant is the same, you are not ejecting any additional heat out the muzzle. The only place for that expelled heat to go, since it is not being expelled, is into your gun. If ejected brass cases are as hot as people say they are, then there is a huge amount of heat that is not being removed from the weapon. So my question would be, what is now going to start failing because of the extra heat in your weapon?

  9. Will you have a great point there.

    I think Richard touched on that point when he talked about failure to fire issues and the potential for the 2-stage polymer cases to become destabilized from heat – especially in military applications where 100′s or even 1000′s of rounds could be fired in a single engagement. It may be that one of the great benefits from polymer casings could be one of its greatest detractors as well. Less heat in the ejected polymer case (great) means more heat left behind in the chamber and barrel (bad).

    I think that is why we still have a few more innovations to go before polymer casings become a reality. However, many of my friends who have shot the piston systems on AR-15′s (a system that is traditionally very hot after only a hundred rounds or so with the gas impingement) have found them to be remarkably cooler in firing. Not to mention that they have been incredibly more easy to clean after shooting.

    It could be that the polymer case must find a match in a piston system or at least find a platform that finds an innovative way to disperse the heat without losing the pressure needed to maintain velocity and accuracy.

    Sounds like a very daunting engineering problem, but one that I think has a lot of merit (and profit) should the solution be found.

    Thanks so much for you insights!

    • Hello Aaron, Will
      As I mentioned earlier, I have done some tests in the past with the PCA, which is (was) the same concept. To the benefit of the Polymer case, I can tell you that it really does not matter much (regarding the heat of the gun) because in both cases that barrel ends up going to 900′s , depending on the amount of rounds fired and the interval.
      When a polymer case fires, and with the polymer being a less conductor of heat than brass, what happens is that this “non-conductivity” transforms the “gain” of heat into more energy, obviously pushing forward towards the only open “de-pressurising” zone. That is why the polymer case (I am always talking abt the 223 here because the time I tested those that was the only caliber) needs less powder (I believe ard 22 or 23 gr if I remember well) to achieve same velocity out of the nozzle as the brass case. Which is fortunate for the Polymer case, because they cannot make those walls as thin as the brass case, it will not hold. The walls of the polymer case are thicker (by a few “thousands” of an inch)
      I will be testing the PCP as soon as I can get them in the amounts needed, but that might be only in Spring, I am away for the next 3 months !! Hopefull by then we might see something new from PCP.
      Take care and happy holidays.

      • More great information Richard. Thanks for all the insight. It really helps us get a feel for how close, or far, this type of ammunition may be for shooters.

  10. I obviously meant to write muzzle, not nozzle !@@!

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