Weapons and Kit

Take a look inside the BAE Systems factory making munitions for the military

Watch: How artillery shells are made.

Since the First World War, munitions for the British military have been manufactured in North East England. 

The BAE Systems munitions factory in Washington is where tens of thousands of artillery shells are made each year, both for the UK and armed forces around the world.

The 155mm and 105mm calibre artillery shells, and the 81mm mortar bomb all start life there. 

The region's proud tradition began with the Birtley Belgians during the First World War, refugees who came to work in the munitions factory, supplying artillery shells for the Western front

BAE Systems Washington Munitions Shells 301122 CREDIT BFBS
Three-quarters of the shells produced are for the British military.

In 2011, production was moved from the Royal Ordnance Factory Birtley to the current facility in nearby Washington.

Lee Smurthwaite, programme director, BAE Systems Washington, said: "The site's been in this community for over 100 years now.

"This is a new site, we've been here over 10 years now, and it really gives that precision machining and engineering capability for ammunition products." 

BAE Systems Washington Munitions Shells 3 301122 CREDIT BFBS
As well as artillery shells, the factory also produces thousands of mortar bombs every year.

Decades of expertise has passed from one generation to another. 

Machine operator Roy Baldwin says: "I've worked here for 20 years, me dad's worked here, and his grandparents worked here, so this is third generation."

The workers are tasked with the initial production of forging and shaping the shells.

It is a multibillion-pound operation, with the latest manufacturing machinery used to produce the thousands of shells needed.

Joshua Grant, CNC machinist, said: "The forging facility produces all of our shells on site, from 105mm to 155mm shell.

"We start the process with our billets coming into site from our supply chain.

"We then go through an induction process to heat the billet up to 1,100°C and the process takes the billet to a finished forging.

"This process takes approximately 60 seconds per shell."

The finished product then goes down to the BAE Systems Glascoed sister site for filling.

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