PolyCase Ammo: A Shot from the Future

Polycase Ammo
Polycase INCPTR ammunition.RUSS BRYANT

You might get a hint about what exactly PolyCase Ammunition is all about from its name, specifically the “poly” part. It refers to the company’s new method of manufacturing projectiles. Not only does their technique shatter constraints of traditional manufacturing technology, it opens up entirely new possibilities.

I recently toured the PolyCase Ammunition factory outside of the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia, to see how they make bullets. To appreciate the level of innovation, it helps first to understand how traditional bullets are made. To grossly oversimplify, common copper-jacketed bullets are made by pounding a piece of copper into a tubular shape. Next, lead is smashed into the interior of the copper tube. More pounding and crushing shapes the whole thing into a final product. This is a very oversimplified explanation of what is a time-tested technique, and it works just fine for producing simple cylindrical-shaped bullets.

When you bring ammo by the case to the shooting range, it’s going to be a good day.

At PolyCase, they’ve figured out how to mold bullets into virtually any shape imaginable. Rather than pounding bullets into the desired shape, they use a process much like that used to make everything from ice cube trays to Mr. Potato Head body parts: injection molding. The process uses moderate heat and pressure to squeeze the material into hollow molds to create a part in virtually any size or shape. It’s generally applicable to products made from polymers and plastics, because a malleable raw material is required.

Where the PolyCase folks got clever was figuring out how to apply the benefits of this manufacturing process to bullet construction. Clearly, you can’t make effective bullets from plastic; they would be too light and weak to meet performance requirements. PolyCase created a material of mostly powdered copper, mixed with a small percentage of polymer. This raw material is known as resin and comes in a form similar to irregularly shaped BBs or finely ground gravel. The resin is a permanent mix in which the polymer binds the copper together. When heated to about 400 degrees, the resin becomes soft enough to be shaped using injection-molding machines.

There's also a very important ballistic advantage, which we'll get to in a bit. First, let's look at the manufacturing process in a bit more detail.

How Polycase Makes Ammo
Large barrels containing 250 pounds of resin are the basic raw material. This resin is already blended to PolyCase’s unique formulation of polymer and copper.
How Polycase Makes Ammo
This is raw resin made from mostly copper with smaller amounts of polymer permanently blended in.
How Polycase Makes Ammo
The resin material is fed into a drying machine that looks unsettlingly similar to the house robot Rosie from "The Jetsons" (but not once did I hear it chastise Elroy). The drying is a critical step. If the smallest bit of water makes its way into the mold, there will be gaps and voids in the finished product.
Next, the resin material is drawn into a heating chamber, where it is liquefied and forced into a steel mold. This is the heating area that preps resin for molding.
The mold halves are forced together with up to 80 tons of pressure from the injection-molding machine, shown here. This allows the resin to be forced into place without risk of deformation and leakage.
How Polycase Makes Ammo
This is a bullet mold. The small hole in the center is where hot resin is injected. Sorry, I can’t show you the inside. A PolyCase factory in Barcelona, Spain, manufactures the molds and their design is a secret. What I can tell you is that each mold produces 16 bullets at a time.
How Polycase Makes Ammo
The mold opens and drops a “tree” of bullets to a conveyor belt where they break off and drop into a container of mold tree branches and single projectiles. Each machine completes an inject-and-mold sequence in a bit over 15 seconds, so a completed projectile drops at the rate of one per second. The beauty of the system is that it is easily scalable by adding additional injection molding machines.
How Polycase Makes Ammo
A hidden benefit to the process is the efficiency of raw materials utilization. Tree branches and rejected bullets are tossed into this very serious-sounding shredding machine that grinds them back into the very same resin material that went in the front end. Out of a thousand pounds of raw material input, only a couple of pounds go to waste, and that’s a result of material remaining in the machine when it needs to be cleaned.
These are freshly molded bullets ready for sizing.
How Polycase Makes Ammo
Next, each bullet is inspected and resized individually, using some pretty cool automated bullet sizing equipment. PolyCase is on the verge of implementing some molding changes that will eliminate the need for the resizing step altogether. The new molds will be able to produce a perfectly concentric bullet in the initial molding step.
If you already have injection molding equipment, why not make the packaging too?
This is a batch of freshly produced PolyCase cartridges. Stare at this too long and you’ll get dizzy.
The manufacturing process is cool, but what’s the big deal? The copper-polymer blend ARX bullets are lighter than jacketed lead bullets of equal size, so they travel faster. However, even with increased velocity, felt recoil is substantially less than that of a comparable traditional bullet. Given the explosion of pocket .380s and 9mm handguns, this is a big deal. That micro gun that was so hard to control with full-power self-defense ammunition is now tamed. Harder recoiling calibers like .40 S&W and .45 ACP have minimal recoil and muzzle flip. The construction yields one more benefit: accuracy. PolyCase bullets are made of the same material inside and out—there is no core or jacket. Not only do the bullets stay intact, they are by definition, perfectly balanced and, therefore, tend to fly straighter. PolyCase tests new bullet profiles for accuracy in house with one of these Ranson Pistol rests.
You can’t visit a bullet factory without shooting, right? Well, we did. The PolyCase team took my group to a nearby shooting range where we burned up a variety of .380 ACP, 9mm, and .45 ACP ARX ammo. We used a number of handguns, ranging from small and light pocket wonders to full size, full-caliber guns. Shooting the 56-grain .380 ACP ARX ammo in a Ruger LC380 was actually pleasurable. It was exceptionally easy to shoot two-handed, strong-hand only or weak-hand only. “Easy to shoot” is nice for comfort, but what that really means is you can shoot accurately. I had no problem at all shooting very tight groups at 5, 10, 15, and 20 yards.
Next, we moved up a little in power to a virtually identical gun, the Ruger LC9s. Even the 74-grain 9mm ARX defense load was easy to handle in this gun. While it had a little more recoil than the .380 ACP, it was far more manageable than shooting a traditional 115-, 124-, or 147-grain 9mm cartridge. We also shot the 9mm ARX in a full-size Sig Sauer P226 Single Action Only. This felt far closer to shooting a .22LR handgun than a 9mm. Last we shot 114-grain .45 ACP ARX cartridges. We had a Smith & Wesson SW1911 eSeries government model, which is a full-size pistol. Recoil was exceptionally light, but even more importantly, muzzle flip was non-existent. Shooting a super-fast pair was a piece of cake because the gun never really came off target after the first shot. We did all of our shooting offhand, so I couldn’t do formal accuracy testing. What I can say is that this ammo is easy to shoot accurately. Tight groups were the norm at all the ranges we tested within the constraints of the indoor range.
Leaving the factory, my brain was spinning with the possibilities opened by this type of manufacturing process. Certainly the “lead-free” design has an appeal all its own. The ability to create radical new bullet designs is another groundbreaker. But what really got me thinking was the materials aspect. Use of other metals and materials might open up whole new categories of inexpensive practice ammunition, premium special-purpose ammo, and who knows what else. Keep an eye on PolyCase: I suspect they have a lot of new ideas in the works.