ABOVE: In the East Texas town of Marshall, RIO Ammunition has made a large investment in a full-scale shotshell manufacturing facility. This is good news for the country’s clay target shooters and bird hunters as well as for the economy of the area.
American shotgunners for generations have relied on the Big 3 of American ammunition makers for their fouling piece fodder: Winchester, Remington and Federal. Within the last 20 years or so, a few European brands have come across the Big Pond to grab a share of the U.S. shotshell market. One of these European brands is making great strides into the American shotshell scene. That brand is RIO Ammunition.
I have been using RIO shotshell ammunition for about as long as they have been around in the States. This excellent ammo is one I often use when conducting my gun reviews and am never disappointed with its performance. In April of this year I was fortunate to have been invited by Adam Reese, Marketing Manager for RIO, to visit their new manufacturing facility located in Marshall, Texas. More on that visit in a moment.
RIO, like most ammunition-producing entities, is a wheel in a much larger corporate machine called MAXAM headquartered in Spain. They are a major industrial group producing products and providing services through four key business units: civil explosives, key raw materials in the nitro chemical industry, products and services for the defense industry and gunpowder for the hunting and sporting industry. MAXAM maintains a global presence that includes more than 6,500 employees, production facilities in more than 45 countries, more than 100 affiliated companies and sales that exceed $1.2 billion.
This worldwide corporation is guided by Jose F. Sanchez-Junco, Chairman and CEO. Although the majority of American shooters have never heard of MAXAM, by any standard they are indeed a major player in the global explosives scene.
Where MAXAM has made itself known to the U.S. shotgunner is with their brand of shotshells — RIO Ammunition. In all my years in and around the shotgunning industry, I have had only a couple of opportunities to visit an ammunition production facility. I was excited to have this chance.
Marshall, Texas, is a small town located roughly 2½ hours east of Dallas. I had attempted to visit the plant a few weeks earlier, but North Texas in the midst of the transition of winter to spring major storms prevented the visit. The Marshall facility had its official Grand Opening June 25, 2015. Many of the corporate leaders of MAXAM, including Sanchez-Junco, were in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Upon arrival at the plant, my friend of many years, RIO Sales Manager Bryan Bornes, informed me what I would undergo before the actual tour of the plant. A few minutes were spent with their EHS Manager Emily Fulbright, who described to me the do’s and don’ts of the visit, information about safety rules and equipment and making sure I understood it all. A couple of signatures and I was given a specially designed anti-static smock, earplugs and safety glasses and introduced to the person who would be my guide on the tour, Production Supervisor Phillip Beecham.
The extruder machines turning out the plastic hulls that eventually become the housing of the finished shell.
The first thing I noticed when entering the plant was its almost surgical cleanliness. The floors were smooth, clean and free of any litter. This emphasis on cleanliness and safety was very evident in all parts of the plant. The facility in Marshall manufactures RIO shotshells virtually from scratch. Few components are outsourced. Even the raw chemicals that form the hulls are mixed and extruded in this plant. Component segregation is a key to the maintaining of the plant’s high level of safety. Hulls are formed, cut to length, brass heads are attached, primed and stored in one area, while the actual loading of components into live shells and their packaging is completed in a separate area of the plant. The speed at which the newly minted hulls are primed is incredible.
An employee in the final loading area prepares printed boxes for filling with finished shells fresh off the line. It’s amazing how fast these industrial loaders are!
I was fascinated to hear of and see some of the quality-control methods that went into the making of RIO shotshells. High-resolution cameras are in place in many points along the production line, and hulls that do not pass muster are removed from the line instantly. This helps to ensure the end product is of the finest quality, and you get all the performance in your gun the shell was designed to give.
I did not have an up-close view of the actual loading machines that turned out finished shells, but I could see them at work. This was another of the safety points used. The machines loaded the primed hulls, wads, powder and shot together, and in only a few moments these finished shells were boxed and stacked ready to be shipped to the customer.
With three shifts working, I was informed daily production of rounds were in the vicinity of 1,000,000 rounds. That would take care of my needs for ammo rather nicely. Additionally, I was told for the moment only 12 and 20-gauge loads were being manufactured in the Marshall plant.
A beautiful sight for any shotgunner — newly minted shells rolling off the press. Ah-h-h!
When you think about what could happen in an ammunition-loading plant, the attitude and emphasis on safety is very understandable. Static electricity could make for a major problem. I even saw on the walls internal safety alerts called “Problem of the Day”. These are issues addressed by the production crews and managers daily and remedied asap.
This was a most enjoyable and enlightening trip for me. I now have a much greater respect for what it takes to make a great shell. RIO Ammunition is made with extreme precision and attention to detail.
RIO Ammunition is a proud supporter of the clay-target disciplines in the U.S. and they deserve your patronage. You can find RIO Ammunition at most sporting goods stores and through many dealers in this magazine. If you haven’t tried RIO ammo, you owe it to yourself to do just that. SS