Manufacturing Safety: Snow Tools Made the MSR Way

Originally Published November 30, 2015.

MSR products are known for being precision-engineered and thoroughly tested in our lab and in the field for reliable performance. But did you know we also make many of our own products on-site in our Seattle, WA and Cork, Ireland factories? Manufacturing our products in-house gives us quality control over the process, ensuring that the same attention to detail that went into the design goes into the production. Here’s a look at the fabrication process of our lightweight, durable MSR Snow Picket and MSR Snow Fluke in the Seattle factory.

The MSR Snow Picket

MSR Snow Picket (60 cm. size)
MSR Snow Picket (60 cm. size)

 

MSR Snow Picket

A mountaineer’s staple, the Snow Picket has been an MSR snow tool for over 20 years, and while the lightweight, versatile design with the unique “T”-shape has experienced some feature upgrades during that time, its basic function has remained the same. Whether you bury it sideways as a deadman to leverage its full surface stopping power, or you hammer it vertically like a stake into even, hard-packed snow, it offers secure anchoring protection in an easy-to-place design.

How It’s Made:

Made of lightweight, aircraft-grade 6000 series aluminum, each MSR Snow Picket begins as a fifteen-foot-long extruded piece that’s individually cut, then loaded into a CNC machine, where its drive-end is tapered and the beveled attachment points are made.

14-foot extruded aluminum T-beam prior to cutting.
14-foot extruded aluminum T-beam prior to cutting.
 Extruded aluminum T-Beam being cut into standard 60 cm and 90 cm lengths.
Extruded aluminum T-beam being cut into standard 60 cm. and 90 cm. lengths.

With high accuracy and a very clean cut, the CNC machine drills and bevels the holes and tapers the drive-end of the picket. After this process, the hammer-end reinforcement is placed and graphics are put on, including the red middle-clip highlight.

Snow Picket on CNC machine.
Snow Picket on CNC machine.
 Reinforced hammer-end of Snow Picket.
Reinforced hammer-end of Snow Picket.

By design, we leave our pickets (and our flukes) as raw aluminum instead of painting or powder coating them, because you want the snow to stick to your anchor, not slide off.

MSR product manager Owen Mesdag crossing a snow ladder secured by MSR Snow Pickets at 13.5k feet on Mt. Rainier (photo credit: Loren Campbell)
MSR product manager Owen Mesdag crossing a snow ladder secured by MSR Snow Pickets at 13.5k feet on Mt. Rainier (photo credit: Loren Campbell)

The MSR Snow Fluke

MSR Snow Fluke (size large)
MSR Snow Fluke (size large)

 

Built to UIAA standards, the MSR Snow Fluke is made of aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum combined with polyurethane deck fabric (materials we also use in our Lightning™ Snowshoes). In the Snow Fluke, this combination creates a strong yet very lightweight anchor that’s great for mountaineering, ski mountaineering and emergency anchoring, especially if you ski or climb with only two people, and at times when you have limited mobility.

How It’s Made:

MSR has a lot of experience with manufacturing and working with metal, and we are always looking for ways to improve the process. Up until recently we cut out the fluke frame from a full aluminum sheet with a water jet, but have recently upgraded to a new 2D laser-cutting machine.

Aluminum sheet getting loaded into the 2D laser-cutting machine.
Aluminum sheet getting loaded into the 2D laser-cutting machine.
Laser-cutting process.
Laser-cutting process.

Because the laser works faster and makes a cleaner cut, we can reduce the time needed for finishing work, which further streamlines our manufacturing process and saves energy.

 Frames after laser-cutting, prior to forming process.
Frames after laser-cutting, prior to forming process.

To precision-cut the fluke’s decking fabric, we use a high-quality steel rule die customized to the shape of the deck. Pairing this urethane-coated nylon fabric, used for surface area, with the fluke’s metal frame allows us to save weight without compromising strength and holding power, making the MSR Snow Fluke far lighter than other similar-sized flukes.

Deck-and-frame close-up.
Deck-and-frame close-up.

The remaining parts of the fluke are assembled by hand, making sure its rivets, cable and connective parts are securely attached. We even designed a new crimping machine to create crimps that would exceed spec.

Hand-operated crimping machine.
Hand-operated crimping machine.

MSR was founded on snow safety, and today we continue that legacy through engineering safer, more reliable climbing gear, and by making sure the manufacturing lives up to the design.

Visit our website to see more about MSR Snow Tools.

Originally published January 4, 2016

  • Doug Evans

    Hi MSR, I’m a big fan of your products and have an earlier MSR snow picket, which travelled up Rainier with me in 2012. Is it possible to obtain the reinforced hammer end for an existing MSR picket? Thanks.

    • admin

      Hi Doug, The pickets were redesigned and you can’t install that reinforcement piece onto an old Coyote picket. Thanks for asking!