US 20020178959 A1
A tracking system for ammunition cartridges where the cartridge casings are provided with serial indicia on an inside surface such that spent casing found at a crime scene can be tracked to the purchaser of the ammunition via a machine scannable system.
1. A small arms ammunition cartridge including a casing having a cylindrical body having inner and outer wall surfaces and opposed top and bottom ends wherein said bottom end is closed by a bottom wall in turn having a top inner surface and a lower outer surface, an explosive charge contained in the casing, a bullet attached to the top of the casing body and means for initiating the explosive charge to fire the bullet, the improvement comprising a machine readable code on at least one of the outer wall surfaces of said casing and a unique indicia visible by the human eye on at least one of said inner surfaces of said casing, said indicia identifying a particular casing and said code including identification of said indicia.
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7. The method of tracking to the retail purchaser of small arms cartridge ammunition of the type having a hollow casing including outer and inner surfaces, a bullet projectile attached to the forward end of the casing, an explosive charge included in the interior of the casing and a primer to activate the charge comprising, providing an interior surface of the casing with a unique indicia visible by the human eye and providing an exterior surface of the casing with a machine-readable code wherein said indicia identifies a particular casing and said code includes identification of said indicia, machine reading the code of individual cartridges as part of the procedure to form retail sales packages thereof to create information to identify the individual cartridges in said retail package, utilizing said information to create a machine readable label containing said information, placing said label in the retail sales package and wherein the ammunition sales outlet clerk scans the label to create an information input identifying the purchaser of said package and thereafter inputting such purchaser information to an information storage facility thus linking that purchaser with individually identified cartridges which purchaser information may be accessed by inputting the unique indicia of individual casings into such storage facility.
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 This application incorporates Provisional Patent Application No. 60/209,788 filed Jun. 7, 2000.
 This invention relates to small arms ammunition and more particularly to a system that will enable investigative authorities to better solve crimes involving the discharge of firearms utilized with such ammunition. When firearms are utilized in the commission of a crime, the crime scene often includes spent ammunition casings. It would thus be desirable to be able to link those crime scene casings to the person or persons committing such crime. Presently there are anti-diversion tracking systems referred to as ADTS which allow manufacturers to trace products using overt and covert technologies from point of manufacture throughout the distribution chain. For instance, scannable indicia, codes including conventional bar codes can be incorporated into labels of many products such as cosmetics, shampoos and the likes in order to be able to trace the manufacturing and purchase history of such articles for purposes of recall and policing unauthorized distribution. Accordingly, it would be desirable if the general principles of such product tracking systems could be utilized and modified to enable the tracking of ammunition cartridges such that crime scene firearms' casings could be traced to the last authorized purchaser of the ammunition cartridge from which the casing was part of.
 It is, accordingly, an objective of the present invention to modify such anti-diversion tracking systems in a unique and unobvious manner so as to achieve crime scene identification of spent ammunition casings. Such is accomplished by the present ammunition tracking system which is designed to serialize ammunition cartridges in such a fashion as to be able to trace them from manufacturer, to distributor, to the retailer and finally to the final consumer or purchaser via a network of computer terminals at the point of purchase. Such system places a number or other unique identification on an interior surface of the cartridge casing which indicia will be still visible after the cartridge is fired such that investigative personnel can visually identify such number or other indicia and utilize such to trace the ammunition to the purchaser and additionally place an optically readable code on the shell casing exterior surface such that it may be read by high speed optical scanning equipment so as to, in part, establish a manufacturing and distribution history of such cartridge. Such system would thus allow casings found at crime scenes to be traced to the person who purchased them greatly enhancing the ability of law enforcement agencies to quickly and confidently solve crimes. These and other objectives of the present invention are accomplished by a small arms ammunition cartridge including a casing having a cylindrical body having inner and outer wall surfaces and opposed top and bottom ends wherein said bottom end is closed by a bottom wall in turn having a top inner surface and a lower outer surface, an explosive charge contained in the casing, a bullet attached to the top of the casing body and means for initiating the explosive charge to fire the bullet, the improvement comprising a machine readable code on at least one of the outer wall surfaces of said casing and a unique indicia visible by the human eye on at least one of said inner surfaces of said casing, said indicia identifying a particular casing and said code including identification of said indicia.
 Other objects, features and advantages of the invention shall become apparent as the description thereof proceeds when considered in connection with the accompanying illustrative drawings.
 In the drawings which illustrate the best mode presently contemplated for carrying out the present invention:
FIG. 1 shows a single unit of small arms ammunition generally referred to as a cartridge;
FIG. 2 shows the cartridge shown in FIG. 1 in a disassembled format showing the component parts thereof commonly referred to as an “exploded” view;
FIG. 3 is a bottom plan view on an enlarged scale of the cartridge shown in FIG. 1;
FIG. 4 is a view of the interior portion of the shell casing taken along the line 44 of FIG. 2;
FIG. 5 shows a laser-marking device imparting a machine-readable code, e.g., in data matrix format, on the bottom of the casing shown in FIG. 1 and particularly on the outside surface of the primer portion thereof;
FIG. 6 shows a similar laser-etching device that is capable of irnprintng a serialized number on the upper surface of the inside bottom wall of the cartridge casing;
FIG. 7 is a stylized view showing the progression of individual cartridges to packages thereof to a case and at each stage of the process being machine read for the purposes of the present invention;
FIG. 8 is the stylized view of the interior of an ammunition or gun store in which the outside barcode of an individual package of cartridges is scanned and information taken as to the identity, etc. of the retail customer purchasing such;
FIG. 9 is a plan view of a crime scene; and
FIG. 10 is a slightly enlarged partial interior portion of a shell casing in which the indicia imparted on the upper inner surface thereof is visible by the naked eye of the crime scene investigator.
 Several unique manners of achieving the results of the present invention have been devised. In one method (Method No. 1) the flat metal sheet stock (not shown) in the raw materials stage that is destined to be formed into firearm cartridge shells (casings) may be provided with a laser reactive coating. Such coating may be applied to both sides of the stock wherein one side of the stock is destined to become the inside of the ultimately formed cartridge casing and the other side forming the outside of such cartridge casing. This coating will enable an optical laser to mark the stock on both opposed surfaces or at least the surface destined to become the inside of the cartridge as by etching or burning through selected areas thereof. This etching would take place at predetermined intervals along the stock sheet metal to correspond to those special areas, which will bear the indicia on the ultimately formed cartridge casing. Preferably the indicia on the cartridge shell interior should be visible with the naked eye by the crime scene investigator. The indicia destined to become the desired outside portion of the cartridge can be in code, that is, machine-readable, and as small as one-millimeter square (see FIG. 3).
 Coding by such laser etching of the top and bottom surfaces of the stock can occur simultaneously with impartation of matching numbers either visibly readable or encoded. Such a tracking number can take the form of a multiple digit number, e.g., a twelve digit number which would provide the capability of tracking up to 999,999,999,999 individual cartridges per year. Following years could begin with a letter prefix (Example: A99,999,999,999). This method will provide a system wherein no two cartridges could have the same tracking number for decades to come. In addition, prefixes or suffixes of numbers, letters or other indicia could be provided for each different manufacturer.
 In this first method of forming cartridge casings from stock already provided with indicia as by the above-described laser etching process, the top code or tracking number will become the inside of the cartridge which will enable humanly readable tracking of such number and the bottom code will become the outside of the cartridge casing which will enable such to be machine readable in data matrix format ECC200. Such data matrix code format is, in essence, a two-dimensional barcode and is utilized as the marking code of choice of many industries such as computer chip manufacturers to mark their small manufactured components. There are also a number of other barcodes including one-dimensional barcodes that may be utilized with this invention so as to not exclude a symbology that may be suited for this application including preprinted labels to visibly readable inks—all of which including the laser etchable coding must be environmentally resistant to the condition of use, that is, the indicia applied to the cartridge shell's inside surface must be capable of withstanding the explosive and burning forces of the propellant upon firing, and the surface destined to become the outside surface of the cartridge must be able to withstand environmental conditions, e.g., temporary high temperature and normal abrasion contact.
 In a second method of coding, the cartridge primer, which may be manufactured on site or supplied by a vendor, is coated with a laser reactive material or dark colored finish. The laser to produce a machine-readable code, e.g., data matrix format ECC200, will remove this micro coating.
 As the cartridges are assembled, the primer is placed in the bottom and seated into the cartridge casing. Prior to injecting the explosive charge, e.g., gunpowder, into the cartridge casing, a machine vision system will read and decode the data matrix code previously formed by the laser on the primer. This information will then be translated by computer software and sent to an online laser that will print the humanly readable equivalent in two probable locations. These locations are inside the edge of the cartridge casing or on the bottom inside surface of the cartridge casing. This number will be used to locate the purchaser of the cartridge if the cartridge is involved in a crime. In this method, it would only be necessary to apply a laser etchable coating to that surface of the stock destined to form the inside surface of the cartridge or apply such coating to that surface after the formation of the cartridge casing. The cartridge manufacturing process will continue as the explosive charge, e.g., gunpowder, is added and the projectile is seated and crimped to the cartridge casing to form the completed ammunition cartridge.
 A third method applies the desired indicia after the primer has been seated into the cartridge casing but before the cartridge is filled with gunpowder. Two (2) lasers—one firing a data matrix on the outside bottom of the primer and the second laser printing the humanly readable equivalent inside the rim or on the inside bottom of the cartridge are utilized. It is also possible to print, etch or otherwise apply the machine-readable code to the outside bottom surface of the cartridge casing, that is, that surface surrounding the bottom surface of the primer rather than on the primer itself. As stated before, an ink jet printer could also print the machine-readable data matrix.
 In the example set forth above, the completed ammunition cartridge 10 is formed from a cartridge casing or shell 12, a primer 14 usually a percussion activated explosive charge, the primary explosive charge 16, e.g., gunpowder, that is placed in the casing and the projectile bullet 20 which is attached to the casing after the gunpowder is inserted. The casing includes an elongated cylindrical body 22 open at the top end 24 thereof and including a smaller opening (not shown) at the bottom wall 26 thereof. The cartridge primer 14 is generally in the form of a circular disc having opposed upper 28 and lower surfaces 30 and is adapted to be crimped or otherwise attached to the casing bottom wall 26 while positioned in the opening thereof. The machine-readable bar matrix code is referred to by the reference numeral 40 while the indicia on the inside surface of the casing by the reference numeral 42. The commercially available lasers are referred to by the reference numeral 44.
 As an example, the cartridges are then placed in a holder with the primer 14 facing up, which would likely be an automated process. Before the holders with the coded cartridges are placed and sealed in the retail package, a machine vision system will read and record the identity of each cartridge. Such optical vision systems that are capable of reading and decoding as many as 100 individual data matrix codes at simultaneously are commercially available. The software within the ATS (Ammunition Tracking System) system will then identify, process and assign the cartridges a unique package number. The package number is then printed onto the side of the retail package 48, e.g., via an ink jet printer. The printed format could be a number of different types of linear barcode 50 plus the humanly readable equivalent. This unique package number may also be used to automatically print and apply the label. There is also the option of using a preprinted label. Such preprinted label would be applied to the package after the package has been scanned by the machine vision system. All labels will then be linked to the cartridge identities inside the package. This number will later be used to track to the ultimate consumer.
 The building of shipping cases is also illustrated in FIG. 7. As the packages of completed cartridges are being packed, the package barcode 50 numbers are then scanned and the shipper case is built. The Ammunition Tracking System (ATS) software program will store all package identifications being placed in the case. After a preset number of packages have been reached to complete the case, a linear barcode 52 will be printed and applied to the case 54. This process may be done automatically. The Ammunition Tracking System is used to link this shipper case barcode and all the cartridges contained within the case to the distributor or retailer during shipment from the manufacturer.
 A palette is built in the same fashion. After a preset number of cases have been placed on a palette, the Ammunition Tracking System will assign and print a palette label. This palette label when scanned will link every case, package and cartridge identification to its destination.
FIGS. 9 and 10 show in diagram format the manner in which the Ammunition Tracking System tracks the ammunition. When ammunition is shipped to a distributor or retailer, the manufacturer will normally generate an order and picking list from their existing system. Using a data collection device equipped with ammunition tracking software, the manufacturer will enter the retailer or distributor identification number followed by the invoice number. (These steps are covered in depth by trained ammunition tracking personnel.) The order picker is then prompted to scan the palettes and/or cases selected to fill said order. When the order is complete, the same procedure will be repeated to fill the next order and so on. Scanning a palette or case will immediately link those particular cartridges in that palette or case to the receiving retailer/distributor. At the end of the day or any scheduled time/quantity interval, the data collectors are uploaded to the central database server of the Ammunition Tracking System that will continually update this offsite central database. The distributor shipping to the retailer would use the same shipping method utilized by the manufacturer to ship to a distributor.
 How the Ammunition Tracking System is used to track cartridges from the retailer to the consumer is as follows:
 When the retailer sells any ammunition cartridges to a customer, the retailer will enter via the Ammunition Tracing System's direct Internet link or onsite computer, the package identification number and/or scan the tracking barcode 50 printed on the side of the package. The system will prompt the retailer to enter the customer's name, state of residence and driver's license number along with any other pertinent information required by law. With the process complete, the cartridge identification numbers are now linked to the ultimate customer along with date, time and retailer of record. In the case of the direct online Internet connection, the transaction is instantly recorded. In the case of the retailer using an onsite computer to collect the transaction data, this computer will be polled at the end of each business day or other interval, and all transactions will be uploaded to the centralized database. The preferred system would be the instant online hookup.
 Ammunition found at crime scenes are decoded by visibly looking into the interior bottom 30 or side 32 of the spent casing 12 to view indicia 42. This humanly readable number is entered into the Ammunition Tracking System's central database by law enforcement agencies at the scene or some central location linked by telephone or computer. Immediately, the ammunition is then traced back to the customer who purchased the ammunition along with the date and retailer of record as well as all the pertinent information collected. This process may be accomplished in two ways: 1) because the data is instant and in a humanly readable form, officials at the scene are able to radio the cartridge identification number and thereby have a very strong lead within a short time period; 2) the cartridge casing would be returned to the lab to perform the data trace.
 The above-explained systems for utilizing the markings applied to an ammunition cartridge casing enable the objectives of the present invention to be carried out in a cost effective, relatively simple manner. A key feature of the invention is not only the broad concept of marking cartridges for the purpose of tracing them to a purchase source, but also the concept of including a serial identification number on a surface of the cartridge casing which is hidden from the user and only visible after the bullet is fired from a gun and that any attempt to alter such interior indicia would normally destroy the usefulness of the product.
 While there is shown and described herein certain specific structure embodying this invention, it will be manifest to those skilled in the art that various modifications and rearrangements of the parts may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the underlying inventive concept and that the same is not limited to the particular forms herein shown and described except insofar as indicated by the scope of the appended claims.