Digital Powder Dispensers Part One

Electronic Powder Measure Comparison Test


We tested the three top-selling automatic powder dispensers on the market, the Lyman 1200, the
PACT Dispenser/Scale Combo, and the RCBS Chargemaster Combo. All three machines have decent controls and throw charges within ± 0.1 grain. That’s as good as most people can probably do with a reasonably-priced balance-beam scale. The user-friendly RCBS unit is the fastest dispenser, and it was our clear favorite. The PACT unit ranked second in dispensing speed, and it proved to be the best machine in terms of cleaning and powder removal. However, unlike the Lyman and RCBS, the PACT needs to be re-calibrated every time you change powders. The Lyman 1200 has good memory features, but the warm-up time is very slow, and removing powder is more difficult than with the other machines.
IMPORTANT: Click each product image for full tests (many photos and more data):

RCBS ChargeMaster Combo Lyman 1200 DPS II PACT Digital Dispenser/Scale

Pricewise, the RCBS is a bit more expensive than the Lyman or the PACT. However, with its speedy dispensing rate, quick start-up time, small footprint, and ease of clean-up we believe the RCBS is worth the extra cost. The PACT can be a low-cost upgrade option for those who already own a PACT scale. However, the PACT seemed to be a little more sensitive to drafts than the Lyman and RCBS. None of the units were bothered by incandescent or fluorescent lighting, or by AC current running nearby. To get best performance from all digital dispensers, a ChargeMaster user advises: “Try plugging it into a ‘clean power’ type surge protector. I know they cost a bit but it really cleaned up the loads mine puts out. I checked 50 loads last night. 44.6 grains Varget. 39 were right on. 2 were +0.1 and the last 9 were -0.1.”

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Bottom Line: Get the RCBS. No doubt about it — it’s the best available.
But any one of the units can reduce your loading time signficantly.

Speed of Dispensing
The RCBS is the fastest unit, dispensing a 50.5gr load of extruded H4831sc powder in 8.95 seconds on average. This was twice as fast as the Lyman and about 64% faster than the PACT. (NOTE: we tested the latest PACT version with Speed Upgrade). The Lyman and the PACT were neck and neck in the IMR 4064 tests, but the RCBS Chargemaster still beat them both by 10 seconds per charge dropped. Overall we conclude the RCBS is roughly twice as fast as the other dispensers, at least for extruded powders, which all machines handled with ease. (The ability to handle long, extruded powders is important because these popular propellants often give manual powder measures fits, requiring you to stop and re-throw when the long kernels jam. Being able to dispense long powder kernels with ease is a significant “real world” advantage for the digital dispensers.) The times below were calculated with a stop-watch then averaged. We did 20 throws per machine for each powder.

Powder Charge Weight RCBS ChargeMaster
Aver. Throw Time
Lyman 1200
Average Throw Time
PACT Dispenser
Average Throw Time
H4831sc 50.5 grains 8.95 seconds 18.9 seconds 14.65 seconds
IMR 4064 42.2 grains 12.3 seconds 22.1 seconds 22.5 seconds

Midway Owner Comment: “Speed? I will place the pan on the scale and press dispense. I turn to seat a bullet in the previously charged case, place it in a box, put the funnel on the next case and turn to watch the last grain trickle in. If I have to get a few more bullets out of the box then the scale beats me.”


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Charge Weight Accuracy and Repeatability
We measured thrown charges dispenser vs. dispenser, and double-checked these against a manually-operated RCBS 10-10 (Ohaus) scale. We quickly found that all of the machines normally threw charges within ± 0.1 grain. And this was pretty much the limit of the accuracy of our beam scale. We will need to get a more precise scientific scale (or Prometheus Measure) to further refine the accuracy results. But we can say, based on our tests, the level of accuracy one gets with these machines is probably as precise as the typical reloader could achieve with a 10-10 or similar manual balance-beam scale. (See this Scale Comparison Test by the builder of the Prometheus.) And, the RCBS ChargeMaster is sufficiently speedy that, if a charge shows up high or low in the pan, you can quickly dump it out and run another charge in 10-15 seconds. That is faster than trickling grains into the pan of a balance scale and waiting for it to stabilize. Our friend, Matt in Virginia, also did some further testing with an RCBS ChargeMaster, re-weighing its stated charges first with a balance-beam scale, and then with a PACT digital scale. Here are Matt’s findings using a 44.0 grain charge of IMR 4064:

RCBS 1500 — Ohaus 10-10 — PACT Scale

44.0……………….. 44.00………………..44.2
44.0…………………44.05………………..44.4
44.0…………………44.00………………..44.1
44.0…………………44.05………………..44.2
44.0…………………44.05………………..44.3
44.0…………………44.05………………..44.4
44.0…………………44.00………………..44.3
44.0…………………44.00………………..44.4
44.0…..14 seconds…..43.95…………….44.5
44.0…..15 seconds…..44.00…………….44.6
44.0…..18 seconds…..44.00…………….44.3
44.0…..16 seconds…..44.00…………….44.2
44.0…..17 seconds…..44.00…………….44.1
44.0…..16 seconds…..43.90…………….44.2
44.0…..13 seconds…..43.97…………….44.2
44.0…..17 seconds…..44.00…………….44.3
44.0…..14 seconds…..43.95…………….44.1
44.0…..14 seconds…..43.95…………….44.3
44.0…..16 seconds…..44.05…………….44.3
44.0…..13 seconds…..43.95…………….44.1

MATT’S COMMENTARY ON WEIGHT MEASUREMENTS

Aside from one instance, the ChargeMaster seems to throw within 1/2 of one-tenth grain high or low. That said we are argueably at the limits of the RCBS 10-10′s resolution. Not to mention the Mark I eyeball used…

I tried to list the actual charge weight as accurately as possible, however, we again get into scale resolution and operator error. I will say every weight above or below an exact 44.0 grains was allowed to settle twice. The 10-10 tends to be more accurate, and repeatable than I am…

While not perfect the ChargeMaster provides an enviable record. To put the results in context, I’ve noted up to 0.4 grains weight variance in a single box of Federal Gold Medal Match. This is not to degrade FGMM but rather to serve as a reality check on expected performance.

I was very surprised to see how far off the PACT scale seems to be. It was zeroed twice, however, the pan had to be zeroed out three or four times during the 20 charge run. Can’t believe I actually used the blessed thing to gauge the accuracy of my Harrell’s Culver Measure.

And here’s a user review from Midway USA that mirrors our findings, and those of Matt in VA:
“I bought this RCBS unit after returning the Lyman DPS 1200. I filled the hopper with IMR 4064 and set the dispenser for 44.4 grains. I dispensed 60 charges, and weighed each one on an RCBS 505 balance beam scale. Here are my results: (A) 20 charges were exactly 44.4 grains. (B) one charge was 44.5 grains. (C) 39 charges were 44.3 grains. That is within specs and is good enough for me. Moreover, this unit is fast. 44.4 grains of IMR 4064 is dispensed in about 11 seconds.”

Pricing
With a street price of $259.99 (Midsouth), the RCBS unit costs about $30-$40 more than the Lyman 1200 or the PACT. But we think RCBS is worth every penny of the slightly higher price. The RCBS dispenses the fastest, it warms up quickly, and it is easy to clean. We really think the RCBS ChargeMaster is the logical choice, unless you already own a PACT digital scale, in which case you may prefer the standalone PACT dispenser for $130 ($120 now at Cabela’s), since it is compatible with your scale. You give up some speed to the RCBS, but accuracy is comparable, ± 0.1 grain.

Unit Pricing RCBS ChargeMaster Combo Lyman 1200 Pact DPS
Low Price $259.99 (MidSouth) $218.99 (MidwayUSA) $229.99 (PACT Inc.)
Mfg. Sugg. Retail $319.99 $296.95 $276.95

Calibration — Initial and Ongoing
All the units require calibration during initial set-up. For all three units calibration went smoothly, guided by clear and complete instructions. However, the PACT requires re-calibration EVERY time you change powder. By contrast, the RCBS can change powders “on the fly” without needing recalibration. If you use a variety of propellants, this alone is reason enough to select the RCBS over the other machines. Also, the calibration on the PACT seemed to be more affected by air currents and vibration. Some Lyman 1200 users have complained about zero “drift” and activation of a “drift alarm” when the zero moves over 0.3 grains. To avoid this, Lyman advised us to re-zero the unit frequently.

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Warranty Policies
Of the three units, the PACT has the best stated warranty. PACT offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, plus a full “no BS” lifetime warranty on the Dispenser: “If it breaks we’ll fix it free, no matter if you bought it from us, your friend or at a garage sale.” But there is a catch–the scale unit’s load cell is only covered for one year. RCBS covers its ChargeMaster (both scale and dispenser units) with a two-year parts and labor warranty. This warranty extends to all product owners, whether the original buyer or not. Lyman offers only a one-year parts and labor warranty. Lyman’s reps told us they can sometimes extend coverage “a few more months” on request.

Product RCBS Chargemaster Lyman 1200 PACT DPS
Warranty Policy 2-year Parts & Labor Warranty on all components. Not limited to original buyer. Return shipping. 1-Year Parts & Labor Warranty. Return shipping. 1-year on Scale. 30-Day Money Back Guarantee and Lifetime Warranty on Dispenser, not limited to original buyer. Return Shipping.

6mmBR.com RECOMMENDATIONS

BEST PRODUCT and EDITOR’S CHOICE: RCBS ChargeMaster Combo
Get the RCBS and don’t look back. It is the fastest electronic dispenser on the market, with accuracy that meets or exceeds the competition. It warms up fast, and has the smallest footprint. Removing powder is simple, calibration is simple, and the controls are easy to use. We would just like to see some index marks added to the powder tube and we would like to see RCBS offer a fitted cover and a stand to make it easier to dump powder when you’ve finished loading.

[Update: In recent weeks, subsequent to our testing, we've received some reports of a few RCBS units that would throw charges higher than that reported by the machine. This appears to be an isolated issue and we still recommend the ChargeMaster. However, we advise ChargeMaster owners to test your machine with a balance beam or lab scale of known accuracy. If you see a problem, return the machine to RCBS for replacement.]

BARGAIN UPGRADE OPTION
If you already own a PACT scale, you can buy the Electronic Dispenser by itself for $129.95 directly from PACT. It will take longer to throw a charge, but you’ll get the job done for half the cost of the RCBS ChargeMaster or Lyman 1200 combos, with no sacrifice in precision. The PACT is American-made, and it boasts the best stated warranty of the three machines–lifetime on everything except the scale unit’s Load Cell.

MAYBE NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME
The Lyman 1200 throws accurate charges and, despite its slow warm-up time, it will speed up the loading process considerably compared to throwing charges manually. If you stick to the same powder most of the time, its cleaning shortcomings won’t really matter. If the Lyman 1200 cost less, we would rate it higher, but given the availability of the RCBS at nearly the same price point, the only real reason to get the Lyman is the higher number of pre-set recipes. Frankly, we don’t think ANY reloaders will probably input more than a dozen or so pre-set recipes. There have been user reports of software glitches and “wandering” zeros that need to be checked frequently. With only a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, think twice before going with the Lyman 1200.

Trouble-Shooting the RCBS Charge-Master

TECH UPDATE for the RCBS ChargeMaster. In a few short months the RCBS ChargeMaster has become the top-selling digital dispenser on the market. Most people using the RCBS ChargeMaster digital powder dispenser have been very happy with the unit. However, we’ve heard some reports that, on completing a dispensing cycle, the display shows the load to be the correct target weight, when in fact the unit is off by a one or two tenths of a grain. Since the read-out appears “dead-on”, the user doesn’t know he has a high or low charge. This is why we advise all ChargeMaster owners to initially check their charge weights with a precision scale of known accuracy. If the unit does not meet spec, RCBS will replace it during the warranty period. However, keep in mind that the unit is rated ± 0.1 grain, which means you can’t expect it to deliver the EXACT charge (to the tenth) every time–it may be a tenth high or a tenth low, for a spread of 0.2 grains. A recent ChargeMaster evaluation we’ve done, with charges checked with a Denver Instruments laboratory scale, did show the unit to be within ± 0.1 grain 95% of the time with H4350, and, with most powders, it delivered the exact charge (to the tenth) over 2/3 of the time.

Still there are things that can improve the unit’s consistency. 1) Make sure the unit is perfectly level front to rear. Some ChargeMasters, particularly the early-production units, are sensitive to front/rear leveling. 2) Don’t leave the power cord coiled up in a loop; this can cause a magnetic field that can affect read-outs. 3) Use the hinged door that covers the dispensing tray. This will eliminate drafts. 4) IMPORTANT–after dispensing a load, pick up the plastic powder cup, swish it gently to distribute the kernels evenly, and place it back on the load cell. This “double-checks” the weight and will catch the vast majority of over-charges. 5) There is a high speed/low speed transition point at 25.0 grains of powder–if your load is right near this point you’ll see some fluctuation. You can call RCBS and they can tell you how to modify the high speed/low speed parameters. 6) RCBS can also tell you how to re-program the unit to slow the speed right at the end of the dispensing cycle. This has resulted in greater consistency for some users, who report fewer cases of charges “missing the mark.” 7) RCBS now ships the unit with a metal pan that is a bit heavier than the original plastic powder pan. Again, this seems to work a bit better. 8) Use the factory-supplied check weights to test for calibration with each session; this only takes a few seconds. 9) Use a good surge suppressor, or better yet, plug the ChargeMaster into a line conditioner that provides “clean”, correct voltage. A few users told us all their problems disappeared when they plugged the power cord into a line conditioner or UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply).


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Electronic Dispensers and Efficient Reloading
by Froggy

Our resident “Tactical Triggerman”, Froggy, did the shop and field testing for all three units. In “real life” Froggy works as a production manager in the aerospace industry, supervising the fabrication of high-tech electronic components. He knows a few things about efficient production processes. After conducting the test, he ventured some opinions, both about the equipment, and how they can serve to reduce loading time. Here’s his report:

“To sum this all up I have to say, based on my data, the RCBS is King. The RCBS for me wins hands down over the competition in speed, features and user friendliness. You can see by the data the RCBS dispenses powder almost twice as fast as the Lyman and PACT. That’s signficant–more so than you may think as I explain below. Speed is the primary reason to purchase one of these machines. I want to spend less time reloading and more time shooting.

In comparing the three machines, I feel that where the other two dispensers falter the RCBS ChargeMaster shines–speed and ease of use. The Lyman has some serious flaws, in my mind–excessive warm-up time, unstable zero (Lyman recommends you “check zero” frequently to avoid drift issues), and a powder chamber that is very hard to clean. The PACT is a decent unit, but you have to re-calibrate whenever you change powders. A couple of things I would like to see added to all these units would be a graduated hopper and a stand to get the unit up high enough to easily dump the powder.

I am now a confirmed believer in digitally controlled automatic powder dispensing. Using the RCBS Chargemaster, I cut my reloading time by 60% (full analysis below). That means I can generate the same amount of ammo in less than half the time! My shooting tests, performed with both my 6.5-284 and my .308, show that rounds produced with the RCBS unit are just as accurate as those produced manually with a balance-beam scale. With the ChargeMaster, then, you save lots of time with no negative effects on accuracy.”

Lean Manufacturing Principles as Applied to Reloading

I would like to share some methods used in the world of manufacturing and explain how they can be used with a digital powder dispenser to cut your reloading time by 60%. These methods are “Lean Manufacturing” and “Single Piece Flow”.


By working on other loading tasks while the ChargeMaster throws charges, I can produce more than twice as much finished ammo in a given time period. The machine more than doubles my productivity.

Single Piece Flow is a methodology used in Lean Manufacturing to speed up a process. Where multiple operations are used to built a part, the object is to do this process in the most efficient and productive way, thus improving profit margin. We can apply Single Piece Flow to loading with digital powder dispensers. End result–more ammo in less time.

The old-fashioned production method was referred to as “Batch and Queue”. Unfortunately, Batch and Queue can waste a lot of time. To demonstrate, let’s say we are going to process 100 rounds, each requiring four operations:

Op 1 – Weigh powder
Op 2 – Place powder in the case
Op 3 – Insert bullet
Op 4 – Place finished round into case

Calculating the process time per operation for one loaded round, we get:

Op 1 – Weigh powder = 30 Seconds
Op 2 – Place powder in the case = 3 Seconds
Op 3 – Insert bullet = 15 Seconds
Op 4 – Place finished round into case = 3 Seconds

Total process time = 51 seconds per round.

For 100 rounds, that’s 5100 seconds, which works out to 1.416 hours or 85 minutes.

Now we can see that our longest Batch and Queue sub-operation (Op1), is 30 seconds for weighing a powder charge. If we can improve that time we’re putting money in the bank. Reducing Op 1 time is where the ChargeMaster excels. Our tests showed the RCBS ChargeMaster dispensed 50.5 grains of H4831sc in 8-11 seconds–let’s just call it 10 seconds. Then we add 3 seconds to put the powder in the case, 15 seconds to seat the bullet, and 3 seconds to place the finished round in the case. That give us a total of 31 seconds. So, just by using the dispenser (vs. a manual powder measure), we’ve reduced load time by 20 seconds (from 51 to 31 seconds per round).

But we’re not finished yet. If we can simultaneously put powder in a case and seat a bullet, WHILE the powder (for the next round) is being machine-dispensed we can save even MORE time. In other words the human keeps working as the machine is cranking. Doing that, we can knock assembly time all the way down to 21 seconds per round. (How’d he do that, you might ask–well the machine is doing the weighing job while the human is doing something else at the same time, so it’s like having two guys on the job).

What, then, is the net benefit of using the ChargeMaster? Well, you may be surprised–we can basically produce equal-quality ammo in less than half the time. Here’s how that works:

100 Rounds Manually Weighed: 51 seconds x 100 = 5100 seconds = 85 minutes

100 Rounds ChargeMaster Weighed: 21 seconds x 100 = 2100 seconds = 35 minutes

That’s a 50-minute savings per 100 rounds of 6.5-284. I’ve reduced my overall reloading time by roughly 60% (58.8% to be precise). Or look at it this way–I can produce the same amount of finished ammo in less than half the time! To me that’s compelling. And the more you load, the more time you’ll save.


Special thanks to Ward Brian of Sniper Tools for lending his Lyman 1200 and to Mike Holmes for lending his PACT.

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Topics: Scale, Digital, Dispenser, Powder Measure, Accuracy, Reloading, Testing, RCBS, RCBS 1500, ChargeMaster, ChargeMaster Combo, Ohaus, 10-10, 505, Lyman, Lyman 1200, DPS, PACT, PACT scale, Calibration, Calibrate, 6mm, 6mm BR, 6BR, 6.5, 6.5mm, 6.5-284, 6PPC, Target Rifle, Benchrest, BR, Bench Rest, Single-shot, competition, rifle accuracy, BC, Ballistics, Norma, Hodgdon Powder, H4831, H4831sc, IMR, IMR 4064, Sierra, MatchKing, Competition Shooting, barrel, reloading, powder, bullets, precision, shooting, hunting, Lean Manufacturing.

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