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Smart Parts' Ion
By Bill Mills - Photos by Dawn Mills - Aug 2005
Every so often, a manufacturer develops a paintball gun that sets a new standard for price and performance categories. Brass Eagle showed the world that a semi-auto could sell for less than $200 when they released the Stingray. Kingman followed suit, showing that a paintgun with a metal receiver could be done in that same price point. Later Dragun delivered an electronically triggered semi for under $200. When it released the Ion,
Smart Parts showed that an electropneumatic paintgun could be delivered in quantity for less than three hundred dollars.
The Ion represents a simplification of the technology found in the more expensive Shocker SFT, meaning that it is less expensive to produce, and in some aspects simpler to maintain due in part to the low number of overall parts, and very few moving parts.
When the Ion was first shown to the public at the Paintball Expo in Southern California, some of its first critics complained that it was a ďplastic gun.Ē In reality, the Ion features plastic and rubber like covers over various parts, much like other paintgun designs feature plastic grip panels and eye covers. The actual structural components of the Ion are machined from aluminum at Smart Partsí Pennsylvania factory.
The Ionís grip frame features an integrated ASA threaded connector for the gunís vertical regulator, as well as a side tap for a low pressure gauge. Inside the grip frame lies a 9 volt battery for power, and a very small circuit board, relative to those found in most electronic paintball guns. Like the rest of the Ionís design, there is a minimalist approach to the board. Its major components consist of the on/off switch, an internal mode setting switch, a high-flow solenoid valve, a capacitor, and the trigger switch. The remaining components include tiny surface mount diodes, and a rather tiny processor.
At the top left side of the grip frame is a plastic bubble button. This button serves two functions. It depresses the actual power button on the circuit board, and it acts as a window to see the status LED on the circuit board.
The grip section of the frame is angled like a typical grip, and features screw points to accept standard 45 style wrap-around or panel grips. The stock wraparound grip from Smart Parts has two finger groves below the trigger guard, and decorative ribbing that echoes the patterns on the rest of the gun. At the bottom of the grip frame is a typical duckbill style bottom-line ASA or Air System Adapter. Both the ASA and the grip frame are finished in a rugged matte industrial powder coat.
The trigger itself is a two-finger design of molded polymer. Rather than a spring it features a magnetic return, and screw adjustments for both the forward and rear travel limits. The rear arm of the trigger presses up against a lever switch on the circuit board to fire. A nice feature to the Ionís trigger is that both adjustment screws are accessible from the outside of the trigger frame, making full adjustment rather simple.
From the factory, the Ion reviewed had a trigger pull of 0.104 inches, measured at the bottom of the trigger. Less than a minute of adjustment was needed to bring the trigger pull down to reliable operation at 0.071 inches. The forward limit screw changes not only how far the trigger must be pulled before it actuates the trigger switch, but also how hard it must be pulled, as it distances the trigger return magnets from each other.
At the front of the grip frame is the ASA, into which the vertical regulator is connected. A rubber-like armor sheath protects the body of the vertical reg while providing a positive gripping surface. The regulator is adjusted by turning wrench flats on its bottom, while gripping the regulator body. This adjusts the pressure fed into the Ion, which can easily be read on the left side pressure gauge.
Inside the vertical ASA, a fine screen prevents debris from being fed into the solenoid valve. The Ion is designed to operate at under 200 psi, with typical setups running between 160 and 180 psi. Adjusting the pressure is one of the two ways to change the Ionís velocity. Because of the standard ASA threading, the stock regulator can be replaced with any number of aftermarket vertical regulators.
Attached to the grip frame by three screws is the Ionís receiver. Two screws come from below the receiver into threaded holes in the body, while another goes from the receiver down into the grip frame just forward of the vertical ASA. The body shell, the receiverís equivalent of a wrap-around grip, slides off of the receiver once it is separated from the grip frame and hoses.
The receiver itself consists of two main components. The Body Breech is in the front and holds the feedneck, barrel threads, SFT o-ring, ball detents and anti-chop eyes. Screwed into the back of the body breech is the fire chamber, the portion of the receiver, which contains the combination bolt and valve core. Three captured o-rings inside the feed-neck allow it to snugly grip a hopper. Like the Shocker SFT and Nerve, the Ion features a Seal Forward Technology o-ring. By placing the o-ring which seals the breech in the receiver, rather than on-the bolt, the boltís friction is reduced without losing the benefits of a seal.
The main parts of the receiver are hard anodized, but the sections of the body breech and feed neck which are exposed outside of the body shell are powder coated to match the grip frame.
In addition to serving as a protective guard for the receiver, the body shell acts as a bushing between the receiver and the grip frame. It cradles the round surface of the receiver bottom to the flat surface of the grip frame top, without allowing the parts to wobble. This interface is one of the design steps which helps reduce the manufacturing cost of the ION. Molded parts like the body shell have a significant up-front cost in manufacturing injection molds, but once into production, they can be produced inexpensively, even if they have rather complex shapes. The machined receiver and grip frame parts on the other hand are more expensive when they get more complex, as more time is needed milling and lathing. The use of the body shell avoids either needing to radius the top of the grip frame to a concave curve, or having to mill a flat bottom onto the receiver (which would be a tricky process as it would require fixed thread alignment between the body breech and fire chamber.)
Suffice it to say, that the body cover is a necessary part for the Ion, though aftermarket aluminum bodies are available for those who prefer the look, and or desire additional weight. For proper function, a minimal body cover replacement would need only to consist of a mounting rail between the receiver and grip frame, with winged panels around the eye circuit and ball detents.
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