January 2023 Update

Happy new year! It’s the start of our eighth year producing AutoTrickler and ShotMarker. We pushed hard to ship as much as possible before Christmas, and everyone took some well-earned time off over the holidays. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what has happened in 2022, reach out to everyone with a detailed review of our status, and consider priorities for 2023.

AutoTrickler (Production)

AutoTrickler V4 started production in October 2021 with 6 months’ worth of pre-orders, so we immediately started with a long lead time. We settled quickly into a consistent production rate, and by May we had shipped those pre-orders. Currently, we have shipped most orders placed by July 2022. While our production rates have improved slightly over the year, and we haven’t had major issues, we are only just matching the incoming order rate, and we still have a 6 month lead time.

Our primary limiting factor is efficiency. On paper, we have capacity to do much more, but production never goes according to plan and minor delays add up. People get sick, materials arrive late, and weird mistakes happen. Bottlenecks appear, and addressing those only uncovers others. We are in a battle to solve little problems while rethinking and changing process to prevent issues from repeating.

In late 2021 we partnered with a consultant to investigate whether off the shelf production management software could help. However, we found that existing tools do not fit well with our needs. While we are a small operation by number of people, our process is complex with over 100 short tasks that can be executed in a flexible sequence. We need a scheduling algorithm which can incorporate availability of people, materials, and batch priorities to distribute and prioritize tasks across the team in real time. Nothing we tested was able to improve on our current, manual planning process.

I started developing our own software early in 2022 which does exactly what we need. In March we hired a full time production manager who has been dedicating all of his time to ensuring implementation of the new system goes smoothly. Throughout the past year, we have been able to fully transition AutoTrickler production (not ShotMarker, yet) and we are now starting to use its task prioritization to drive day to day decisions.

We have also moved offices in November. We now have 5500 sq. ft. of open space where we can comfortably lay out multiple batches of units on tables and set up dedicated assembly lines for common operations.

The steps we have taken this year have had not had a direct impact on production rates in 2022, but they are an investment for the future. Recording accurately what happens with each part as it moves through assembly, down to the smallest detail, has been a learning process for everyone. However, we’ve reached a scale where making lots of small, smart decisions has the greatest impact on throughput. Eventually, when production can run smoothly, the lead times will come down, and I will have more time to work on other things.

AutoTrickler (Design)

In terms of a new product release, AutoTrickler V4 has been our smoothest launch yet. Generally, each time we ship something new, there are surprises that come up over the next few months, and the iterative design cycle continues. With V4, since it was a complete mechanical redesign, we tried to put extra effort into reducing the chance of needing a Version 5 anytime soon. We did more testing than usual, and waited to start shipping until I had confidence we wouldn’t need to send out some kind of replacement part to everyone or change the firmware.

Production transitioned to V4 smoothly, there were no major issues holding us back early on, and the number of emails asking for help was low. It was definitely helpful that 80% of those with reservations already had an AutoTrickler, so most people had some experience, feedback was on point, and we were able to steer in the right direction.

One challenge we faced was to tighten up the machining of the large tube. It is difficult to hold the tolerances necessary to ensure that fine ball powder will not leak through, while not being so tight that it binds. We also need to ensure the belt tension is just right, and we’ve found it can potentially increase after shipping. Along with our machine shop, we’ve adjusted the manufacturing, assembly, and testing process each time we learn more, and we have a good handle on it now.

In terms of overall concept, the tube, the motor, and the scale are basically the same as they always have been since 2016, capable of the same proven speed and precision which brought us to this stage. What changes with V4 is the form factor, usability, and adjustments. All previous versions were mechanically tuned through trial and error, often needing to be reset when switching powders. V4 is all about setting it up once, and then a calibration process takes care of small changes, automatically.

My vision is for anyone to be able to sit down, pour powder in the hopper, calibrate, and start loading with the same performance they had last time. The speed settings should be a user preference, not necessarily having to be changed when switching between powders. If it’s that easy, you will be much more likely to enjoy the process and not feel like reloading is a chore.

The ideal powder dispenser for long range shooting is one that is accurate enough for weight deviation to be negligible, fast enough to keep up with the rest of your reloading process, and convenient enough that time spent in setup, adjustment, or teardown is minimal. It should be inexpensive, without maintenance or support required over time, and accessible to everyone who needs it.

I won’t settle with something which is just “okay”. If there is a new idea that would truly be an improvement, I will give serious consideration to evolving the design so I can continue to justify each decision as having been best for the product.

I believe the design of V4 achieves the objective. In my own testing, when everything is set up correctly, the speed and precision are impressive. The mechanics are easy to understand, the costs appropriate, there are no parts to wear out, it works with all common powders, and the tuning controls are in software which can be updated for free. While there is of course more than one way to dispense powder, I believe this approach is the right one, and I intend to carry this concept forward into the future.

The next challenge is to ensure that each and every person is having the intended experience. For example, it’s a common mistake that a scale is not properly configured to “fast” response mode, or the V4 housing is not resting on the bumpers correctly. In this case, it might overshoot often, or the powder just won’t flow at all. It can be hard to know what’s wrong, how to correct it, or even if this is normal. The user manual cannot address every possible issue someone may run into, and help from other users can be hit or miss since the AutoTrickler is a niche product and personal opinions and experiences vary.

This year, I would like to complement our email-based support strategy with a more proactive approach intended to reach users who do not email us directly asking for help. This could mean sending out a more detailed user guide, creating instructional videos, or actively offering to help on a regular basis. I believe that if everyone can see how the AutoTrickler is meant to work, understands what “normal” is, has accurate information, and is given the opportunity to learn, it would have a much greater impact than any new product or mechanical upgrade would have.

I would now like to directly ask for your feedback. Let us know how you have been getting along with your V4. If you absolutely love it, let me know how often you use it, with which powders, and how fast you are able to complete a typical batch of ammo. If you see potential for improvement, please be clear and objective and I’ll do my best to help. Please email adamjmac@autotrickler.com.

Soon, I will update the AutoTrickler app with improved mappings between the speed sliders and the internal parameters, which will increase performance for everyone. The interface will be redesigned to more clearly inform if the calibrated flow rates are too high or too low for best results, and offer suggestions. I also have an idea to replace the number keypad area with performance information while a target is set, to dedicate more primary screen space to helping users reach optimal performance.

We are considering sharing on the website many of the amazing, positive comments we have received over the past year, as well as summarizing the common questions, problems, and solutions. Collecting and analyzing a larger sample of feedback all at once will also help determine what I should be focusing on in 2023.


ShotMarker is now popular all over the world. As much as AutoTrickler changed how we make our ammo, ShotMarker has changed how we shoot. It’s easy to lose track of the real world impact that ShotMarker has had on the competitive shooting community since 2018. The product is solid, the design is stable, there are no major issues, and it’s been going very well.

We also have a 6 month lead time on production, and it competes for assembly time with AutoTrickler. Trying to build two products at the same time definitely adds to the management challenges. Most ShotMarker orders are customized in some way, and batches take 3-4 times longer to complete, so it operates with a very different production plan in parallel.

In 2022, I changed the ShotMarker sensors. A new MEMS microphone became available which has a much higher acoustic overload point, meaning the sensor is better able to discern between on and off target shots. This results in less interference from shots which are more than a couple targets away, leading to less missed shots overall in multi-target environments. It took a few months of circuit design and testing work, but it makes the product better in the long run and I believe it was worth it. The new sensors are a direct replacement, they are now standard, they appear the same, the price hasn’t changed, and there are no compatibility concerns.

We’re currently in the process of ordering a new large batch of ShotMarker electronics, and one change I am making is the capability for the Sensor Hub to detect if sensors are connected. I’m not sure exactly how this will turn out in terms of user experience, but it should be possible for a light to blink and/or a message to display in software to indicate that a specific sensor is not connected. Whether you have a bad cable, a dirty connection, or it’s not plugged in correctly, you’ll know before you start shooting. Unfortunately this is a hardware change so it cannot be retroactively applied to Sensor Hubs built with existing electronics.

Another project I have in the pipeline is software for users to design their own custom target faces. We hired a part time developer last summer who laid out the foundation, but it will take some time to polish it, make it available for all, and support / maintain the tools in the future. While it can be difficult to spend time on requests for custom targets to ShotMarker, and a better solution is needed, I decided to delay developing this software tool while we have been focusing so hard on our production process.

The most recent official release of the ShotMarker software itself is from April 2020, and largely that is because not much has needed to be changed. I have made some changes internally, to add pair-fire support and plot-o-matic, and I will provide that unreleased version to anyone that emails to request it. However the new settings page is pretty confusing so I have been resistant to officially release this version until I am able to take another stab at the layout and updating the user manual.

Finally, I am working on writing a detailed guide for larger clubs running regular competitive matches. I think we have reached a stage where many shooting clubs are learning from each other or have enough experience on their own that problems running larger matches with ShotMarker are few. The hardware design is reliable and redundant enough that if any strange problems do appear, it will not shut down the event. More instruction is not necessarily critical, however I believe it will help in the long run to have a proper and well documented guide, at least for reference. Until there is information published, if you have questions, please feel free to ask.

Final Thoughts

It’s fair to think that with a massive backlog of orders, a company such as ours should accept external investment to scale up quickly, outsource production, raise prices, and hire more people to brute force the problem. These are all the things I won’t do. Laura and I built this company around an efficient product, and we will continue to grow an efficient company. As the numbers increase, we won’t make compromises on quality. We will find ways to do more.

It’s surely a downside that we have a 6 month lead time. We are opening the door for competition and losing sales because many people just can’t wait that long. However, this is just another short term problem to be solved. If we can improve production by 30%, which is absolutely within our current capacity, we will catch up within months, not years.

I have other ideas for new products / add-ons that I won’t talk about yet, but I’m waiting to have more time before seriously starting on new things. ShotMarker has potential in areas other than competition shooting, and we’d like to have time to pursue that. I’d like to travel a bit more, keep competing worldwide in F-Class, go to trade shows and visit customers. However, with production the way it is, we just have to keep our heads down and focus.

We communicate primarily through email. If you send us an email, we will read it, think about it, and respond with the best answer we have. If you have any feedback, questions, comments, advice, or suggestions, please email us at adamjmac@autotrickler.com.

Our shipping manager also runs an Instagram account for our favorite worker: @officekittyhunter

Thank you for your support over the last 7 years!

- Adam MacDonald & Laura Kaderly