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While SIG Sauer is a company with German and Swiss roots, since the 1990’s the company has been based in the United States and had most of its manufacturing done here — only five products in SIG’s twenty five “platforms” are made in Germany still. Most of the manufacturing has recently moved from their Exeter, New Hampshire to a new plant in Newington, New Hampshire, and we were given full access to the manufacturing floor to see how the guns are made firsthand.

The very first thing you notice about SIG’s new facility is that it is amazingly clean. True it’s a brand new facility, but SIG is doing a great job of maintaining it so far. If you go to plants like FNH USA’s or Leupold’s, things look dark and dingy on the inside. But SIG chose a bright white paint scheme and keeps it spotless. And to show it off, they’ve built a little glassed-in overlook perched above the factory floor.

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All of the machining at SIG is done on brand new state-of-the-art CNC machines. Scattered among the rows of machines are small rooms like the black box under the “MACHINING” banner above, where coordinate measuring machines precisely QC each batch of firearms as they set up the CNCs for the new run, ensuring that everything is set correctly and the guns will be perfect every time.

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SIG has gotten pretty good with the whole CNC thing. In a single operation they can take a rough blank and machine it to the point where the object requires a serial number — the compliance guy that was showing us around says that their guns get serial numbers when they get to the point where an average person with average tools can make the gun go bang. This frame is way past that point, since all it needs is a protective finish and some assembly.

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While SIG Sauer is best known for their handguns, they also make the new SIG 556xi and they’ve recently entered the world of AR-15 rifle production. Rifles are the hot new thing on the production floor, and SIG is making almost every part of those as well. From the barrel tot he receiver to the forward assist, it’s all 100% SIG engineering and quality control.

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Something I didn’t realize is that SIG Sauer is the #2 manufacturer of 1911 style handguns in the United States, by volume. Over 100,000 1911 handguns leave their factory doors every year, and due to the nature of their design things are handled a little differently. While a 1911 is a post-industrial revolution design, it still works best when hand-fitted and carefully assembled — so SIG does that. As soon as the frames and slides are rough machined they are tied together and proceed through the manufacturing process as one unit. They lap the two pieces together early on to get a glossy smooth feel to the movement of the two pieces, and then from that point they are never apart. Except to have stuff thrown inside and for coating, of course.

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In the center of the manufacturing facility is SIG Sauer’s quality control range, where each gun has a proof load and a full magazine of ammunition fired through it before it leaves the factory. There are six main lanes and a few small ones, all individually packaged so that one lane can be cleaned out while the others continue to operate. A bullet catcher at the end of the lane is continuously emptied into a waiting hopper, but scrubbing all the lead and other nasty particles out of the traps and off the floor is something that needs to be done regularly. All the while, from their seats in the range control office the guys in charge make sure that everyone is safe and no guns take a walk out of the factory.

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After the guns leave the range, they’re done. They proceed directly to the packaging department where they’re boxed up and prepared to ship out. Once they’re in their final packaging they head to the distribution department where the day’s shipment was being prepared.

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I asked our tour guide if there were any boxes on the wall that weren’t called for or allocated to distributors. He couldn’t think of a single one, they’re all moving off somewhere to be sold. Even Hornady has a couple boxes of ammo they aren’t able to sell, but all of SIG’s products seem to be moving at a pretty brisk pace.

I’ve seen a couple manufacturing plants in my time as a writer, and I have to admit that I’ve never seen one as clean as SIG Sauer. Everything is shiny and spotless, and the employees seem to be keeping it that way. State of the art tools, QC checks at every stage of the process, and you definitely can’t argue with the end result. SIG seems to be doing something right, and it looks like they intend to keep it that way.

54 Responses to Taking a Tour of SIG Sauer’s Manufacturing Plant

    • As a manufacturing engineer I love seeing facilities like this. There may not be a lot of production operators, but there’s still a lot of process engineering required to get all those machines working properly, tracking all of the data (dimensional and serialization), and streamlining the supply chain.

    • Have you ever worked in manufacturing? It all depends on the day and what is being ordered. These could be pictures of areas that are not operating or areas where not a lot of people are required to be at. Most manufacturing nowadays is done with CNC. An operator pushes the button after getting everything set-up and then moves on to the next machine to set it up so why have a bunch of people sitting around doing nothing? I bet most of their employees are in the shipping and receiving department and in quality control.

    • There are a lot of jobs in precision manufacturing. There are actually not enough people training to fill those jobs right now. When people complain about not finding a job or being unable to join the military (I was in recruiting and we turn a lot of people away contrary to popular belief) I talked to them about precision manufacturing.

    • Maybe the people working there did not want to be photographed and stepped out of the way of the photographer? Just a thought.

    • One operator can operate multiple machines and firearms produce much quicker. Under older production methods with multiple workers involved the cost of the firearm to the people would be un-affordable to most. See peoples jobs going away like the dinosaur in the near future.

  1. in place of platform (as you put in quotes), you could use the words “form factor”. the IT industry uses to great affect and i think it applies to firearms very well, since a platform is something you mount stuff too, a form factor is a configuration that things are arranged similarly too; i.e., AK would be a form factor, AR would be a form factor, FAL would be another.

  2. I think it’s a nice touch that they run a full magazine through each gun, not just one round to package with the pistol. It may not be a torture-test, but it could catch a problem before it gets to the customer.

    Perhaps keeping their ammo cost down was part of the motivation for SIG to get into the ammo game, the other part being profit of course.

  3. I’m actually kind of surprised by the lack of basic automation.

    They have a room full of Makino horizontals – by most measures, the best horizontal mills made today (toss up between them and DMG/Mori NH/NHX mills). One of the cool tricks of a horizontal mill is that the work is held on pallets with tombstones that swap in and out of the machining area. I can think of at least 4 shops in the Portland area that have entire cells of these things running fully automated – a robotic rack of pallets/toombstones auto-load into cells of multiple horizontal mills. There are places here that literally run “lights out,” with zero human intervention, for over 24 hours at a time.

    SIG seems to have those same horizontal machines, but they are running them all independently, with operators tending to them on a machine-by-machine basis.

    I find this interesting – SIG is smart and they appear to be one of Makino’s biggest customers. I would love to see the cost/benefit analysis of how they came to lay out their facility the way they did!

    • I was expecting more DMG. Because German’s believe everything German is better because it’s German.

      • I don’t think anyone is running DMG machines in a big production environment. In the USA, they are really only popular for their 5 axis centers – the DMU-50 is a flipping work of art, so much so that Apple has a room full of them in their industrial design shop.

        Yes, DMG and Mori Seiki have merged, but it’s clear that the plan is to continue pushing the Mori NHX series as their primary horizontal mill offering. You can probably order a DMG horizontal mill, but you will never get the top-flight support a production shop of SIG’s scale requires (if for no other reason than DMG/Mori USA won’t stock parts and the DMG and Mori engineering haven’t merged at all yet).

        And FYI – the Mori NHX-4000 and NHX-5000 are built in Davis, CA now. Two months ago, that same factory also started building DMG DMU-50 simultaneous 5 axis machines as well.

  4. Sig is definitely going to make big waves in the NFA world, thanks to Brittingham and his recruitments.

    Should’ve been Sig buying out AAC all along!! Too bad only hindsight is 20/20.

  5. That is so dang cool. I may be taking a Manufacturing systems engineering degree soon. 😀 This stuff rocks to me. Making things! Production! Real life goods and value!

    • Take it from me… manufacturing engineering is a fun job, but avoid FDA regulated industries/facilities.

      The pay is decent but the oversight can be quite a pain in the rear end!

  6. “While SIG Sauer is best known for their handguns, they also make the new SIG 556xi and they’ve recently entered the world of AR-15 rifle production.”

    Really? I guess recent is relative. Ive had a sig AR for at least 3 years and they were introduced to the mkt place at least 2 years before that.

  7. I went 1911 shopping this month. the LGS had a Sig Scorpion. I really wanted it and it was priced $200 below MSRP. I decided instead to go with the RIA Tactical. It has a rail on it and was literally half the price. I may pick up the Sig in the future if I find one when I move to NC this summer. I like the gun a lot.

  8. “… and the guns will be perfect every time.” From first hand experience, I know that’s not true. I hate to be the rain on the Sig parade.

  9. Cool. Recently acquired my first Sig (516 Patrol, in no small part due to TTAG’s review) and have to say it’s every bit as impressive as their reputation suggests.

    Nice feature.

  10. This is a horrible sight that no child should ever have to see, the monster machines churning out the tools of death. Bloomberg should buy that factory and convert it to proper usage, making high end coffee makers or govt spy equipment.

  11. My husband works there and our children are proud that their father tests guns that our military and law enforcement use. We’ve even gone so far as to bring our 3 and 8 year old to the employee open house where they got to tour these so called “monster” machines. And yes these pictures do not show workers because they are taking the pictures to show the machinery. This facility employs close to 1,000 employees.

  12. Great place, huh!! They just walked out quite a few people like they were some sort of criminals. Sorry today was your last day employed here. Another layoff coming soon I am positive of it. When asking upper management about it they say all is well but we cannot tell about the future. Come on people you know. Makes people feel very uncertain of what is to come of their lives. No compassion for the people and the families.

    • They employed a surge of employees to cope with the surge in sales. Sales decline and so must a workforce -which is any business’s greatest expense. This has nothing to do with compassion. I really don’t see why people get into manufacturing and one day they are surprised when they get dismissed when demand is low. This has been happening since the Industrial Revolution!

  13. Question; do you have actual tours in your Newington NH facility? I plan a purchase in the near future and I will be in your vicinity in Sept. I’m retired from General Electric, worked as a machinist for 33 years, always interested in factories. Thank you, David.

  14. Amazing and famous guns.
    But, only god is perfect and some details less important, for example, the foam in the plastic case is not adjusted (the XFive foam is adapted to the XSix and the P220 22lr is in a largest foam size) or the plastic magazine on the P220 22LR… If the firm could fixed this details that’s will be great!!! Lot of shooters are agree with me.

  15. SIG MAY HAVE QC ISSUES, BUT SO DOES RUGER AND SMITH&WESSON. I RECENTLY BOUGHT A NEW RUGER REVOLVER NEVER GOT TO FIRE IT. THE CYLINDER WOULD BIND IN DA MODE. BOUGHT A NEW S&W PERFORMANCE CENTER M&P AND GOT LIGHT HIT MISFIRES RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX. I SUSPECT SIG IS NO BETTER OR WORSE.

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