While on vacation in Florida recently, I was able to sneak away for a day and drive up to Kel-Tec CNC Industries for a tour of their facilities. Seems like a lot of people think Kel-Tec is four guys in a garage assembling a couple dozen guns a month, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cranking out over 150,000 firearms each year, Kel-Tec is the fifth or sixth largest U.S. firearms manufacturer, and the video above and gazillion photos below show how they do it . . .

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photo_apr_22_11_34_35_amSlide blanks for one of the compact pistols (e.g. P-3AT)

photo_apr_22_11_34_54_amWarehousing of raw metal stock

photo_apr_22_11_35_57_amSandblasting chamber

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photo_apr_22_11_36_41_amSome of the bluing and parkerizing tanks

photo_apr_22_11_37_59_amFreshly blued parts

photo_apr_22_11_38_41_amTumbler

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photo_apr_22_11_44_03_amKSG subassembly

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photo_apr_22_11_48_06_amGen2 SUB-2000 barrels being assembled into forends

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photo_apr_22_11_50_00_amPinning of trunion and pivot for SUB-2000
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photo_apr_22_11_55_13_amSUB-2000 bolt assembly

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photo_apr_22_11_56_00_amVerifying spacing as well as extractor function. Basically every station in the assembly process does a QC check before sending whatever its output is onto the next stage. That could be measurements or just making sure trigger, hammer, safety, mag release, lifter, etc. operate properly.
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photo_apr_22_11_59_23_amCMR-30 grip sub-assembly assembly

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photo_apr_22_12_03_20_pmKSG stock assembly including the lifter, which is followed by a function check before sending it off to the next step.
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photo_apr_22_12_09_05_pmGen2 SUB-2000s with nickel boron metal parts

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Discussing the safety features of the new SUB-2000 (see like 20:20 into the video).

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photo_apr_22_12_12_26_pmNickel boron PMR-30 slides

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photo_apr_22_12_13_06_pmNickel boron CMR-30

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photo_apr_22_12_15_29_pmPMR-30 chassis assembly. The rear insert contains the hammer, rear slide rail, and is the serialized part of the PMR.

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photo_apr_22_12_17_28_pmRFB barrels with chassis trunions

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photo_apr_22_12_18_03_pmRFB bolts

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photo_apr_22_12_18_40_pmRFB adjustable gas block

photo_apr_22_12_19_36_pmKSG parts

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photo_apr_22_12_24_37_pmLoaded magazines ready for test firing of every gun that leaves the factory

photo_apr_22_12_25_16_pmGuns waiting to be test fired

photo_apr_22_12_25_34_pmA proof round, marked with red ink on the bullet and case base, is loaded to beyond SAAMI pressure and is fired through every gun to ensure an appropriate margin of safety

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photo_apr_22_12_33_47_pmBarrel blanks ready for machining

photo_apr_22_12_34_11_pmA few of the CNC machines — there were about 8 rows of them in this building and more in two other buildings.

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photo_apr_22_12_37_46_pmBefore and after P-3AT slides

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photo_apr_22_12_39_12_pmLaser cutting CMR-30/PMR-30 firing pins from sheets of steel

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photo_apr_22_12_44_46_pmKSG magazine tube selector levers

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photo_apr_22_12_45_59_pmKSG end caps

photo_apr_22_12_47_21_pmA couple new Mazak machines in a new building full of about 10 of them

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photo_apr_22_12_52_47_pmRacks of KSG sub-assemblies

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“No swearing” sign outside the offices of the customer service call center. Kel-Tec has 6 or 7 full-time employees manning the phones. Local customers can also bring their firearms directly into the front office, where Kel-Tec can service them on-site and even has a shooting range right there off the front office (not for pop-in range fun, but for showing a Kel-Tec rep what’s up with your gun if something is off, and for them showing proper function after any work is completed). Additionally, the front office has a full-on parts and accessories shop selling just about anything you could need for your Kel-Tec guns plus Kel-Tec shirts, jackets, flashlights, hats, and all sorts of other stuff.

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Display cabinets and wall displays in the front office show off nearly every Kel-Tec model, past and present.20160422_130435

Kel-Tec’s one-millionth gun was a P-11. They’re darn close to their two-millionth now.20160422_222731

I picked up a CL-43 flashlight to test out and review. So far I’m digging it.20160423_163945

I also snagged some wall art from the laser CNC station where CMR-30/PMR-30 firing pins were being cut from sheet steel. Kel-Tec recycles an incredible amount of scrap metal every day — two mammoth dumpsters — and donates its spent brass to a local police department that reloads for training use, but this piece of sheet metal scrap came home with me. I think I’m going to frame it and put it on the wall in my office.20160423_164004 20160423_093756

Daughter #1 got some new glasses out of the trip, too.

53 Responses to A Tour of Kel-Tec’s Cocoa, Florida Operations

  1. Wow how interesting. A Kel-tec double play! I liked my Sub2000-I hated my PF9(but it worked OK-I only paid $185 used for it which is the most I would go for one). I do like the made in USA thing…

    • Because more than 150,000 people per year want to buy one of their guns? not sure what your point is…

      • That their production capabilities are way too small for demand, as shown in all the above pictures? It was pretty obvious if you thought about it.

    • My understanding is that it’s because they don’t want to finance an expansion via a loan or sell an interest in the business to an outside investor. If that’s actually the case, it’s hard to fault their decision.

      Organic growth may be slow, but it’s stable. It’s not like the demand for their product is going to evaporate.

      • But thats a reasoned logical response! Thats not allowed. It doesn’t allow all the internet Gordon Gecko’s and wannabe Steve Jobs go on about how poorly managed this stable, well-positioned high-demand revenue-producing American-Made American-Owned 5th largest in their market sector company is and what a better job they’d be able to do.

      • @DJ, that’s exactly correct. George Kelgren is really conservative in that way and has never taken debt (loans) or sold equity (sold ownership portions) in order to finance the growth. Kel-Tec is growing and is doing so at a pretty good pace but, no, they can’t keep up with demand. They do make more and more guns every year, though. In 2013, they made 117,000 firearms. In 2016, they’ll hit more like 160,000.

    • @Koop beat me to it. 🙂 I was going to say, “The factory where unicorns are made.”

      I look forward to the day they decide to become a major firearms manufacturer and learn how to optimize production to meet demand. Until then, they are an innovative small-time operation that won’t get my business.

      What do major firearm manufacturers do when their current production doesn’t meet demand? Make more guns. What do they do if their plant is maxed out? Build more plants. Ruger just built a new one close to my hometown.

      When Kel-Tec does that and can meet demand, they will be a reliable, mainstream firearm manufacturer. Otherwise, they are a small R&D shop that happens to sell some of their innovations–usually over MSRP.

      • Kel-Tec doesn;t sell their guns over MSRP. The retailers do. Keltec has no control over retailers prices. Those are set by the retailer themselves,w hich usually price according to market forces. That is, if there is a high demand, price will go up. This is a GOOD thing, as it ensures there is adequate supply. The guy who wants a sub2k REALLY REALLY bad can alwaysw find one. Might be 800 bucks, but if he’s willing to pay that, then thats a fair price. And if it had been listed below MSRP, there would be NONE avialable.

        As for expansion, they ARE expanding. Just opened up big expansion of production capability. But the company is making money, and the owner wants to be safe. He is not interested in being a huge growth company leveraged off debt and investment capital. He doesn’t want to gamble with his company, his wealth, and his employees. So he uses cash reserves to do measured moderate expansions. If you think his fiscal responsibility/caution is overdone, then I guess you can take your millions of dollars, buy him out, and run it your way. Oh, you don’t have millions of dollars to entice him to sell? Hmm… guess maybe he knows a few more things about running a business than you do after all.

      • Expansion is not necessarily a good thing… What if one day people have had enough of keltec, or hillary bans all guns, yet all those bills keep rolling in because they just built a new building and havent recouped the costs yet? They are in the business of making money through making guns, not making guns per se. A pessimistic market view generally makes for better certainty of cashflows, albeit less than optimum. There are so many other choices out there if you dislike their way anyway. I for one never understand why people want their guns *so* bad. Never been a fan of PCCs, bullpups, more than 1moa rifles, or pistols that are not glocks or 1911s… But it’s a free country so who am i to judge

        • If Hillary bans all guns, they’d probably have bigger problems than whether or not they have a loan payment due.

    • Each gun was getting three test shots. Two normal ones and one proof round. I don’t know what poor intern has to load all of the magazines though haha

  2. Very interesting video, but I can see why production is more limited. It would more efficient if they were send each weapon down a manufacturing line instead of from station to station. I don’t think it would be possible with their current facilities though. They need to expand into another facility.
    The other thing I noticed is that it seems that they are focused on the KSG Shotgun along with the PMR-30 and Sub-2000. I don’t know if it was just the areas you focused on or if you edited out some of manufacturing, but it seems their RDB/RFB manufacturing was almost non existent. (I did see the one guy assembling lower ends and FCG.) Probably why they go so high over MSRP if you actually manage to find them. They seem like nice folks though, so I hope they can continue to do well.

    • Agreed.

      My initial goal when arriving there was to do 1) a quick, high-level tour just to get an idea for the size of the place then 2) follow a specific firearm model from raw materials through to dropping in a shipping box. That wasn’t really possible due mostly to how things are done in phases but also because of how much real estate would be involved. Due mostly, I suppose, to how they’ve expanded gradually and purchased up more surrounding property and added on more and more buildings, there isn’t a production “line” for anything. Various sub-assemblies are done in different buildings, various machine steps and finishing are done in other buildings still, then final assembly is probably in yet another building. The system works and it doesn’t add a lot of time to put 200 KSG receivers on a dolly and wheel it a hundred yards to a different building where it meets a dolly with 200 KSG barrel assemblies and 200 KSG buttstock assemblies and those parts are all merged into a final gun, but it made my idea #2 basically impossible and, yeah, it isn’t the most efficient method. There would probably be small, yet measurable gains if the place were more efficient in this manner.

      On the KSG vs SUB2K vs RDB front, I filmed maybe 1/4 of what was going on in terms of assembly stations and CNC machines. That said, they do often do things in phases and one area will spend a week assembling FDE SUB-2000s and then the next week it’s RDBs. Some of the pistols like the P32 are low demand at this point and they only do manufacturing runs of them like twice a year. I think it’s fair to say that they don’t actually have enough CNC machines or assembly floor space to have a full production line for every model (and every model doesn’t need a full-time line), so they do them in runs. This does keep every machine and every person at 100% capacity, but also means only some of the firearm models are being produced on any given week. …and sometimes a certain sub-assembly step will run ahead of a different step so a given work station may store a surplus of a thousand CMR-30 lower assemblies (random example) and switch over to assembling something different while the CMR-30 barrel assembly or final assembly stage catches up. In that way, they’re pretty good about making sure each station is working at capacity no matter what.

  3. Certainly doesn’t look like a hobby shop from the pictures. Good for them. Sadly, due to my terrible experience with their “customer service” regarding my POS Sub2000, I will never again buy or recommend any of their products.

    • That’s too bad. Most people say really good things, and I personally had very good results with their customer service regarding my PMR-30 back before I was writing for TTAG. The used PMR I bought had the old barrel design and I called them up about getting the new barrel. They asked for the serial number of my gun and then threw a new barrel, buffer, and stickers in the mail. Two days later I had them, no charge. They didn’t want the old barrel back and they didn’t care if I was the original owner or what. It was a very painless process.

      While on this tour I did see the call center facilities, and I believe they mentioned there were 6 or 7 full-time employees who do phone support customer service. The picture of that yellow “no swearing” sign near the very end of the article is from the hallway outside of the customer service offices 😉

      (and yes, I just added like 10 photos that I forgot I had! All at the bottom, starting with the yellow “no swearing” one)

      • That’s interesting. The gen 1 Sub2000 that I purchased was used as well. I contacted them via email because, in my case, nobody was answering the phone. I very politely explained to them what was happening with it and that I would be happy to purchase the parts to repair the common FTF/FTE issues some of these things apparently have. They wanted me to ship it to them through an FFL. That seemed to me like an unnecessary layer of expense and inconvenience when all they had to do was recommend which parts to order. I was pretty ticked-off about it for a while, but maybe I’ll try my luck with them again here directly.

  4. • Sub2Ks for Glock9s last about 4 min on shelves here. Often over MSRP.
    • PMR30s are vaporware or 30%+ marked up over MSRP
    • CMR30? unicorn gun

    Yes, yes. Supply/demand. I guess someone really want them bad enough to pay that premium.

  5. I certainly don’t fault them for not wanting to take on debt, but like I said in the SUB-2000 review, 150,000 guns a year in a market that buys more than a million per month is pretty small potatoes. In absolute numbers, that sounds like a lot of guns, but as a percentage of the market, it’s a tiny fraction. They may be the fifth largest gun manufacturer in the U.S., but the dropoff after the top three is pretty steep.

    So yeah, it’s not four guys in a garage. It’s forty guys in a really big garage… 🙂

    Cool photo tour, though. I love to see how things are made.

    • LOL. Well there was an entire pallet worth of boxes going to Davidson’s. Even on GunBroker, PMR-30, KSG, and some others have been easily findable for “buy it now” at MSRP for quite a while. They aren’t all selling at inflated prices on there.

  6. Sure, we know that they are producing them, but where’s the evidence of them actually shipping them out?

  7. Come on ship some sub 2000 ‘s to Mass before they make them illegal and I’ve been waiting years to buy one .

  8. Who here owns a Kel-Tec firearm? Does it work as expected and are you happy with you purchase? I’m honestly curious about that.
    All I’ve heard online and from friends at the range is that Kel-tec guns are junk. I had considered getting a PMR-30 but reviews online point out several issues with it, reinforcing the hearsay about the lack of performance of their products.

    Anyone? Anyone?

    Bueller?

    • Various KSGs, a sub2k gen2, and a PMR. Loved them all, no issues whatsoever. I may have gotten lucky, but I’m a huge fan.

    • I’ve had a PMR-30 since early 2012 and like it a lot. The thing is a ton of fun to shoot, and it’s pretty reliable but not perfectly reliable. I wouldn’t trust it for self defense, but in part that’s due to me not trusting rimfire ammo enough for self defense. I still think it would be a good zombie gun or bug out gun, especially in a bag along with a CMR-30. The capacity is just awesome and 1,000 rounds of .22 WMR only weighs like 8.5-ish lbs.

      I owned a SUB-2000 for a couple of years and it ran 100%. It’s a very simple gun that’s a bit rough around the edges, but it worked reliably and it was accurate. I sold it because I purchased it with the intent of threading it for a suppressor but that process was WAY too big of a PITA on the Gen1. I could see getting a Gen2 since they’re ready-to-go for suppressed use, although at this point with a CZ Scorpion SBR I’ve already scratched that shorty 9mm PDW itch.

      I haven’t shot an RDB but I’m going to try and get my hands on one to test out for review. I’d like to shoot it back to back with my Tavor a few times to see how it feels in comparison.

    • I had a P11, it was nice size and comfortable to hold and pointed well. I had quite a few failures mostly stovepipe and FTE. A couple of hundred rounds and polished feed ramp later it went bang every time. I bought it new for $249 or something like that, so I felt was a good value. My son-in-law traded me for it a while back and he reports no problems with it.

    • I own a sub2k that takes Glock 9mm mags. I was able to buy it at my local gun store for under MSRP (under $400 even) but that guy is my buddy so he gets me whatever I want at cost 🙂

      It feels a little cheap which is to be expected because the plastic parts are basically just clamshelled onto the gun. It also doesn’t have rails or mounts or anything like that to add aftermarket parts (looks like they fixed that with the Gen 2) so the sights make it tough to be super accurate. However it will certainly hit a bucket on a stick reliably at 50-100 yard ranges. I have shot it clean and dirty, with all sorts of both brass and steel cased fmj and never had a failure. It is a little odd to disassemble but the internet helped me out there.

      So I like mine, it is a fun gun and the only one I own that folds in half which is a cool party trick.

    • I have a SU-16, a SU-22, a Sub-2000, and a P-32. All of them work with no issues. The only real issue that I had with Sub-2000 was trying to shoot aluminum cased ammo… turns out that doesn’t work well in a gun that is straight blowback (cases will rupture), so just don’t do it.

    • My first carry gun was (is) a P3AT that’s never given me problems (except it hates Tula). I had an SU-16C, really liked it, but sold it to pay off bills. I recently bought an SU-16B for my trunk gun, as well as a Gen 1 SUB2000 with the Red Lion fore-end. My only gripe with the SUB2000 is the stiff charging handle. Other than that, it is a blast to shoot. These are not match guns. The triggers are blah, but the guns run, run, and run, and they fill special niches. I like mine, and I did not pay inflated prices for my Kel-Tecs.

    • Well, of course. I own four.

      How can you not own the easiest to conceal double-stack nine? The P11– it created the market for pocket pistols.

      Kel-Tec later filled the .32 pocket gun niche formerly occupied by the truly unavailable Seecamp, then created the .380 pocket gun market.

      Everyone else has followed Kel-Tec.

      • You can thank Kahr for kicking off the useful caliber pocket Gun revolution. Even now their p380/cw380 is smaller than Keltec’s p32/3at.

  9. “Basically every station in the assembly process does a QC check before sending whatever its output is onto the next stage.”

    *Very* good to hear, they took the lessons of Ed Deming to heart.

    (For those kids not familiar with Deming, US manufacturers didn’t listen to him, so he went to Japan, where they listened, and the Japanese manufacturing sector *boomed* during the 70’s through the 90’s.)

    Deming’s main message was to engineer and build the quality into product at each stage, and they’re doing just that.

    It’s a functional factory, not a showcase factory with white epoxy floors.

    Doing them in ‘runs’ has a side benefit of keeping the employees from getting bored doing the same thing, day in, day out. That is actually a Joe Biden ‘big fvcking deal.’

    I have one sniveling request, could you go back and attempt to label all the pics that you remember? I was puzzling trying to figure out what sub-assembly went with each gun.

    The pics were a bit of pleasant nostalgia for me, years back I did mechanical-electrical QA in a factory, and that plant had the same vibe.

    One last thing – Your daughter is adorable.

    Are you *sure* you’re the father?

    (ducking…) 🙂

    • Contrary to Deming’s lessons to the Japanese, the Chinese output has quality “inspected in” in many products. They have their cost of production so low in China, if 20% of the output is tossed or recycled, they say “so what?” The quality is done by inspection at the end of the line on many products, and they just sell their output in three different streams:

      – highest level of inspection, usually with foreign (American or European) engineers/techs inspecting for conformance at the end of the production line
      – middle – PRC employees inspecting to a so-so level of quality at the end of the line
      – little to no inspection – this is your walmart-level crapshoot of quality.

  10. I like factory tour videos and this was the best ever. Thanks to Kel-Tec for being so open and accessible.

  11. Great video even though the length had me thinking I was on Nutnfancy’s channel for a moment.

  12. Damn bro, a month off to visit Grandparents? and in FL at that 🙂 can’t say i could do that and have a job to come back to anymore, but i guess i was lucky enough to do a lot of fun stuff in my 20’s.

    Anyway, that was pretty damn interesting to see. I cant fault Kelgren for his business model. It just means we end up paying a little over msrp if we want something other than a 3at and he doesnt end up over leveraged. Business is business. I love my sub2k’s, but I did have one bad one out of three (a gen1). But i sold it at no loss and got a gen2 though cause everyone thinks they’re unicorns. Not so much as a hiccup at 600+ rounds with the gen2. Theres a reason why they made the ejection port 40% larger. A lightweight, foldable PCC doesnt have to be a mil grade piece of kit for my use case anyway. I’m not crazy over their other stuff honestly, but i’ve had a blast with tricking out my 2k’s. They get more use than anything else and inside 25 yards, they’re hard to beat. Anyway, good vid man. What ever u do, dont visit Ft DeSoto beach while ur down there. Thats MY private beach and i’m keeping it pristine until i get back down there 😉 😉 Good vid. Thanks S man.
    Peace

    • LOL. Well, in “real life” I work from a home office anyway. So we did go down to FL for a full month — my mom bought a condo near her parents, as they need some assistance these days, so we had a place to stay for $0 — but I worked basically the whole time. Or, at least, I “worked” most of the time. Some of the time. There was a time.

      …funny story, it turns out my grandparents are like two miles away from RF’s parents. And about a half mile away from one of my ‘real job’ coworker’s parents. Crazy.

      • Ahhh nice, a WFH guy. Gotta dig that. Yeah, seems like the transplants end up clustered in the same areas down there. Cost of living is low, no cold winter to deal with, good place to retire. …maybe I’ll end up there some day myself. ‘real life’ is overrated anyway 😉 Only get so much time to have fun. Good inside view of KT. Sometimes i wonder if keeping supply on the low side ensures that demand stays high….

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