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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.