In my time as a writer for TTAG, I’ve toured my share of manufacturing facilities. From the small-time operations like the scrappy pre-Freedom Group AAC (when it was still under Kevin Brittingham) which looked only a little larger than my parent’s garage, to the sprawling operation that is Leupold & Stevens’ operation in Beaverton, Oregon. After you see a couple, they all start to look the same. The same machines, the same floor layout, the same processes…it gets hard to distinguish what makes one manufacturer any better than the others. But for FN Manufacturing (FNM), the plant that makes FN guns in the U.S., the difference is something they shout from the rooftops: their people . . .
Harry Taylor has been working with FN Manufacturing for thirty-two years. In that time, he’s done many jobs at the plant. From machine setup technician to supervisor, Harry’s done it all. His favorite assignment, though, was working on the M240B production line — making the .30 caliber replacement for the US military’s aging M60 machine gun. The reason he enjoyed the job so much wasn’t that the work was particularly fun, but because he knew the guns were going to be protecting American lives.
He’d been in the Army himself, honorably discharged just before coming to work for FN Manufacturing. He knew exactly what it meant to rely on a firearm to defend your life and he was determined to give the new generation of soldiers a firearm that could be relied on to go bang every time.
That kind of mindset is pervasive throughout the plant. FN Herstal started in 1889 as an alliance of Belgian arms makers that banded together to service a large contract from the Belgian government. That business eventually expanded to selling firearms to the arsenals of Europe. When John Browning joined their ranks, they became aware of a growing commercial market in the U.S. It wasn’t until the 1970s that FN Herstal began exploring the possibility of establishing a plant to produce “sporting arms” for the American public. However winning a contract to produce M240 machine guns for the U.S. military accelerated these plans and FNM was established in 1978.
The ranks of FNM’s workforce quickly swelled thanks to additional military contracts and became a workforce heavily laced with retired military personnel. With each of those former military workers came the experience they gained in the service, and the knowledge that the guns they make could be sent to help their brothers still in uniform. It gave them a clear purpose.
The best illustration comes from the testing range. FNM has a 100-meter firing range in the rear of the facility where they test all their guns to ensure that they meet the military’s standards. The M16, which FN Manufacturing has produced for ages, is required to keep to a 5-inch circle at 100 meters for ten consecutive rounds. While I watched from behind the firing line, I think the worst group I saw was barely half that spread.
One of the weapons testers had himself been in the military and his son followed in his footsteps. After the son left boot camp, he was issued an M240B before being sent overseas. He called his father to let him know, since FN was the sole manufacturer of that machine gun at the time (previously designated as the FN MAG). His dad asked him for the serial number of the machine gun, then looked it up. The father had fired the test for that gun himself and the gun had performed remarkably well.
According to John Lockard, a Vietnam vet who will soon retire from FNM as operations adviser, the mindset of everyone at FN Manufacturing is that when the guns are needed, they’ll go bang every time. Not “if” they’re used, but “when.” Every gun is treated with the idea that it will be called on to defend someone’s life at some point, an accurate assumption for military firearms.
Twenty years after FN Manufacturing got going, FNH USA was established to manage U.S. government relations and new business development activities for its U.S. military operations, as well as support sales and marketing efforts for its growing U.S. commercial and law enforcement markets.
Despite the fact that commercial products were added to FNM’s line-up, the mindset didn’t change. The same attention to detail and the same belief that every gun will be called upon to save a life is in the minds of workers while they’re assembling commercial firearms as it is when they’re running the M240 line.
I asked Harry if he’s a gun guy and he says he definitely is. When I asked what kinds of guns he likes and he started listing off some hunting calibers, I knew exactly what occupied his free time. He started talking about how deer season is about to start in South Carolina and his eyes lit up. When I asked him who made his guns, the answer was predictable — FNM (they also make the Model 70 Winchester). The reason? “Because I know it will go bang every time I pull the trigger.”