When gun nuts think of the northeast, they think of America’s great gun manufacturers: Colt in Hartford, Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Ruger in Southport. Interestingly, people don’t tend to associate famous gun manufacturer Sig Sauer with the northeast, despite their headquarters facility’s location in Newington, NH. Perhaps this is because people still think of Sig in general terms as a German manufacturer of guns.
I was invited to tour Sig Sauer’s 206,000 square foot Newington facility in November. Because of the aforementioned regional concentration of firearms companies, the timing was perfect and I was able to drive up from Hartford, Conn. to see the manufacturing facility as well as a brief tour of the Sig Academy in Epping. Knowing I had at least five hours of round trip driving in front of me, I selected my rental car to maximize a combination of good freeway driving dynamics, fuel economy, and most importantly driver comfort. That choice led me to a 2014 Chrysler 300, equipped with the excellent 292 horsepower Pentastar V6, heated seats, and Sirius satellite radio. The 300 cruises on the highway nicely, has more than enough power for freeway driving, and thanks to the well-designed Pentastar will get nearly 40 MPH. Why buy a Prius when you can get 500 miles on a single tank of gas in a big, comfy, four door sedan?
The drive itself was pleasant once I re-acclimated myself to the way most North Easterners drive. To explain, in South Dakota the speed limit on the major freeway is 80 miles per hour, so everyone goes about 85ish. In most of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the speed limit on the freeway is 65 mph so everyone drives…85. Also, the state sport of Mass. is tailgating and turn signals should only be used to indicate a completed lane change, never in advance of actually merging. I kid, of course. Couldn’t write an article about a New England road trip without making one crack about the drivers.
When I finally arrived at the Sig facility in Newington, I was impressed first with the scale of the place. At 206,000 square feet, of which over 140,000 are dedicated to manufacturing, it has a considerable footprint. I met with Amy Pevear, Sig’s Director of Marketing, and had a brief look at Sig’s current line of products, and then began the factory tour itself.
Throughout the tour, two concepts were continually reinforced: quality control and efficiency. On the first topic, every firearm that leaves the Sig Sauer factory is test fired for reliability. Everything from the smallest .380 up to the brand new P320 or P227 gets shot to make sure it’s running right before it leaves. One out of every eight guns is tested for accuracy, unless a contract specifically calls for more testing. Certain federal agencies require all their guns be shot for accuracy as well as function, a requirement Sig is happy to comply with.
Quality control is further reinforced with multiple checks and balances during the manufacturing process. Guns are tracked through every phase of construction; if a gun runs into an issue that causes it to be pulled from the assembly line, it’s sent directly to the appropriate area for repair and scanned in, then scanned back out and returned to its proper place in the assembly cycle.
Efficiency is also incredibly important to the process at Sig Sauer. Small touches to make the process more streamlined – from the assembler’s work stations being located immediately next to the parts area to reduce transit time to mounting parts bins on forward slanting rollers to ensure that the stock of parts is used up from oldest to newest. There are big touches as well, such as the full service cafeteria located on the first floor, which I should add, makes an excellent cup of coffee. Sig is dedicated to building the best guns they can as fast as they can get them out of the door. But it’s not just “turn and burn” all day long; because there is a considerable amount of effort to make sure employees take personal ownership of their work. The aforementioned cafeteria is one example; another would be the bragging board that showcases Sig Sauer in film and television, recent LE contracts, and charitable work done by Sig. This helps connects line workers who only ever see hammers, triggers, and frames to the real tangible results of their work. Another example are the banners hung in the walkway of the factory floor – designed to resemble championship banners of sporting teams, each of these showcases a Sig Sauer product and the year it was launched. From the P226 to the MPX submachine gun, they’re all there.
That brings us to the products Sig is building at their factory. The short answer is “all of them,” P238s to P227s, rifles and submachine guns. The only guns Sig isn’t making in the United States are the P210s, but rumor has it that may change as well. I was particularly interested in production of the MPX submachine gun, along with its pistol and carbine variants. For those waiting on shipping announcements, by the time this magazine is in your hands (or iPad) you should be able to get your hands on an MPX as well.
After wrapping up the facility tour, we stopped for a brief lunch at a local restaurant that is a favorite haunt of Sig employees. The pastrami sandwich was excellent, as was the clam chowder, which made for an excellent start to the tour of the Sig Academy, an impressive firearms training facility located in Epping, NH. It has everything you’d expect a facility like that to have, from shoot houses to 1,000-yard ranges, but there are also little things that you don’t see at other facilities. For example, one of the shoot houses at the Academy is in fact an actual house. It was owned by a somewhat reclusive person who eventually sold it, and the property, to the Academy. The house was converted into a shoot house for force on force training, and due to its nature as a former occupied dwelling, offers LE the opportunity to train in an incredibly realistic environment.
The Sig Academy also has considerable square range facilities, with everything you need to host a major USPSA or IDPA match, as well as a private range for employees of Sig Sauer to utilize. One of the more interesting facilities was a 360-degree range populated with shot-up cars and steel targets. Shooters could move in and out of the structure engaging the steel from different angles and around different sorts of barricade. The range could be configured to present multiple different engagement problems.
Also located on the grounds at the Academy is the Sig Pro Shop. This is a clever house of evil, clearly designed to separate students from their money by teasing them with all sorts of Sig branded merchandise, and of course every single gun currently in production by Sig. Think of it like Target for gun nuts. You go in because you need to spend 40 bucks on some P229 mags, and next thing you know you’re out $1,277.33 but you have a new gun, a sweet Arc’Teryx jacket with the Sig logo on it, and three cases of ammo.
Touring the breadth of Sig’s U.S. operation was an excellent experience, and it gave me a real appreciation for the work Sig is doing here in the U.S. When you buy a Sig, whether it’s for competition, recreation, or personal defense, your money is going to support a U.S. company, dedicated to hiring U.S. workers and building the best guns they can. In a time where companies outside the gun industry are cutting jobs and sending work overseas, it’s refreshing to see a genuine commitment to quality and American labor. And to think that people still think of Sig as a German gun company.
By Caleb Giddings. Originally published in the December 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.