When I first sat down with Taurus International Mfg., Inc. CEO Mark Kresser and other company representatives at SHOT Show 2013, I was apprehensive. I had spent a lot of time talking people out of buying Taurus brand firearms when I worked for a gun range, the idea of sitting down with the company to discuss their future made me nervous. To my surprise, they were open to all of my feedback, they were interested in learning more about online media and they wanted me to come down to the factory in Miami, Florida to see the changes they were making.
The brand name “Taurus” seems to result in two very different reactions from gun enthusiasts: critics are likely to tell tales of poor quality control and bad customer service, while fans will talk about their amazing experiences, their favorite guns and the stack of Taurus boxes they have in their possession. While I previously resided in the former camp, I’m now making my own, because I may not be a fan of what Taurus has been, but after my visit to Florida I have no hesitation in saying that I’m excited about what they will be.
My visit started with a conversation with CEO Mark Kresser about the direction Taurus is hoping to move and the changes they are wanting to make. As we roamed the factory floor it became clear that the changes they are making will set Taurus apart from other manufacturers, and over the next few years we can see some big things coming from the Brazilian company.
The most notable parts of the factory, and the ones where the biggest changes are taking place, include the machining floor, the assembly line, the customer service office, and the gunsmithing room.
The Machining Floor
After entering through a metal detector, which inevitably “bings,” visitors to the Taurus USA factory find themselves on a large machining floor. Here Taurus makes two of their smallest firearms: the PT22 and the PT25, along with a small variety of other firearms branded under companies owned by Taurus.
Here is also where visitors can start seeing the changes, the steps forward, that Taurus is making. The most prominent new addition are the green flags that are stuck to every machine. Rather than encouraging workers to churn out as many parts as they can without stopping for something small as, oh say, a part being manufactured the wrong size, workers are rewarded for stopping the machine. A machine with a green flag means the machine is working properly, is sized properly, and every piece coming out of the machine is just as it should be.
In the center of this room there is a small station surrounded by clear plastic, designed to keep dirt and dust from accumulating. Inside this room is a computer that measures the size and dimensions of each piece that is being produced to ensure that they fit together perfectly. If the piece is measured and is found to be an incorrect size, the green flag is removed from the machine and the machine is stopped until the programming can be corrected and the product is being made properly again.
This is an important process as it has a large effect on the company’s quality control. Having every piece of the gun being made properly is an important step toward making sure that the final products work well.
The Assembly Line
Separate from the machining floor there are a series of rooms that house the company’s assembly line and shipping area.
Once the pieces of the products have been finalized they are sent up to an assembly line area where each firearm is assembled by hand. Here, Taurus has taken another step toward improving quality control, encouraging workers to speak up when parts don’t fit together properly and guns seem out-of-spec. This information is then passed back to the machining floor so that the part and machine can be inspected and fixed where necessary.
From here, the gun passes into an airlock that separates the shipping and assembly areas. Inside this airlock is a door leading to the test range. Once a firearm has passed from the assembly line through this door it does not go back. After testing, the gun is either given a pass or fail grade. If the gun fails, it is handed to the gunsmiths in the shipping area to fix and is not shipped out until it has been successfully test fired.
The Customer Service Office
One of the company’s current concerns is improving their customer service. Inside an office within their factory they have 18 people working full-time to answer phone calls. While Taurus is still trying to cut down their current call hold times, they have future plans to upgrade their customer service center with the most modern technology and making the process as seamless as possible for customers.
All the employees in the customer service department are required to take a training course and display a detailed knowledge of Taurus products. While wait times are currently long to get on the phone with someone, while Taurus is working to reduce these times, once on the phone customers will get the full attention of the employee they are talking to until the problem is solved to the customer’s satisfaction.
The Gunsmithing Room
Taurus currently offers a unique lifetime warranty that, while beneficial to the customers in one aspect, makes their gunsmithing operations difficult. Above the machine floor, a room full of gunsmiths work full time trying to fix guns that have been sent back in. Sometimes, this means fixing guns and sourcing parts that Taurus hasn’t made for years.
Right now, Taurus is emphasizing that all guns are fully fixed and more before they are returned to customers. While they are working to improve their wait times for firearms getting fixed, the best thing they can do for their customers at the moment is ensure that guns are not only fixed, but fixed above and beyond the expected, prior to returning them. In the future, as the process is streamlined, customers should expect wait times on their guns to go down.
Metal Injection Molding
Metal Injection Molding, or MIM, has long been a controversial topic in the firearms industry. While is streamlines production, it can create parts of questionable quality. There are a couple parts of the MIM process that can make a big difference in whether or not the MIM parts work well. The most important thing is that MIM is not a process that should be used to create items such as frames or firing pins, as these are prone to breaking when made from weaker MIM parts.
The process starts with a metal compound that is combined with a plastic binding agent. The composition of this compound is key in making good MIM parts. Taurus has their own specialized compound to create MIM parts for a variety of companies and uses. This metal-plastic compound is melted and poured into a mold, it comes out on the other side of the mold shaped, but soft and larger than the end part will be. This piece is broken off of the rest of the spare plastic-compound pieces that come out in the mold. The part is then placed into high-temperature furnaces, also known as sintering ovens, which bind the metal, shrinking and hardening the part. This part of the process is also key to developing good MIM parts, as furnaces that burn unevenly will result in lower-quality material that is more prone to breakage.
By Shelley Rae. Originally published in the April 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.