The first FNP pistol, the FNP-9 (9 mm Luger), appeared in 2001, but large-scale distribution was delayed until 2003. Other models, including the FNP-40 (.40 S&W), FNP-357 (.357 SIG) and FNP-45 (.45 ACP) followed. On average, FNP pistol designs go through a three-year development cycle. Although the FNP-9, FNP-40 and FNP-357 are variants of the same design concept, the FNP-45 was made to comply with U.S. military specifications. When developing the FNP-45, the design and engineering team worked at further improving ergonomics, trigger pull weight and reset, and sights—the latter for faster target acquisition. Additionally, the FNP-45 was made completely ambidextrous. Like the other FNP pistols, the FNP-45 had a serviceable frame with replaceable stainless steel rails on which the slide rode. That characteristic was a requirement from the pistol’s inception and remains a distinguishing feature.
The FNP-9, FNP-40 and FNP-357 went through an endurance test of 20,000 rounds. The FNP-45’s endurance test requirement was raised to 25,000 rounds. Any design modification automatically triggers an additional 10,000-round endurance test. The standard Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) test requires a drop test from 5 feet in “safe” mode on a rubber mat. FNMI takes this a step further: FNP pistols are dropped from 5 feet in “cocked” positions onto a concrete floor. Other abuse tests include mallet strikes attempting to force hammers to drop and firing with plugged barrels.
Thermal testing is conducted from 40 degrees below zero to 140 degrees F in compliance with military requirements. Each model has to function without problems throughout this temperature range. Olivier Coulombier, the engineering product manager, explained that in the year the FNP-45 pistol was introduced his staff fired 200,000 rounds to detect potential issues and guarantee reliability. A separate indoor test-firing range was built away from the production test range next to the R&D department, and it includes an adjacent tool room for prototypes to be worked on.
As many as a dozen engineers were assigned to FNP development at any one time, and the current research and development staff for the FNP stands at five engineers. The engineers view the pistol as a system, comprised of different modules, each with dedicated engineering support. The modules are interrelated, and include the slide module, the trigger-group module, the rails module and the fire-control module.
In addition to Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software, the engineers use Adams 3D interactive software, which was adapted from the automotive industry for product development. The software simulates all phases of functioning and firing and allows the engineers to see how parts and modules operate together so that problems can be identified prior to production.
The first prototype stage includes a synthetic model made through Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), a rapid 3D prototyping method. Unlike sculpted models or formed models made from molds, the FDM system creates a synthetic prototype based directly on the computer model. This allows the engineers to create an accurate model of their design in a few hours. The synthetic prototype is used to evaluate ergonomics and handling in general.
Once the FDM prototype is approved and the engineers work out the virtual mechanical functioning, the first prototype is built. Unlike the traditional, time-consuming and labor-intensive steel machining and milling, FNMI uses Metal Laser-Sintering (MLS). This highly advanced laser system is used to create complex metal parts for functioning prototypes. It reduces the time from design to prototype and is more cost-effective.