Remington’s 2014 acquisition of a large industrial campus in Huntsville, Ala., made headlines in both the firearm press and national news outlets. In unison, gun owners applauded the idea of America’s oldest gunmaker operating in such a gun-friendly state. But until today, there had been little news about the transition to Huntsville.
Along with senior Remington managers Leland Nichols and John Fink, the press group I’m traveling with (see part one) departed upstate New York early this morning and flew south, arriving at Huntsville just before lunch time. The contrasts between Remington’s new outpost and its long-time Ilion plant could not have been more striking. The buildings are sleek and modern-looking, especially in comparison to Ilion’s smoky brick vaults. It’s apparent the company is still settling in, and yet in several critical ways things are progressing at a rapid pace.
Repeatedly we heard that how the company is tackling the quality-control issues that recent years and learned about an innovative new approach to merging R&D, marketing and operations teams in hopes of developing, perfecting and supplying new products that are truly ready for market. Everyone we met cited the commitment of all 350 employees to quality control. New Remington CEO James Marcotuli put it in perspective, with the frank admission that, “We know we need to fix it first, then tell the story. We need real results to speak for themselves, and while we can’t claim success yet, we’re committed to getting there. I don’t want to say we have fixed it yet. But we do want to offer transparency, and to say this is the path we’re on to getting it right.”
That path includes new guns stamped “Remington Huntsville, AL.” Our media group observed Remington’s first major new product in quite some time—the RM380 micro carry pistol--coming off assembly stations. (And later got to shoot RM380s on an R&D test range.) We also observed DPMS AR-style rifles in production, and saw racks of newly machined R1 1911 slides. All the manufacturing equipment appeared to be spanking new, to go along with the renewed priority of customer satisfaction.
Production processes are being organized in “value streams” that conveniently co-locate machining, assembly, testing and packing operations to maximize efficiency and quality. Managers we met included both transfers from other Remington facilities, and locals, many with engineering background in Huntsville’s booming automotive and aerospace economy. To help find employees that are a good fit, the state-run Alabama Industrial Development Training offers a 40-hour pre-employment training course where prospective hires are given basic instruction in operating factory tooling. That, along with the fact that Huntsville has America’s highest per capita engineer population, ensures that a top-notch work force is being assembled.
As we witnessed during the first leg of our tour in Ilion, Remington is rebooting its hopes and its standing with shooters by doing what it must do—build guns for a shooting public that’s looking for quality and fair deals. To echo Marcotuli, I’m certainly not in the position to say the company’s troubles are fixed, but over the last two days we were shown an ambitious and promising plan to rebuild Remington’s rich legacy as it prepares to celebrate the biggest milestone ever in American gun manufacturing.