Umarex factory visit
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- Last updated: 23/11/2016
I’ve long held a fascination for engineering and production methods, and as my lifelong passion for shooting has grown, so has my appreciation of the finer aspects of gun manufacture. So you can imagine my response when an invitation arrived to visit the factory complex of Umarex - the world’s largest manufacturer of realistic imitation firearms plus air and CO2 powered guns. With the company group including such elevated brand names as Walther, Hammerli, and Rohm in their portfolio, I had a feeling we were in for treat, and I wasn’t to be disappointed.
Manufacturing replicas of famous brands under license, such as Beretta, Browning, Colt, and Smith & Wesson, have carved out a niche market for Umarex; yet their production remit extends far wider than these CO2 powered airguns. Top class traditional airguns, as well as live firearms, are all part of their business. Indeed, with the recent announcement that the company had secured the contract to manufacture and supply the Netherlands Police Force with the P99Q 9mm pistol, the company has much to be pleased about.
Umarex was established in 1972 by Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and Franz Wonisch, so the company celebrated its 40th Anniversary last year. It is now part of the PW Group, taking over Walther in 1993 and they are now huge, with over 850 employees worldwide. We were to visit their Headquarters in Arnsberg, Germany, and with over 400 staff in this main site alone, it was set to be an enthralling visit. The trip was arranged in conjunction with Alan Phelps, the Managing Director of Armex, the British based company that imports and distributes Umarex products in the UK. For anyone who’s never met Alan Phelps, his forthright approach, and infectious enthusiasm for his business model at Armex is there for all to see; and with a strong vision of where his company plans to be in the not so distant future, I have to say I was impressed with his drive and passion for all things airgun. We were also joined by Della Bailey, his newly appointed Strategic Operations Manager, and Jules Whicker, my colleague and fellow journalist.
Thought GatheringTouching down in Dortmund, mid evening, then being whisked off at high speed by Oliver Lux, Export Director for Umarex, meant we only had to concern ourselves with settling into a rather impressive hotel, set in thick woodland, and gathering our thoughts for the packed schedule, that lay ahead the following day. Part of that thought gathering process was to be conducted to a nearby Italian restaurant to have and some fascinating discussions over some top class pasta and fine German beer!
Day two, and we were whisked off to the Umarex industrial complex, and it really is massive with two huge inter-connected production and office buildings plus a gigantic warehousing and distribution centre just a few kilometres down the road.
Anyone with even a passing interest in shooting can’t fail to be impressed - even overawed, at the sheer spectacle of the company’s reception area. Large racks of guns, some under glass in exhibition cases, and some wall mounted, combined to form an exquisite display of the company’s products. It certainly sets the tone, and acts as a reminder of just how far this innovative outfit has come in the last 40 or so years. Passing through the mini museum, as you walk through the corridors to the main factory space, is a treat in itself, as the company story unfolds - all beautifully presented.
The company’s licensing system with some of the world’s most famous firearms manufacturers means that Umarex can make replica CO2 powered, blank firing or even .22LR versions (depending on the licensing agreements) of guns from Beretta, Colt, H&K, Magnum Research, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Uzi and of course their own Walther brand.
The immensely likeable Jürgen Klöckener was on hand to meet us, and as he led us through the tour, the immensely likeable Jürgen couldn’t hide his passion for his work.
Moving on to the production floor, we were shown so much that space restricts what I can relay here. The amazing thing was that the extremely high level of production values and quality control was applied not only to firearms, but to the airgun and blank firer manufacturing process as well.
Castings for replica pistol bodies etc., are normally formed from zinc alloy we were told, due to the metal being less prone to burrs. Each worker plays a valuable role in the production process, with one member of staff responsible for cleaning up the finish for final preparation, whilst another may be responsible for adding the serial number.
Clever use of technology was everywhere. One machine cycled a pistol mechanism until the magazine was fully tested. Clever stuff, and an example of the painstaking attention to detail.
One highlight for me was the opportunity to see the chemical blueing plant, since this has become a rare sight these days. Many companies understandably contract out this work, since the operation can be dangerous and time consuming. The Umarex set-up includes no less than 25 different stages apparently; each demanding skill and patience from the operator.
Next up was the assembly line for the Walther LGV airgun, and with Jürgen being one of the three-man team that originally designed the gun, it was a treat to share his hands-on experience and involvement.
Passion and Vision
The last stop was the underground 100yd range - and the curious sight of two staff members, who spend their time live-testing, by firing shots into long tubes of water. Valuable information is gleaned, but the ear defenders are compulsory! As promised, this most absorbing of factory tours was to end with some hands on action using the police issue Walther P99Q pistol and some larger kit. Firing 9mm live for the first time, was an experience for sure, and a fun way to end the day.
Caring about your customers, and tailoring products accordingly, always makes good business sense - something clearly evident from all concerned on this trip. As you may have realized by now, I was mightily impressed by the whole Umarex set-up. The sheer drive and passion behind the operation, the sense of history behind the company, and the vision for where it moves next, was there for all to see.
So a big ‘Thank you’ goes out to Jürgen Klöckener, Oliver Lux, and Eyck Pflaumer (marketing and sales manager) at Umarex, and Alan Phelps and Della Bailey at Armex, for being such great hosts throughout our trip. It was indeed a privilege and an insight to see such dedication and professionalism at work, and for that, Umarex should be rightly proud. GM
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