Air Arms Factory Tour
In Summer 2015, HAM Publisher Stephen Archer visited Air Arms in Hailsham, United Kingdom. There he met Managing Director Claire West, General Manager Alan George and many other employees during the course of his Air Arms factory tour.
Air Arms has been manufacturing airguns since 1983 and produced its first PCP air rifle in 1988. So the company has a long history: it combines the latest high-technology computer design and manufacturing capabilities with traditional skills and artisan-level dedication to quality.
Above. Our heading photograph shows racks of completed air rifles and actions at the Air Arms factory.
During this Air Arms factory tour, I was given complete access to the whole plant, encouraged to photograph everything and ask anything I wanted. This level of openness gives a great indication of the confidence Air Arms feels in its products and how they make them!
On this Air Arms factory tour, I was highly impressed by the sheer amount of parts that Air Arms manufactures in-house. With the obvious exception of screws and nuts, Air Arms manufactures just about every part of their guns themselves.
Here we see a tray of striker bodies fresh from the CNC lathe. The accompanying “Route Card” carries a huge amount of information on the raw materials, machining stages and inspections – together with the dates and times of each event. All this data is logged in Air Arms computer system so that they know the EXACT history of every component of YOUR air rifle.
The only major exceptions are the beautiful Italian Minelli stocks and top grade Lothar Walther barrels. But even the barrels are made to Air Arms specifications and have more work done to them before assembly. Of course, the stocks are produced to Air Arms specifications, too.
Below, barrels awaiting checking and assembly.
During my Air Arms factory tour, I found that every gun is built to a dealer or distributor order. The receiver is the “heart” of the gun and this is identified throughout it’s build process by a tag that’s attached to it. This tag identifies everything from the name of the assembler to the batches of metal used in manufacture. So, every part of every gun is fully traceable back to the raw material used! To me this is an outstanding example of the care Air Arms takes to ensure that each airgun it produces is as near perfect as possible.
Below we see an S510 receiver sub assembly with its identification tag.
Air Arms uses may bespoke material sizes and extrusions that are unique to the company. These raw materials are specified for extreme levels of precision and tolerances.
Below is a part of the raw materials store. The stock is clearly laid-out and tube ends painted to prevent potential confusion with similar-looking materials.
The raw material are then machined to become the finished part using a variety of high-end CNC (Computer Number Controlled) lathes, including CNC lathes with as many as 11-axis capability. (Trust me, that’s extreme machinery!!!).
Here we see Michael, Sliding Head Lather Supervisor, enjoying his job setting-up a CNC lathe.
Some key parts like the receiver of PCP air rifles are amazingly complex and require many stages in manufacture. The next three photographs show some of these steps. Thanks to Alan George, Air Arms General Manager, for providing these.
First we see the billet of aircraft-grade Aluminum that will be machined to produce the receiver body of an Air Arms FTP air rifle. As you can see, the weight of this billet is 3.12 Kg (6.88 Lbs).
The second photograph shows a partially-finished FTP body. The weight is now down to 1.49 Kilograms (3.28 Lbs).
After many more stages, the final part leaves the CNC machine, fully machines and weighing just 0.547 Kg (19 ounces). Fully 82.5% of the original billet has been machined away to produce the final body. It’s a very, very complex part, as you can see!
Of course, Air Arms products are renowned for their outstanding finish. As an example, on my Air Arms factory tour, I saw TX200 compression tubes being finished. To achieve the mirror-like surface, these tubes are given at least 8 stages of finishing and polishing with dedicated polishing compounds.
All the polishing stages are accomplished with the operator wearing cotton gloves – this avoids acid marks from fingerprints marring the surface before bluing.
Below we see a partially-finished TX200 compression tube (no gloves yet!). Even at this stage, it’s almost impossible to see that this compression tube is actually made from TWO parts, the fit and finish is so fine that it looks for all the world like a single piece of steel.
Each gun is bench assembled by a small number of highly-trained key assemblers. Each assembler receives at least 6 months training. And most assemblers at Air Arms have 10 to 15 years experience of building airguns.
Here we see Airgun Technician Matt working on the initial stages of assembling an air rifle.
And here’s Anna, Airgun Technician, making a functionality test on a PCP air rifle action.
At specified stages during assembly, the subassemblies (or partially completed guns) are tested. There’s muzzle velocity testing, accuracy testing, soak testing and final testing.
The pressure soak test for PCP air rifles alone takes 48 hours to confirm that the gun holds pressure. Before an Air Arms airgun is shipped it has already been fired between 300 and 500 times during testing at the factory!
Finally, a supervisor will mate the stock to the action and make final tests before the completed air rifle is passed ready for shipment.
Below we see Airgun Technician Carl testing an FTP air rifle.
During my Air Arms factory tour, I was deeply impressed by the levels of passion and commitment obvious among everyone who works there. Air Arms is a family company and has a happy, family atmosphere.
There’s the friendly banter and good natured leg-pulling you would expect from a company whose employees have an average length of service of 24 years. And all these people are seriously dedicated to producing air rifles of extreme quality and precision.
That’s their goal and they’re proud of delivering on it with every gun that bears the Air Arms name.