FN America, LLC, Columbia, SC, Nov. 2014
VGCA takes a Field Trip to FN America, LLC. In Columbia, SC, by Chris Britton: Our small group of VGCA members started arriving at the FN factory in the pouring rain, shortly before 11:00 in the morning. I have always believed anything that starts bad has got to get better, and boy did it.
Anthony Vanderlinden, noted author, collector and FN expert, had been working with FN to plan our tour for quite a while. Even though he had every reason to call it quits, he stuck with it and what he delivered was absolutely outstanding and truly memorable. He insisted that he didn’t want just anyone to take us through the factory, so he asked J.P. Reconnu, a Senior Program Manager and engineer to be our tour guide. JP, as he asked to be called, had moved to Columbia, SC from Belgium in 1981 when the factory was first opened. We could not have asked for a better guide.
We started the tour with a display of the various items FN had produced through the years. There was everything from a milking machine to a chainless bicycle, some of which Anthony Vanderlinden has presented when he addressed a VGCA meeting. This was the story of a company that would adapt to stay in business.
The factory tour started where the firearms begin life, at the milling machines turning out receiver parts. We continued our tour through the stages of production, at every stop getting up close and personal with the equipment turning out firearms for our military and civilians alike. Often JP would take a piece that was waiting to be machined and let us hold it to see up close what processes were being done at that station.
Once this part of the tour was complete we moved to the real hands on part of the tour. First we went into a room that contained everything that they manufactured in the Columbia, SC facility. There was everything from the FNX 9mm pistol up to the automatic 40mm grenade launcher. In this room we were able to examine all the products, in some cases holding them for closer inspection. After holding the M240 SAW I was glad we have strong young men willing to carry and use these so I don’t have to. We were able to compare the M240b with the M240L which is made with titanium parts to save about 8 pounds of weight. I still would not want to carry it too far.
The next stop was a conference room which had display cabinets on all sides of the room filled with historical items from all the companies that are now part of the FN family. The items displayed were rare and sometimes one of a kind pieces from Winchester, Browning and FN, and included the still-born Winchester Model 51 or Imperial that was based on the U.S. Enfield Model of 1917 (see VGCA website article, The Winchester Model 51 “Imperial” Sporting Rifle by Marc Gorelick) .
Just when we didn’t think it could get any better, it did. The next stop was the barrel production half of the building. It turns out that FN manufactures barrels for a large number of other firearms manufacturers. They produce both hammer forged and button rifled barrels. We were able to see up close the precision boring machines, the button rifling machines and most impressive the hammer forging machine. This machine takes a 16 inch long barrel blank and hammers it into a 20 plus inch precision barrel in a very short time.
We finished our tour in the test firing room, on the day we were there they were testing AR rifles. Two testers both in full hazmat suits with respirators, the first one would take a rifle, fire several rounds for accuracy hand it to the second tester who fired a magazine on full auto and put it on a rack and the first tester would start on another rifle. My thought that this might be a good job was put to rest in a few minutes.
I will conclude by saying that Anthony promised us a good tour and even he admitted that he was shown things that were new to him. I cannot say enough good things about our tour guide J.P. Reconnu. While at times it was hard to hear his explanations over the din of the factory, if we had questions, he always took the time to answer them. He was very knowledgeable and very friendly.
A good time was had by all.