Since 1526, the name Beretta has represented the ultimate in firearm quality and performance. Although the brand is most associated with Italy, where it has operated for 15 generations under the ownership of the same family, its operations in the United States play a big role in upholding its legacy.
“We are smaller than the Italian operation in terms of our footprint, size and number of machines, but similar in that we place an emphasis on high-quality manufacturing operations as a way to achieve high quality in the product itself,” Beretta USA Vice-General Manager Jeff Reh says.
The company’s products may range in price and features but don’t vary when it comes to quality. “In Italy, we manufacture shotguns that are expensive and beautiful works of art that run thousands of dollars or more, in addition to simpler, more affordable guns,” he adds. “We will not release a product to the market unless it gives a customer a superlative experience in terms of features and safety, and maintain quality irrespective of the price point of our product.”
Beretta’s products reach multiple markets including the military, hunting, law enforcement and civilian segments. Beretta’s other products include hunting vests and jackets and other accessories that are available through a worldwide dealer network.
The company’s pistols account for more than 90 percent of the U.S. military market alone. “The fact that we make the standard sidearm for the U.S. Armed Forces [the Beretta Model 92] is a high point of pride for us,” says Reh, who in 1983 helped write the initial proposal for the company’s military business. “We’re proud of our name and heritage as a company, but that is the most meaningful thing to us with regard to what we’ve accomplished with our employees.”
All of Beretta’s customer segments have a similar, straightforward expectation when it comes to its products. “The easiest way for us to define quality is that, if you buy a pistol for self-defense, it will go off when you pull the trigger,” Reh says. “There’s an equal demand for quality in sports hunting or target shooting activities – you don’t want the rifle to jam or fail to fire when, for example, you just have one opportunity to take a clear shot at a deer. The ability of our product to function when required is absolutely paramount.”
The company conducts extensive research, development and testing activities. “Our products are not only used by civilians for self-defense or the military and law enforcement, but also by competitive shooters and Olympians [in trap and skeet competitions],” he adds. “When we talk about quality, we’re talking about reliability, durability and having the firearm have a long service life and perform at a high rate.”
Great care is also taken to ensure that Beretta’s products are aesthetically pleasing. The company uses high-grade wood in its shotgun stocks and employs precision engraving techniques. “We want our customers to be able to tell a Beretta is a well-made product from the moment they pick it up,” Reh says.
An Efficient Operation
Beretta’s automated manufacturing process begins with crafting the barrels of its firearms. To create the barrel, manufacturing personnel cut stock steel into the length required by the product being made, and then turn it on a lathe before drilling a bore into it. For many of its shotguns and rifles, Beretta also uses cold hammer forging as a way of ensuring the greatest degree of durability and precision in the manufacturing process.
Once the steel is drilled, the barrel undergoes a rifling process, which involves using machinery to cut a series of grooves inside of it. These grooves cause a bullet to spin, which stabilizes it and improves its accuracy. Rifling techniques date back to the American Civil War, Reh says.
Rifling is used on pistols and hunting rifles. Shotguns feature a smooth bore, as they fire a number of pellets rather than a single projectile. Other components manufactured by the company include the frame, which holds the barrel in place and includes the grip; and the slide, which is the pistol’s firing mechanism. “Our product development philosophy is to start with simple designs that are extremely well made,” he adds.
All products are manufactured to high tolerances. The company uses robotic measuring equipment that can measure within ten-thousandths of a millimeter.
Beretta dedicates production lines to specific products, but allows for some flexibility in its operations. The company utilizes lean and Six Sigma methodologies such as kanban and process mapping to improve its efficiency. Beretta’s U.S. operations are ISO 9001 certified.
The company maintains inventory of products it imports from its plants in Italy. “These products can take a while to receive, particularly higher-end shotguns that require a lot of hand engraving, so we order more than we need,” Reh says. “While our sales are such that we have a fair amount of inventory at any given time, we do forecasting that allows us to flow through it pretty efficiently.”
Since 1978, the company has manufactured several lines of pistols, including the Model 92, in a facility in Accokeek, Md. That facility will soon be supplemented by a new $45 million manufacturing center in Gallatin, Tenn., which the company hopes to have operational by 2015.
Tennessee was chosen to house the second Beretta USA facility because of its strong manufacturing base as well as the state’s reputation as a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. The facility is projected to have 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space, significantly larger than the 130,000 square feet in Maryland. The new facility will be used to make semi-automatic rifles, pump-action shotguns and various models of pistols.
“We wanted to find a place within the United States that offers a lot of subcontracting support,” Reh says. “We were pleased with the number and quality of manufacturing companies, high-level machine shops and potential vendor facilities in Tennessee.”
The facility is located near Fort Campbell, giving it both a major client and potential source of new employees. The company actively recruits for employment military veterans leaving the service, he adds.
Reh credits Tennessee Commissioner of Economic Development Bill Hagerty and his staff, as well as local officials, for helping Beretta make the move. “[Hagerty] and his staff were fantastic when it came to listening to what we needed in a new facility and doing their best to make that happen,” Reh says.
Beretta USA also ultimately hopes to build a shipping and distribution center adjacent to the new facility. Its current shipping and distribution center near Fredricksburg, Va., will remain open, Reh says, as will its existing Accokeek, Maryland facility.