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How Colt Maintains Quality Control

The company's reputation is built on the skill and passion of its workers.

July 11, 2012  |  by A.J. George - Also by this author

A Colt worker puts the finishing touches on a semi-auto pistol. Photo: A.J. George
A Colt worker puts the finishing touches on a semi-auto pistol. Photo: A.J. George

Recently I accepted an invitation to join other gun writers and law enforcement officers on a tour of Colt Manufacturing's facilities in the historic city of Hartford, Conn.

If you've been in this business in any capacity for more than a few minutes, you've likely put one of Colt's weapons through it paces. The company has been in the gun business since 1836, substantially longer than most of its competition. You don't stay in business that long unless you have a good product.

As I got off the plane in Hartford I was at a loss for what Colt might have in store for us. The Colt product line is clearly established, and the company is not known for constantly rolling out the "latest and greatest" new idea. Instead it concentrates on producing the gold standard of reliable, rock-solid tools for the American warfighter. I'm more than good with that. In our profession, firearms are tools, not toys. We want them to work and work well, every time. Colt has always been synonymous with quality and, if I had a goal for this trip, it was to see just how the company sets such a high standard.

I began my education the first night at the welcome dinner. I'm always a little apprehensive when meeting with the "top brass" from any company, as I never know what the corporate culture is like. But I was immediately impressed by how friendly and down to earth everyone from Colt was.

We all got on the bus to Colt's facility early the next morning. The ride to West Hartford took us through the city and past some of the oldest buildings I've ever seen—New England at it's finest. We pulled into the Colt plant and entered a boardroom where the Colt reps gave us a short presentation about the history of the company. Then we headed over to the factory.

There were a few things I noticed immediately about the manufacturing plant. First, the building and almost everything in it was an interesting mix of museum-quality artifacts and cutting-edge technology. Some of the plants machinery in service today has been in use for nearly 100 years.

Rows of machines worked rhythmically like Swiss watches, churning out perfect part after perfect part. Some of the oldest machines had been "updated" with servos and computers to make them more efficient, but in essence, they were making parts the same way they had been for almost a century. Not far from each workstation was a series of calipers, gauges, and other quality control tools that workers use to ensure only the best parts make it to the next step. Nothing moves in the factory without going through quality control, and there is no such thing as "good enough."

The machines were cool, but what was really interesting in the factory was the people who run the machines. They were all friendly, and you could just tell they had a passion for what they do. What really hit me though was the tenure most of these folks had. Most of the ones I had the pleasure of speaking with had been with the company for decades, one doing the same job for 43 years. You want to know where the quality comes from in a Colt firearm? It's not the metal, or the design, or even the quality control. It's the people. Colt's people care about their work and take it personally if the end result isn't perfect. Colt calls this the company's "human element," and it's a point of company pride.

After a quick lunch, it was off to the Hartford Gun Club to put the hard work of all those veteran Colt workers to the test. Colt had reserved the range for the day and set up several stations with an example of almost everything in the product line. I shot semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, and AR15s at various targets. The guns were top notch. I never had a problem with any of them, and there truly wasn't one I wouldn't be proud to own. Colt's president and CEO, Gerald Dinkel, even joined us and put a few rounds down range with little regard for his suit and tie.

I've always been a fan of Colt's products, but after this trip, I certainly have a renewed appreciation of the rifle I carry every day and the amount of dedication and attention to detail that went into making it. I've toured a lot of factories, been through a lot of gun shops, and handled more firearms and gear than I can remember. Most of these encounters leave me with a memory of the product that particular company was promoting.

When I returned home from Hartford, the most vivid impressions the trip left on me weren't the guns, but rather the people of Colt Manufacturing who make them. Someone once said, "A company's best asset is its people. It's only as good as the people who run it." I believe that and, evidently, so does Colt.

Related:

Colt's Law Enforcement Armorer Course

Colt Defense Law Enforcement Carbines

Tags: Colt


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

John Tate (New Mex.) @ 7/12/2012 7:26 PM

I carry a Colt 1991. I've always carried a Colt. The article is a bit generous. Except for Gold Cups (I have 2), most Colt 1911s I've seen need some touch-up work (trigger, feed ramp, rail polishing,
etc.) to be as crisp as an "out-of-the-box" Kimber. And nobody touches Glock for "out-of-the-box" overall reliability. But nothing feels like a Colt ... and I guess I'm too old to retrain.

adrian stroud @ 7/22/2012 9:52 AM

I toured the Colt plant. They are very friendly to Police Officers (I was a CT cop) and they gave us a great tour. I was humbled by the feeling of long history to the place, especially since Colt is a legend in the CT defense industry. They gave us free hats at the end and couldn't have treated us better. They are the best. Whenever I put my AR-15 in my cruiser I thought of the men and women who work there. Thank You Colt! Be proud.

Bob @ 7/26/2012 6:04 AM

Colt has been slow to modernize and their quality was mediocre until Kimber, Springfield, and others went to high quality CNC manufacturing and revolutionized the M1911 market. These companies made (and still make in my opinion) higher quality firearms with more value features as a package for the same or less money. Colt relied on their military contracts to survive, but the current environment is far more competitive.

That said, MARSOC just competitively selected a Colt M1911A1 for their CQB pistol, so Colt must have awakened from their slumber.

John Carp @ 7/26/2012 3:17 PM

I carry a Colt's Stainless Government XSE model! I also thought it might be a "kit" gun needing to be sent off to Wilson's or Ed Brown for reliability work.

I was flabbergasted, when it feed all the top shelf LE ammunition, right out of the box! (Ranger T, Federal HST, Remington ECT.) If I do my part it will thow all the 230 gr. fodder in to one hole as well. I am definately keeping this one. The new Colt's railgun in stainless, is my next real "want".

Respectfully

john

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