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Old July 25, 2014, 05:43 PM   #1
OneWound
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Entering The Gun Industry As An Engineer

As a person wanting to get into the gun industry as a mechanical engineer, when would be the best time to start asking gun companies if they had open positions? How long before graduation completion? Or do I even try to do internships with these companies?
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Old July 26, 2014, 07:43 AM   #2
Uncle Richard
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Everyone from my chemical engineering class that did internships or co-ops had professional jobs waiting on them before graduation. The co-op will extend your graduation 1 year due to working through a fall and or spring semester; however, you will start with a higher salary than someone with no experience. I worked at a chemical plant as a temporary employee for 11 months before getting a permanent job with another company due to no pre-graduation experience.

Regardless if you are or are not in college, call the companies your interested in and ask if they have internship/co-op programs. If they don’t, ask if they hire seasonal work. Be persistent. That’s how I got hired as a temporary, which kick started my career. If your not in college yet, work for a local gunsmith. As my Dad has always said... “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

IMHO, the number one thing companies are looking for are experienced individuals. Hiring someone straight out of college is a huge investment for companies because those individuals really don’t produce results for a couple years. The first couple years post-graduation is primarily professional growth and maturity. Honestly, your real education begins with your first job, which includes experience, how to work with people and office politics. If you want to be successful, make your boss look good, produce results, learn who not to upset and get people to like you. All that aside, the number one way to get ahead is put Christ first in your life.

Good Luck
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Old July 26, 2014, 09:38 AM   #3
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Sometimes I wonder how many actual engineers gun companies have. Unless you are talking Lockheed and the like with exotic mil stuff how many are needed. There may be management opportunities but I don't see many in design.

Does anyone see things differently?
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Old July 26, 2014, 09:47 AM   #4
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While it might seem fun to combine your personal hobby with your job, I really don't think there are many engineering jobs in the firearms industry. It's mostly assembly line jobs and marketing. The gun manufacturers are very slow to develop new products compared to other industries. Compare the number of new smartphone models that come out every year with new guns models. And when was the last true mechanical development in firearms. 50 years ago?
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Old July 26, 2014, 09:58 AM   #5
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I would start by looking at the companies that are building new facilities and/or adding on to their current plants. You may not get to work on firearms right away, but someone has to design new assembly lines and such.
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Old July 26, 2014, 10:01 AM   #6
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... I really don't think there are many engineering jobs in the firearms industry. It's mostly assembly line jobs and marketing.
Really? I'm not arguing against what you say, but it seems to me any firearm would have required some kind of mechanical engineering design. I would agree that the manufacturing side of firearms would probably be much larger than the design side. But I admit I don't know the makeup of personnel at major firearms companies.

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Old July 26, 2014, 10:28 AM   #7
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Uncle, I understand where your coming from with internships (currently at one before I enter college). But soon do you apply? Can I do it after it after my freshmen year (I will be classified as a sophomore-with a couple credits off junior) or do I wait another year?
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Old July 26, 2014, 10:36 AM   #8
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Bring your resume to SHOT or something. If you don't have a mfg local to your school you are probably hosed.

However, I would prepare for disappointment regardless of where you work. There is not much engineering left in engineering jobs, even at the "big" places - it is too expensive to work new designs from a clean sheet so life is mostly "reuse what we did last time" with a few minor mods and cosmetic changes. For examples, look at say Glock and S&Ws product lines over the past decade or so. See anything revolutiinary there? Most of the changes are from the "other" MEs - manufacturing and materials.

Get ready to be CAD or Matlab bitch to more senior people (who are out of touch with the software they need you to use) for a few years. The most engineering of your own you are likely to do is of the social variety playing office politics. Source: 15 yrs in Aerospace.
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Old July 26, 2014, 10:58 AM   #9
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However, I would prepare for disappointment regardless of where you work. There is not much engineering left in engineering jobs, even at the "big" places - it is too expensive to work new designs from a clean sheet so life is mostly "reuse what we did last time" with a few minor mods and cosmetic changes. For examples, look at say Glock and S&Ws product lines over the past decade or so. See anything revolutiinary there? Most of the changes are from the "other" MEs - manufacturing and materials.

Get ready to be CAD or Matlab bitch to more senior people (who are out of touch with the software they need you to use) for a few years. The most engineering of your own you are likely to do is of the social variety playing office politics. Source: 15 yrs in Aerospace
This.

Small arms are a very mature technology from a mechanical standpoint. Pretty much every development in the last half century has been manufacturing processes and materials; making guns cheaper, lighter and more durable. There's just not much more that can be done with mechanical design, just incorporating existing designs into aesthetically and ergonomically different products.

Supplement your ME degree with a minor in metallurgy or chemistry focusing on synthetics, you'll be more appealing to prospective employers. Otherwise, get ready to apply your knowledge not in the actual design, but in maximizing efficiency of molding/casting and machining processes. IOW, I hope you love playing with CAM software.
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Old July 26, 2014, 11:10 AM   #10
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If you can out design Samual Colt, John Moses Browning or Gaston Glock you might have a shot. Otherwise, you're probably pissing up a rope.
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Old July 26, 2014, 11:37 AM   #11
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I help with recruiting in a fortune 100 company but it has nothing to do with the gun companies. But from my experience I can offer a few generic suggestions.

I would advise you that when I am culling resumes, I look for internships, I look for student projects and folks that take a passion in their interests and hobbies. I look for folks that can fit in and bring new ideas and enthusiasm. Show me that you love your topic beyond a job, it is your life.

So my advice:
1) Intern somewhere in the industry (multiple times if possible)
2) Make your own gun design or improve something about a current design
3) participate in shooting sports and teams to develop knowledge and connections.
4) Become really good at things like Matlab (Which I have used on and off since 1987) and several cad programs.
5) And don't forget to socialize and learn how to get along in a group dynamic.

Good luck.
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Old July 26, 2014, 11:49 AM   #12
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The most talked about new release in the past year has been the HK VP9. I don't think there is a single new mechanical feature on this gun. All the hype is that HK is making a striker fired pistol but strikers are nothing new. Maybe they used a mechanical engineer to design the slide wings. LOL. It's all just marketing and customer service at this point.
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Old July 26, 2014, 12:43 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by OneWound View Post
Uncle, I understand where your coming from with internships (currently at one before I enter college). But soon do you apply? Can I do it after it after my freshmen year (I will be classified as a sophomore-with a couple credits off junior) or do I wait another year?
Honestly, I don't know because it was 12+ years ago. I was offered a co-op towards the end of my sophomore year but turned it down. I applied myself without the help of the engineering department. Contact the Engineering school you plan on attending they should have information. They most likely have connections with various companies across the country or contact the company your interested in. Its never to early to pursue your dreams. See Peter's comments, good advice.

True engineering (design work) is found in the consulting world; however consulting is feast or famine. My engineering experience includes marking up drawings, spec out equipment requirements, overseeing construction, etc. Some call that engineering, but its really project management in my opinion.

IMHO, there are going to be very few jobs in designing firearms but the jobs for project engineer's overseeing construction, production, process improvements and quality will continue to prosper in the firearm/ammunition industry.
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Last edited by Uncle Richard; July 26, 2014 at 01:01 PM. Reason: typo
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Old July 26, 2014, 01:04 PM   #14
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ME's can also find a lot of jobs in the construction industry, ship building, water treatment, etc. you might want to focus there to start while doing gun things on the side until you get established. Otherwise, I see an MEs job focus in the gun industry on designing the equipment to make the gun, not the gun itself. If you want to eventually be a manager/VP, get your MBA as well
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Old July 26, 2014, 02:09 PM   #15
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First, thank you for the responses. Now, my question is the suppressor market the same as the gun market (From the perspective of designing new things, hiring ability, etc)? As we all have seen, suppressors have taken off in popularity recently. Or would trying to get an intern with a company like Magpul be worth it? Mach, I actually love machining. I'll be a certified machinist in about 3 weeks. For interviews, is it worth it to bring in things I've made even if they were reverse engineered slightly to fit my own needs? To all who say I should learn CAD/CAM: I actually do have an interest in it and have pursued its knowledge for...3-4? years now. Matlabs is something I will be starting this fall.
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Old July 26, 2014, 03:51 PM   #16
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Uncle Richard is right. Get into a co-op or intern program, get the experience. That's how I got started - as a GS-2 working for the Naval Air Test Center.

Remember that the engineering involved is not limited to the design of the gun, but of how it's made. Bill Ruger built a small empire with investment casting...but Eli Whitney started a whole revolution.

Don't limit yourself to industry or small arms. There are jobs in heavy ordnance...and positions with the Department of Defense.

As for suppressors, I'd honestly recommend aerospace engineering - or taking every course on computational fluid dynamics and boundary layer theory you can find. Most designs today are done by trial-and-error. Cracking the CFD for non-steady-state, highly turbulent flow is a doctoral thesis, but profitable.
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Old July 26, 2014, 05:31 PM   #17
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Mike, when you say how its made, you mean how the gun is machined/rifled/whatever, correct? And do you have to be ex-mil/mil to get jobs with the DoD or in heavy ordnance? As far as the fluid dynamics go, I have to take 3 or 4 courses to earn my ME degree.
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Old July 26, 2014, 08:36 PM   #18
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look at the total business & science environment

If your passion is firearms as in small arms, remember that the road to profitability lies in companies finding ways to simplify the manufacturing of sub-assemblies and final assembly processes of their various brands. Real innovation is far and few between.

Remember that this is an old mature industry that is under severe legislative and societal threats. Ownerships are being consolidated under the purview of people whose souls are not stirred by fine wood or the ingenuity of an action's mechanism.
The trend is towards the fattest & quickest possible bottom line.

Other factors: Factory automation is growing; robotics around the corner.
QC & cyclic testing should grow due to the cost of litigation and recalls.
Offshoring operations is a big trend; design is likely contracted out and may even follow offshore: lots of PhDs out there in China.

if you really want opportunities to innovate, look at the military or aerospace end of things. The search for and the transmission & storage of energy will continue to present opportunities. The integration of mobile mechanical devices of all sizes to sophisticated batteries, sensors and AI is just starting out.

As mentioned by Mike, the CFD field has huge potential...as does the related nano materials engineering field. Combustion engineering is far from dead.

My 2 cents.
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Old July 26, 2014, 08:46 PM   #19
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Yes, I'm speaking of production methods. Bill Ruger didn't innovate in firearm design, he came up with new manufacturing methods. Gaston Glock was a plastics expert who applied that to a firearm design that used the old Browning tilting barrel and lockwork copied from the Roth-Steyr of 1907.

I'd also be paying close attention to 3-D printing technologies, particularly for suppressor manufacturing. That's a technology that can create some incredibly complex forms easily. Optics. Integration of optics and powered accessories into a rifle.

No, you don't need military experience for a DOD Civil Service position. It can help...but isn't essential. We're hiring at the Naval Air Systems Command. Try USAJobs. Do try to be open-minded - you might not get to work on small arms, but design a cannon.
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Old July 26, 2014, 08:49 PM   #20
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beretta is opening up a new mfg plant in tennessee
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Old July 26, 2014, 09:02 PM   #21
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Hi One Wound,

Very few of the ppl I went to college with ended up in their intended field. More than a few ended up in an industry that doesn't really match their degree... That said, blanket every industry that uses engineers with resumes then as your finances permit buy or build the equipment to design/build at home. The guy that has worked X number of years in Y design with a man/f permit from BATF is going to get a heck of a lot more attention to a firearms company than the ME straight out of college. Especially if he owns patents on working improvements or a new design.
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Old July 26, 2014, 11:09 PM   #22
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Mike, honestly I'd like to design anything that goes boom (And if you're looking for interns next summer/co-op, please say so!). I'll keep the USGOV in mind. I've seen some cool things that Rockwell Collins (CR, IA) gets to build...if only I liked electric engineering more.

Dprice, I appreciate the information.

Officer, I understand what you're saying but I have an inkling I will be different, and here's why. I currently have an internship already @ an engineering company, and I like what they do (but what they make is pretty boring, and I have a feeling it will get repetitive). As well, I understand what you mean by people who have experience are worth more. I know one guy who only has a 2-year degree in ME and one who has a 4-year degree in teaching, yet they are engineers. As well, it would be nice to start my own shop sometime and I do plan on doing it (Haas VF-4 here I come). My only issue with that is that I need something to solve first.
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Old July 27, 2014, 03:33 AM   #23
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Actual design staff at most gun makers is quite small.
Genuine design engineers capable of producing new adaptations, like the Smith and the Ruger poly revolvers, are still needed, but the field isn't huge & the opportunities are fairly limited.

The occasional oddball exception in "something totally new", like the USFA Zipper, is rare, and frequently a failure.
Look at the Dardick, the Gyro-Jet, and the more recent Remington Etronix ignition system.

Don't mean to be discouraging, but I don't see any maker hiring a body immediately out of college & turning him or her loose on a new gun design right away.

Best chances of success would come from learning materials, processes, and mechanics.
Give yourself as broad a base as possible in those areas, and as several have pointed out above- get ANY related practical experience from internships and other similar sources that you can.
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Old July 27, 2014, 04:25 AM   #24
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I actually love machining. I'll be a certified machinist in about 3 weeks.
I do as well, and there's still money in it, but not in working for someone else. When I said maximizing efficiency in machining, I didn't mean you'd be doing any machining (especially not on manual equipment). I meant you'd be tweaking CAM files to get just a little more life out of cutters or spit the part out a few seconds sooner by reconfiguring speeds & feeds, tool paths and minimizing tool changes in CNC VMCs.

The call for real machinists these days is very small scale production or one-off stuff, and it's done by one or two man operations. It's something I do as a (very modest) supplementary income to my primary career in automotive repair. In the big leagues, though, it's all about CAD/CAM; very few "machinists" in the production world would know their way around a manual knee mill or turret lathe. And believe me, if you need to make more than a couple of any item, CNC is definitely the way to go. I can often knock out a single small part on a manual machine in far less time than it takes to CAD it and then write/perfect the CAM file for a CNC. But 100 parts will take me not quite 100 times as long, while a high speed VMC will crank them out with blinding speed once everything is dialed in.
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Old July 27, 2014, 08:27 AM   #25
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As a person wanting to get into the gun industry as a mechanical engineer,
If you want to work for "The Man", don't work in engineering. Engineering does not command the respect anymore that it once did.

Unless you are one of the Peyton Mannings of the engineering world, larger companies tend to abuse their young engineers these days using them as cheap glorified gophers and babysitters for the folks doing the actual work.

Be an entrepreneur and start your own company or go to work for a very small company. While you will work your butt off and be chief cook and bottle washer, the work will be much more rewarding both financially and mentally.

That said, the more experience you have the better your chances although in today's electronic resume world the recruiter is buried in applicants.

Every company and recruiter has different goals but when I was recruiting, I would look for organizational skills, the ability to accomplish projects and goals, leadership skills, a passion for things, and a good basic technical knowledge. Many of these items did not necessarily have to be in the type of business I was working in as many engineering skills are transferable from one industry to another.

I once made the move from a hydrometalurgical refining company to a paper company. Hey, a pump is a pump regardless of what is passing through it.

But, I worked with some recruiters that if you did not have a 4.0 average or better, they would dismiss your resume out of hand.

Good luck.
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