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I recently had the opportunity to tour Safariland’s facilities in Ontario, California, where I got an up-close look at its manufacturing techniques, the R&D lab and, most importantly, the ballistics lab where its engineers develop and test new tactical gear—that includes the latest in bulletproof body armor for military and law enforcement.

What takes place on any given day at Safariland’s massive operation is worthy of a documentary. Development work and improvements to holsters and tactical gear (with input from law enforcement and the Bianchi shooting team) are almost continuous, providing real-time, in-the-field data to R&D. Safariland uses 3D modeling and CNC machines to develop prototypes and manufacture necessary tooling, all in-house. And turnaround in prototyping ideas can sometimes be as quick as 24 hours.

Manufacturing is also an ongoing process, with improvements and new techniques being incorporated into the assembly lines on a regular basis. I was privy to some of these improvements but was, understandably, unable to photograph or report on them. It suffices to say that the manufacturing of some Safariland tactical holsters is as innovative as the guns they carry.

Thermo-molded, form-fitted holsters for law enforcement and civilian use feature a combination of synthetics and leather for either the exterior finish or the interior (suede linings). These holsters are mass-produced on rotary machines that can form-fit multiple holsters at one time. The tooling, which is developed in R&D, creates forming dies that shape holsters to perfectly fit specific firearms commonly used by law enforcement and the military. Additionally, Safariland keeps an impressive armory of firearms for fitting holsters.

One of Safariland’s most impressive departments is the Ballistics Engineering Systems lab headed by Bob Weber and his team. The lab continually experiments with and upgrades the effectiveness of Safariland’s tactical body armor. I was able to witness a test that used an automated firing mechanism to discharge a test round at ballistic vest material, while high-speed cameras simultaneously recorded the impact for review. The backstop (or back face) uses a soft clay material that deforms to measure the energy that would be transferred to the wearer—the impact is checked by laser to precise depth. Note that, just as a gun produces recoil when fired, a bullet hitting a vest still transfers significant energy to the individual wearing body armor. Depending upon the design, weight and strength of that vest, the impact can knock the individual back or even knock the person down, all without penetration or major injury.

Vests that have dual defense capabilities (against bullets and against knives, ice picks and other sharp objects capable of piercing bullet-stopping fabric) are also in development at Safariland. The company is building better holsters and protective gear for our military and law enforcement, and that inevitably leads to better gear for civilians. There is always a lot going on behind the doors in Ontario, California. For more information, visit safariland.com or call 800-347-1200.

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