Contract Engineering with Precision Rifle Components: The Vortakt Barrel Works Experience

A Barrel Manufacturing Case Study

Some of you might have wondered what Precision Rifle Components has been up to lately. We’ve been manufacturing barrels. Lots of barrels. It’s not something we openly advertise (at this point anyway), but contract engineering services are how our business pays the bills.

This current project isn’t my first rodeo in the world of barrel manufacturing. Prior to purchasing Precision Rifle Components a few years back, I had the opportunity to work in the barrel manufacturing world for quite some time.

During my tenure as a barrel manufacturer I was responsible for managing the quality process, developing methods for visual inspection and ensuring every machine operator running a machine that produces something with critical dimensions can measure them. While most manufacturers incorporate a first piece inspection, my previous employers also layered in a 100% internal and external operator inspection.

Beyond my role as the Quality Manager, I wore quite a few other hats as well. I spent some time as the in-house gunsmith, Marketing Director, as a chambering specialist, and drove the development of direct-to-consumer products like Ruger Precision Rifle drop-in barrels, 1903 barrels, and Savage pre-fits.

The Barrel Manufacturing Contract

This particular contract arose shortly after the purchase of Precision Rifle Components. We had been previously supporting this client with the design and production of their chassis system, and they were looking to develop a process for taking uncontoured barrel blanks and finishing them in-house.

This client has significant in-house production capabilities but nobody on staff with experience in barrel production. As it worked out, I was in the right place at the right time to help guide that initiative.

The Business Problem

A good percentage of rifle manufacturers outsource production to OEM barrel manufacturers, and this client was no exception. Their supply chain had previously relied on a pair of barrel suppliers, and the problems we encountered were twofold:

Problem #1: Limited Availability and Extended Lead Times – The Match-Grade Barrel Supplier

At one point this client sourced all their barrels from a single supplier. This allowed for limited flexibility in product performance. The end-use applications of a 10.5” chrome lined SBR does not typically require a hand-lapped match grade barrel capable of generating .5 MOA five round groups, while an 18” SPR may demand these requirements.

For the product lines demanding that higher level of performance, a suitable supplier was sourced that met the desired accuracy criteria. Unfortunately this OEM supplier struggled to meet the delivery requirements and provide product in a timely manner. They were also pigeonholed in their established production process where they could not provide a lower-cost option for those rifle models requiring a more standard “duty grade” performance level (generating roughly 1-1.25 MOA five round groups at 100 yards). A second OEM supplier would be needed to support this product category.


Problem #2: Inconsistency in Performance – The Duty-Grade Barrel Supplier

Barrels from a variety of OEM suppliers were tested for this product category, and while most barrels delivered were able to match the desired performance requirements, roughly 5% of the product received failed to meet that expectation. This mandated an extensive quality and accuracy-testing process (which further ate into the client’s profit margins).


The Business Solution: Vortakt Barrel Works

We were first introduced to Vortakt when we tested one of their 500 Series barrels a few years back. A mutual acquaintance had been working with their sales and marketing team for several years, and arranged for an introduction between myself, the client, and the Vortakt team when I first took on this project.

On paper Vortakt appeared to be an excellent candidate to resolve both of our supplier issues. Rather than focusing exclusively on low-cost barrel options or match-grade products, they offered five different “Barrel Performance Series” with varying levels of internal surface finish, straightness, accuracy, bore and groove uniformity, and other critical tolerances.

We arranged for a discovery meeting between the Vortakt team, the rifle manufacturer, and the Precision Rifle Components team, discussing the barrel performance requirements, delivery needs, and design specifications. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Vortakt was able to accommodate all our needs, creating a true “easy button” solution for sourcing barrel blanks for both product lines.

They suggested we leverage their 400 Series hand-lapped button rifled barrels for the Match-grade product line, and their 200 Series barrels for the Duty-grade models. Delivery was estimated at 6-8 weeks for the 200 Series barrels, with a slightly longer wait for the 400 Series blanks. This contrasted significantly with the 5+ month lead time we would typically see from our Match-Grade barrel supplier, which is not unusual for a quality barrel manufacturer (some single-point cut-rifled barrel manufacturers are experiencing lead times in excess of a year)! Vortakt also had a limited selection of barrel blanks in active inventory that could be ordered immediately


The Barrel Blank Production Run

Following this discovery meeting we placed our initial purchase order, and true to form the barrels were delivered in the quoted delivery window. This process was remarkably painless, as Vortakt’s customer service team was extremely responsive to any changes or issues we encountered as we were setting up production. The barrels delivered were built to our exact specifications, with the material, lengths, and bore geometry requested.

We ran a 100% inspection on all barrels delivered from Vortakt, checking bore dimensions with a pin gauge and inspecting the bore finish. The interior finish of the 400 Series was immaculate, dimensionally and visually indistinguishable from the countless thousands of single-point cut-rifled barrels I had inspected in my years with my former employer.

The 200 Series barrel blanks we received met our desired specifications as well, meeting or exceeding our dimensional tolerances with accuracy potential that met our performance standards. Since the initial test order, we’ve received roughly one thousand .223, .308, and 9mm barrel blanks from the Vortakt team in those initial purchase orders and found only one single barrel that featured an unexpected tooling mark (step lands). We didn’t even bother to address the issue with their customer service team, as the .001% scrap rate experienced with our initial purchase orders were a vast improvement over the 5% failure rate encountered with the previous supplier.


Client Collaboration and Additional Learnings

The uniformity and consistency of these barrels made this part of the project extremely simple, leaving us to focus on other variables including barrel extension sourcing, material handling, ordering tooling, setup for chambering, and mentoring machinists new to barrel manufacturing.

My goal with this project was not to actively manage the barrel production process for the client, but to “teach a man to fish” by providing education to their engineering team and machinists to enable them to anticipate and troubleshoot future problems that may occur, mitigating issues early on in the manufacturing process. The client’s team featured a group of extremely skilled individuals who came to the project with an open mind and unique machining capabilities, which enabled a variety of innovative solutions for finishing operations that I had never previously encountered in my experience across the firearm industry.

I look forward to tackling additional projects with this client both inside and outside the firearm industry (their production facility also supports work in the automotive and aerospace marketplace) and exploring new opportunities to further grow the Precision Rifle Components contract engineering book of business. For those of you who are actively seeking a barrel blank supplier, I cannot recommend Vortakt Barrel Works enough. If you have any questions about my experience with this up-and-coming brand (or assistance in taking your barrel finishing operations in-house), feel free to contact me at

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