An ultra-modern gun maker in Renaissance country.
The towering brick walls of this Renaissance town enclose one of the world’s greatest collections of art and architecture, masterpieces that date back more than five centuries. So the tourists who flock to Urbino expect to see antiquity.
But clearly visible from the northern walls of the old town is something from another world: The sprawling, modern factory that produces Benelli shotguns and firearms, considered among the Ferraris of the arms world.
While Benelli might sound like a car to most Americans, sportsmen around the world know what it refers to. “Benelli Armi” is one of the world’s leading makers of top-of-the-line semi-autoloading shotguns. They own a 45- percent market in Italy, Spain, France, and Russia. In the United States, they are second by volume only to Remington.
But the creation of Benelli Arms and its location in this city famed as a home of the Renaissance is the result of happy coincidences.
The story begins in 1967 with the invention by maverick engineer, Bruno Civolani of what he called “the inertia action system” – a new, efficient way for a shotgun to chamber a new round and re-cock the firing pin using the recoil from the fired shell.
Turned down by all the major gun companies, he finally partnered with Giovanni Benelli, one of six brothers who ran the famous motorcycle factory of the same name in Pesaro – but who happened to be obsessed with sporting arms. Nineteen patents and well over 2 million guns later, the partnership is recognized as one of the greatest in arms history.
The same year Civolani found Benelli, the mayor of Urbino, looking to expand the city’s economic base, offered land below its walls free to the Benelli for a motorcycle factory. Instead it became the home of the newly developing Benelli Armi Company.
Today the factory employs 270 people, producing about 1,000 guns each day. Although Benelli is now owned by Italian arms giant Beretta based in Brescia, its products, management and production remain entirely separate in Urbino. Production has grown from 50,000 annually to over 227,000.
Benelli Central Manager and Technical Director Marco Vignaroli said Benelli’s growth “is due in large measure to the company’s steady investment in research and development. The company’s goal has been to unveil a new product every 2-3 years, while also providing performance-enhancing upgrades to existing models.”
Vignaroli explained that Takeo Hosoe, the artistic consultant and product manager for new guns, collaborates with architect Marco Guadenzi and the Benelli testing department to conceptualize and design the aesthetics and functionality of future Benelli designs.
“Whereas most companies develop a product’s functionality first and only then develop aesthetic design, Benelli’s artistic designers work in cooperation with technicians from day one,” Vignaroli said.
“If you only look to market needs, you arrive six months later only to find other products like Remington and Browning that already offer these features.
“When you take a technology-driven approach like Benelli does, and you offer a completely innovative product, then you have a truly winning design.”
Benelli’s artistic vision and its pride of location in the heartland of Italy’s Renaissance are reflected in the names of their shotguns.
The “Vinci,” is named after Leonardo Di Vinci, perhaps the nation’s most famous artist. The “Montefeltro” is in honor of Duke Federico Montefeltro who built Urbino into a military, architectural and artistic powerhouse. And the “Raffaello” is named for the Urbino-born Renaissance master.
Vignaroli said the Vinci incorporates function and ergonomics that make it the fastest-shooting shotgun in the world, using only three separate gun parts and minimal recoil and muzzle-climb – movement of the end of the barrel. It’s the kind of innovation its namesake was known for.
While Benelli takes pride in producing beauty, like the Raffaello’s classically rich wood grain and intricate engraving, their niche is not antiquity — the factory is completely high-tech. Robots, not artisans, build these guns. Because of that, guns cannot be made to order, and hand scrolling is only available in special edition and high-level executive models, which are expensive due to their “man-hour sensitivity.”
The factory functions as like fine tuned machine. Aerospace-grade metal alloys are milled into receivers by multi-tooled robots that produce parts day and night. Automated machines run the entire warehouse; finished products, barrels, and parts are all available at the push of a button. Quality control is housed in a centrally located lab, ensuring that every Benelli gun leaves the factory with the same level of fit and precision.
Vignaroli noted that 65-70% of the Benelli line-labor force has a technical diploma or college degree, compared to the 20% commercial average.
It’s all part of the modern world, humming along juts below the huge brick walls protecting 500-year-old art treasures.