Purdey is made by its people – the cast of long-standing artisans and sporting experts that have kept us at the top of the shooting world into our third century. This week, we meet Alan Graichen-Cunningham – the man responsible for allying new-school technology to our traditional craft.
"I've been Technical Manager at Purdey for a year and a half now. My background is in engineering – automotive, aerospace and military industries, working on high-pressure rotating components. Previously, I’d design and validate the components, but the end user wasn’t physically a ‘customer’, as such. Having an interaction with clients at Purdey is great: they come into the factory, we show them the work we're doing and how that relates to their gun, to their product. We're doing bespoke work especially for them.
"The craft element of how Purdey works is unique but applying my engineering knowledge is about making the internal components better interact. Traditionally, the design of these guns would be handed down through generations. We use very high precision machinery on site to assist in the manufacture of some of the components for a Purdey gun. We're making improvements where we can but, critically, hand craft is at the heart of everything we build.
"My job is about streamlining rather than overhauling. CAD (Computer-Aided Design), for instance, has been revolutionary at Purdey. We have a 3D printer so we can work on a design – a new action shape, say – and print that off in three hours. And then we can take that component, marry it up with metal components and review it with the craft team. Working in the old way, you might have spent several weeks with a craftsperson creating a new shape, only to say, 'Oh actually, we don't like that, let's try something different.' We can now print two or three different shapes within a day which has allowed our craft team to be even more creative. As an example, we've used it very successfully to develop the new Purdey bolt-action rifle, using our 3D printer to validate the design and feed dummy rounds to confirm the functionality of the mechanism.
"We’re also developing lightweight components, like a new titanium heat shield that's effectively 3D-printed. It goes inside the forend: there's no change in the balance and feel to the customer. But when you're doing rapid shooting, through this development work we have established that the forend doesn't warm up as quickly. We also have a new anti-rust coating on internal components, which enhances durability and the overall lifetime of the gun.
"For Purdey, the application of technology and innovation is still in its infancy. We’ve developed the Purdey Trigger Plate completely in CAD, and it’s been a real eye opener as to what we can achieve by working differently. We're now feeding this learned method of research and development into our Sidelocks, and capturing all the information that comes with new customer orders. Maybe there's an Achilles heel, or certain elements that are more likely to fail over time – we can apply that knowledge gained and improve those components. What my team and I are doing right now is digitally capturing this 200-plus years of history. In essence, the history of Purdey’s designs are being captured for future generations. And that's something that would otherwise be lost as people retire or leave the company.
"Another fundamental benefit of technology is that it gives the craftspeople more freedom to focus on the really complicated and intricate work. In the old days, you'd have a lump of metal and you would literally take a chisel to the big lumps before you started shaping it. Now, we're using machines for that, so the craft team can concentrate on highly skilled shaping instead. We're letting machines do the bulk material removal and the craftspeople do the skilled work.
"In other companies, I might have worked on a project for two or three years, but you never actually get to touch and feel the end result. Working on a component for a plane, you only get to see it in the sky or as a passenger. Here you see the gun being built; once it's been proofed and tested, I can go down to the shooting ground and actually fire it. You have that true connection with a product that you’ve helped make. It’s just brilliant."