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The Making of the Maxus.

Release Date: 3/18/2009

The History of the Browning Maxus – From Idea to the Field.

Every great invention marks a day when the hard work of bringing it to market appears to begin. There is also a point when all the original groundwork, leading up to the idea, begins. The new Browning Maxus is no exception. It would be incomplete to begin the story in 2004, when design in earnest started. The real work on the Maxus began over 100 years ago, when John M. Browning broke new ground with his innovative Automatic-5 autoloading shotgun. Until that time it simply had not occurred to anyone that an autoloading shogun could give such a significant advantage to hunters – especially waterfowlers. For nearly 100 years, the Auto-5, as it came to be known, was the performance standard by which all others were judged. In fact, over the years, many of the major U.S. gun companies built a version of the Auto-5 on license, and the ground breaking mechanical designs of John M. Browning still show up in nearly all autoloading shotguns available on the market today.

With success come challenges. The problem for Browning and every gunmaker, is that the standards for reliability, durability, functionality and handling were set so high by the Auto-5, from the very beginning that it would be many years before other ideas were worthy enough to work their way to the drawing board. Over time the drawing board itself would be replaced by high-end computer design workstations, running sophisticated engineering design programs, before a fitting successor to the Auto-5 was found.

That’s not to say that Browning didn’t have a few great autoloading innovations over the years. The Double Auto designed by Val Browning, John M. Browning’s son, was a mechanical wonder that “pushed the envelope” of autoloader design and handling even further. Next came the Browning B-2000 with its now famous left-side loading port and the ingenious internal mechanism that made it possible. It was followed by the B-80. The A-500 series followed several years later. Available in both gas and recoil designs, these Browning autoloaders were ahead of their time in many ways. Extremely reliable, they demonstrated shooting everything from light to heavy loads was their strength. However a reliance on cutting edge manufacturing technologies proved somewhat problematic for both versions. Although they were short-lived at Browning, you can see the evolution of ideas within them that brought improvement in every area. These Browning shotguns added to the pool of innovation, to the point where today you can see these Browning-designed mechanical ideas from over the years in many of the competition’s most popular designs. None of them, however, were required to handle the punishment of 3 ½” magnum shotgun shells that came into vogue at the end of the 20th century.

The real breakthrough for Browning was the Gold in the 1990’s. Introduced as a 3” version in 1993 and in 1998 in 3 ½” magnum, the Gold design offered the first real alternative to the Auto-5. It came with a feature list that met or exceeded the Auto-5, point by point. It was tested to Auto-5 levels of reliability and could match them. Being based on gas-operation principles, it also brought a level of felt recoil reduction that surpassed not only the Auto-5, but autoloaders throughout the entire industry.

Ultimately, the popularity of the Gold led to the end of the Auto-5 era. For over a decade and a half it has been the top choice for hundreds of thousands of hunters and target shooters across the world. Of course, each product has its own particular life cycle. As new Browning products were introduced into the marketplace the thought was always present as to when work would begin on a successor. This was even true of the highly successful Gold.

A successor was discussed informally for a number of years, but it wasn’t until world-wide meetings in 2003 that the topic of a new autoloader for the 21st Century was placed on the table as an official initiative. By 2004 the project moved from the “proposal” stage to the “start-up” stage, and formation of a design team began. In June of 2004 senior gun designer Marc Lesenfants moved from Browning’s R&D location at Herstal, in the Liege province of Belgium, to the Browning R&D facility in Morgan, Utah. Lesenfants became lead engineer for the project, but the entire Browning R&D staff, managed by Vice President of Engineering, Joseph Rousseau, was assigned to be part of the team.

Lesenfants had been working for Thierry Dumortier at Herstal’s R&D facility as the project manager for the autoloader line of products and had been contributing on many group projects, including the highly regarded Winchester Super X2 , introduced in 1999, which was also produced by the FN Herstal group.

The very first objective was to take four decades of knowledge about gas operated-shotguns and create a next-generation autoloading shotgun that would push technologies and requirements to the limit. Specifically, permission was given to draw from the best features of existing Browning products, but that each feature must innovate to a greater degree than considered possible in the past, and that each innovation would be difficult, if not impossible, to surpass in the future. In short, the direction was to create the world’s ultimate autoloader.

Input was actively sought from dealers, sales personnel, the Browning marketing team, customers, gun writers and others to determine the “mission” of this new shotgun. Under the project code name of “Peggy” work began in earnest in late June, 2004.

Under a new vision of product design, both the mechanical design team and aesthetics team worked closely from the start of the project. By the end of 2005 a substantial investment had already been made and several basic ideas and concepts had been tested either through cutting edge software virtualizations, or the time-honored way with actual mock ups.

Prototypes and samples fill the rack in one of the designer's offices.

As work progressed on the more technical aspects of the operating mechanism, the initial proposal came forward suggesting a magazine cap-free design. This happened very early in the design process, becoming a major requirement and a defining moment for the project. It would change the basic way the new gun would be assembled and disassembled, and it would be a fundamental change in aesthetics established by over 100 years of shotgun design. Of course, everyone knew that a quick release forearm had never been done before. This was their chance to break new ground.

As work proceeded, the forearm release “lever” idea became an integral part of the design. By 2006 complete “model shop” prototypes were produced to test different features and potential ideas. Some of the key design objectives that were finalized during this year included:

  • Quick-detach forearm
  • Retaining some form of Speed Loading
  • Achieving the fastest possible lock time
  • Developing an updated system for inserting a magazine plug
  • Maximizing efficiency of the gas system to shoot everything from very light loads up to the heaviest 3 ½” magnum loads, without modification and without any extra stress on the mechanism
  • Improved ergonomics over any autoloaders on the market, past or present
  • Greatest possible recoil reduction

By mid-2006 the design was solidifying with each of the above desired features and benefits achieved and a few more added. At this time the new “Peggy” prototypes were working under six totally new patents.

1. Feeding system
2. TurnKey magazine 3-shot adapter
3. Firing pin retracting system
4. Speed Lock lever system
5. Gas system seal ring
6. Spring loaded link for ease of assembly

The team shot about 25,000 rounds in one week during a recent test. Ouch!
Over the course of final prototyping a number of very radical ideas for autoloaders were set aside in favor of more practical ideas that provided more benefit to the shooter. This final “move toward simplicity” is well-known as part of the Browning design heritage. Browning designs have owed their success in large part not only because they worked so well, but because they were readily producible and they accomplished the main objectives with less complexity. Here are a few of the final features with explanations of significant improvements provided by the Browning Maxus design team.

1. The magazine system offers a huge improvement in the way the cartridge latch functions. The latch retains contact and control of the rim of the cartridge at all times until the shell is allowed to move rearward over the carrier for loading into the chamber. No pressure is exerted on the mechanism from magazine spring tension until that moment. This improves the timing of the mechanism, reduces stress on the loading system parts and makes it possible for loaded shells to be easily removed from the magazine with a push on the latch. The real benefit is that all of this is accomplished while still incorporating a Speed Loading system.

2. The Speed Loading system allows you to load the chamber with the breech in the locked rearward position by simply inserting a loaded shell into the magazine. The shell is then transferred automatically to the carrier then up to the chamber. Many hunters like this feature simply because it is cool to watch, but the real advantage is that it enables you to consistently load the Maxus the same way each time – through the magazine.

3. Significant improvements to the gas system including a gas seal and larger exhaust ports. The gas seal keeps pressure within the system more consistent and keeps gasses sealed in the cylinder as they enter from the barrel and are expelled out the exhaust ports.

4. By giving the piston system a slightly longer stroke it increases overall inertia of the slide itself, which provides consistent function of the action with very light loads.

5. The Maxus has the fastest locktime for any Browning autoloader ever. In testing it exceeded all of our major competitors significantly. For experienced shooters reduced locktime can have a noticeable effect on their timing when shooting fast flying birds and clay targets. 

6. Improved barrel dynamics include a longer forcing cone and back-boring. These are combined with the most proven and popular choke tube system of all time – Invector Plus – set the Maxus apart from all others in pattern performance at each choke constriction.

7. There has never been a magazine plug system like the new 3-shot adapter TurnKey system on the Maxus. It allows you to use an ordinary car key to reach into the magazine tube, and with a quick turn, remove or insert the adapter/plug.

8. The new forearm attachment system is a breakthrough for fast takedown and easy cleaning. Plus, it allows you to instantly attach or remove a sling from the forearm. It is the first thing you notice and will probably be the primary feature that sets the Maxus apart from all other guns on the rack.

 

The first gun that could really be called a Maxus was a working prototype produced in September of 2006. It possessed the basic aesthetics, fit and overall design features of the current model. This prototype was shot on and off for nearly a month in grueling tests. A decision was made prior to this testing that the Maxus would be considered a “magnum” shotgun, even though it had the capability to shoot light 1 oz. game loads consistently. What this meant was that in torture testing, a mix of both magnum and standard loads would be used where a large proportion of the loads would be 3 ½” Magnum shells.

As explained by the test engineers, the advantage of testing prototypes to this level is not to show how great the design is initially, but to actually break every part that has a potential to break, then improve the design to the point that when you use your own Maxus in the field, it won’t break. Despite the engineer’s desire to “break every part possible” this test was actually a huge success. Significant issues were resolved, but the design proved very robust, even at this stage of the process.

In January of 2007 a second working prototype was produced. Again the extended torture test went well. This test proved nearly flawless, with only a single small pin breaking. This was quickly remedied and the pin in question has never broken again in subsequent formal or informal testing.

The Browning Model Shop in Morgan, Utah.

At this time a total of 20 Maxus prototypes were authorized. Parts production was split up with 33% of parts made at the Viana, Portugal plant, 33% at the model shop in Morgan, Utah, and 33% made at Browning Herstal in Belgium. All guns were then assembled at the Browning assembly facility in Portugal, and were ready for testing in July of 2007. This test proved the most valuable ever, because multiple parts were created for testing their interchangeability and variances in tolerances, in addition to just mechanical functionality.

Another test of these same 20 guns was held in October of 2007. Two guns in the test were immediately taken to the endurance or “torture test.” The testing was very successful – especially for finalizing manufacturing and tolerance concerns.

About this time the name Maxus had finally emerged as the go-ahead name for Browning’s new shotgun. The original strategy of being the “best” in every area of the shotgun had lead to a loose collection of possible names, all starting with “MAX.” A few of them already had common usage in other industries, but soon the name Maxus stood out with its strong, almost gladiator-like sound and elegant typographic properties (with the “X” square in the middle) it became the permanent name. The project code name “Peggy” had served its purpose and soon became part of Browning history.

Almost immediately several of these guns moved from R&D to the field. In March of 2008 the first Maxus shotguns were in the blinds on a spring snow goose hunt. This was the first major field test and the first time others outside the company were exposed to the exceptional reliability and low recoil of the Maxus even with magnum waterfowl loads. In April several guns were on their way to a week of grueling dove shooting in Argentina. Both of these hunts were fully-documented for viewing by the Maxus team and eventually posted on the Web for potential customers to see. Both hunts were very successful and the reliability of the Maxus after shooting thousands of rounds of the typically lower quality 1 oz. ammunition available in Argentina gave the project a huge surge of confidence. Each gun in Argentina went through approximately 4,000 shells without cleaning.

At the same time as the dove hunt in Argentina, more testing was being done at the Morgan R&D department and in Portugal with several small, but key improvements being integrated into the Maxus design.

In July of 2008, another extensive test took place at the Portugal assembly facility where fine-tuning of designs such as the hammer link and the forearm attachment lever were instituted.

By September 2008 the guns were back in action all over the country for some final in-the-field testing by gun industry writers. A pheasant hunt in September where a dozen writers were invited to use and critique the Maxus was followed by a tough-conditions duck hunt in November which put the guns through ammunition extremes once again.

In October of 2008 the Maxus was introduced to the Browning sales teams at the annual sales meeting in Ogden, Utah. Sales reps and other were able to shoot samples and put them through their paces during unpredictable, windy, wet Utah weather at the Browning headquarters located near the town of Morgan, Utah. At the sales meeting the Maxus video was introduced to the sales force and is the same video that was shortly on YouTube and passed along via e-mail across the globe by Browning fans.

 
The 8 people wearing Maxus jackets are part of the world-wide Maxus testing team. It is composed of people from Morgan R&D, Herstal R&D, Viana industrialization, Arnold quality and Viana quality.
 
But the Maxus story does not end there. In January of 2009 two “unofficial” pre-serial guns were assembled in the final configuration and were subjected to another torture test. To verify the results, another set of pre-serial guns were produced in March of 2009 and subjected to another extreme test. In all, 20 more guns were assembled and tested.

In a bit of irony, no autoloader in the history of Browning has utilized more extensive use of computer modeling. None have included greater use of advanced Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Motion Simulation Software on key components and mechanisms, and none have experienced more virtual computer testing.

Yet after all this, the Maxus was not proven until it was proven under real conditions. No Browning autoloader has experienced the testing abuse given the Maxus from its first operational test to its most current evaluations.

Now, after all these years of development, the Browning Maxus is on your local dealers’ shelves. It has been a long road, from the germ of an idea to the final delivery of a great Browning product into the American marketplace. And with the Browning Maxus, it was well worth the wait.

 

The front gate at the Viana, Portugal facility. The metal finishing area.
 
Testing equipment.  

 Below are a few photos from the model shop in Morgan, Utah. Prototyping and testing was split between the Browning R&D team at Morgan, Utah, the team at the Browning facility in Viana, Portugal and the R&D team based in Herstal, Belgium.

   
   
   

Note from the editor. Every effort was made to assure that all dates, locations, occurrences, people involved and other details are as accurate as possible at the time this article was completed. Some information was taken from documents and other from recollections. As the project progresses and as any additional information is learned, we will do our best to improve, correct and update this article. Copyright March, 2009.

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