By Josh Wayner
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- Michigan has always been known as a state that not only had industry, but generated innovation.
Some have speculated that the glory days of the Mitten manufacturing were long past. The general demise of auto makers and the desolation of Detroit have turned a once glittering image of American prosperity into what literally could be described as urban rot.
Michigan, it seemed, was dead.
The problem with living in Michigan wasn’t just that our idyllic past was a distant memory. The ravages of out-of-control government, corruption, and oppressive taxation on a local and national scale punished the innocent, making it difficult to not only compete in industry, but to prosper as a business in general.
I was approached by a local gentleman who I compete with not terribly long ago and he expressed his disappointment in the lack of Michigan companies in the arms industry. I responded with a shrug and told him I would find some and report back. As it so happens, there are quite a few.
Michigan has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts in the last few years. The waves of hipsters migrating to the ruins of Detroit wasn’t the first indicator of progress. Those who have pride in Michigan have done all of us a favor by reinventing our towns and cities as the beer capital of the country. There are so many breweries opening in my area that I can’t find the time to visit all of them, but would I find the same thing with the guns?
Next Level Armament
My first stop in my tour of Michigan’s arms industry didn’t take me to massive plants with drop forges and crusty old guys who hoard boxes of Garand parts. The facility I arrived at was a clean and crisp state-of-the-art multi-story complex right in my own back yard. I arrived and shook hands with Dave Warner, the president of Next Level Armament ( www.nextlevelarms.com ) and began my dive into understanding the new industry of my state.
The Next Level Armament facility itself is nothing short of breathtaking. Dozens of new machines sit on more than 24,000 square feet of manufacturing space, a regular playground of possibility. Dave introduced me to several of the staff and I was pleased to discover that they not only make their own parts, but they design them as well. Dave’s main man at the facility, Dan, gave me a very detailed explanation of the processes and the function of the machines involved.
Every step I took as I was led me further into the impressive facility gave me new belief the comeback of my state. Dave’s confidence in the quality of his products was evident from the minute you meet him, and for good reason. The machines that Next Level employs are second to none in terms of the precision guns that they can deliver.
Dan took me to the far end of the shop where unassuming blocks of aluminum and steel sat awaiting their transformation. Large cylinders of aluminum would eventually make their way from their rotund form at present to meticulously carved upper receivers for AR-15 or AR-10 pattern rifles.
The process and stages are utterly fascinating. Next Level doesn’t just assemble parts like so many other makers. Everything from gas blocks and charging handles to bolts and carriers are made in-house to a tolerance far beyond what most makers are capable of achieving.
A machine that I had particular interest in was one that inspects and measures the exact tolerances of a part prior to being made available for sale. The parts leaving Next Level have such tight tolerances that I couldn’t see light between any of the off-the-rack uppers and lowers when put together.
The attention to detail that Next Level brings is apparent in their beautifully made bolt carrier groups. Not content to make just their phosphate finish like many manufacturers, Next Level offers a Nickel Boron option and a very interesting finish called DLC, or Diamond-Like Carbon. Dave and Dan explained that this finish is vastly superior to others available in terms of durability and lubricity. Feeling the bolt slide back and into battery in a finished rifle demonstrated to me just how slick the DLC finish is.
The assembled rifles are available in three popular calibers as of this writing and include 5.56/.223, .308 Win, and the very popular .450 Bushmaster. The .450 may seem like an odd choice on a national market, but for Michigan it makes perfect sense. The state mandates a straight-walled case for the lower shotgun zone with certain specific requirements as to case dimensions, namely being .35 caliber or larger and between 1.16 and 1.8 inches. Seeing as how most of the population of the state lives in this zone, it is a brilliant idea include this caliber in the standard lineup.
In the coming weeks I will be getting my hands on several of Next Level’s offerings in order to put them through their paces on the range and at various shooting competitions across Michigan using other locally-sourced products and optics.
Upon concluding my tour of the Next Level Armament factory, I shook hands with my new friends and admired their ambition to not only determine their own futures, but to take a crowded market by storm and do so with products and processes that vastly outperform their competitors. With people like the fine folks at Next Level, I have renewed faith in not only the innovative spirit of my fellow Michiganders, but in the ability of Americans to overcome.
Perhaps one day the Grand Rapids area will be the AR rifle manufacturing capital of the country.
About Josh Wayner:
Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.