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Technological Advances in AR-15 Manufacturing

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Since its introduction in the late 1950s, the AR-15 has been at the forefront of technological innovation, being enhanced and updated for different purposes as the years have passed. Today is no different, as many companies have taken the platform to new heights.  

AR-15 manufacturing has come a long way since its beginning. With a plethora of manufacturers developing specialized components for AR-15s as well as their own take on the rifle, there is a near endless degree of customization for them. Below, we’re looking at how the AR-15 has become the utilitarian rifle it is today.  

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History of the AR-15 

Originally developed in the late 1950s by Armalite, the AR-15 was essentially a smaller version of their previous rifle endeavor, the AR-10. Both were made during military trials to find new standard issue rifles, and eventually, the designs and patents were later sold to Colt Firearms. After improving the design of the rifles, they began selling them on the civilian market.  

The Colt AR-15 was, at the time, the only AR-15 variant on the market. This changed in 1977 though, as their patent expired. After this, multiple manufacturers stepped in to begin producing their take on the AR-15, and they have ever since. 


Updated and Enhanced Materials 

One of the biggest advancements in the development of ARs is material upgrades. AR-15 receivers are most often made of forged aluminum, and thanks to modern manufacturing processes, the forged receivers being made today are much stronger than the older receivers are. Even further, there are more options for different receiver types too, with billet receivers being a popular choice to consider. 

Of the two, forged receivers are the mil-spec standard ones, made from hammering the metal into the shape of the receiver. Billet receivers, in contrast, are milled down from a larger aluminum block. Though they take longer to make, they’re made with more precision and can be matched to a corresponding upper made from the same block, giving them a solid fit and tight tolerances. 

There’s long been a debate as to which is best, but it really comes down to your preferences. If you’re looking for a durable do all lower without aesthetic designs, forged is the way to go. That said, if you’re looking for something that offers more aesthetically and maybe has some extras like ambidextrous controls and a tight fitting upper, you can’t beat billet.  

Another option that wasn’t really feasible during the ARs’ early stages of development is the use of polymer receivers. When the AR-15 was first becoming popular, many of the plastics and polymers were new at the time. While they were strong enough to make up the handguard and stock of the rifles, they weren’t strong enough to be used as dedicated receivers. Today, polymers are much more rigid and are often reinforced, allowing them to be used as an AR-15 lower receiver.  

Though they aren’t as durable or rigid as aluminum, they’re more than strong enough to be used in the lower receiver. A much lighter option, polymer lowers are commonly used for lightweight rifle builds, and even pistol caliber AR variants.  

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Enhanced Coatings and Finishes 

To keep the metal in good condition, ARs must have a coating or finish that protects them against corrosion. Since their inception, AR-15s have primarily used an anodized finish. The color of these finishes varied in early models, with some being gray and others being black. Today though, manufacturers usually opt for a hard-coat anodized finish. Compared to standard anodizing, these finishes are much stronger and offer better protection, richer colors, and longer lasting finishes.  

While anodizing is still the most common finishing technique for ARs, there are other options to consider that offer enhanced durability and have more aesthetic options as well. One of the popular options that’s available today is Cerakote. Cerakote is a type of ceramic based finish, which is incredibly resistant to heat while also being resistant to abrasion as well. Applied similarly to paint, it allows manufacturers to add complex designs to essential rifle components such as the receiver groups and handguards. This has become popular with many enthusiasts, as there are now more options for different rifle finishes such as flat dark earth, OD green, and even camouflage patterns. 

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Manufacturing Innovations 

When it comes to production, the manufacturing processes of AR-15s have only gotten better. As manufacturing processes have become more advanced, many companies have automated the machining and finishing of AR-15s. The machinery needed to produce AR parts is much more precise than what was available in the past. So now, brands can produce them in large batches without compromising the quality of their products. And when paired with good quality-control practices, the chances of getting a defective rifle or parts are minimized.  

Many of the premium AR manufacturers opt to make all their parts in-house. Take Daniel Defense for instance. Our guide on Daniel Defense’s quality and performance goes more in depth on this, but each of their rifle components is built at their facility to ensure their quality before they’re sent out. This same standard applies to other manufacturers as well, with Geissele and LaRue Tactical doing the same.  

These technological improvements have not only optimized the production of rifles and core components but also spurred the growth of aftermarket parts manufacturers. If you’ve ever shopped for AR-15s, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the dozens upon dozens of manufacturers producing specialty parts for AR-15s. AR-15s boast one of the most expansive aftermarkets for custom components, and this constant innovation with manufacturers producing parts that can enhance your shooting experience.  

With all that’s available, there are rifles and parts made to fit all purposes and budgets. Many new enthusiasts often wonder how much AR-15s cost. They can vary drastically, but since there are so many available, it’s easy to find one that can fit your needs and budget.  

Design and Functionality Enhancements 

As we mentioned before, the AR-15 has been in use since the early 1960s; While its core design and functionality has remained largely the same, the platform has had some quality-of-life upgrades and alterations. We noted the upgraded receiver variants previously, but another key aspect of the rifle is the furniture options. Many of the ‘stock’ AR-15 rifles come with mil-spec parts, which, while usable, lack the modern comforts provided by modern options. 

Advancements in polymer development, molding processes, and manufacturing technology have done a lot for AR furniture. Modern stock, grip, and handguard options are more utilitarian in design, lighter, and more comfortable to hold. Most premium ARs even come with these options pre-installed.  

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Advancements in polymer technology and molding processes have allowed manufacturers to create a plethora of high-quality stock options with features like adjustable cheek risers, storage, and QD points.  

Most off-the-shelf AR-15s come with adjustable stocks. While adjustable carbine stocks aren’t necessarily a new addition to the platform, they’ve certainly come a long way from their roots. Original Colt adjustable stocks only had two positions. Today, stocks can have anywhere from five to seven positions depending on the model and buffer tube used. Many new AR-15s come equipped with upgraded stocks from companies like Magpul and B5 Systems. They aren’t the only ones making upgraded stocks, though. Dozens of manufacturers capitalize on these advancements, creating stocks that put an emphasis on adjustment and comfort, coming with larger cheek welds and rubber butt pads. 

These benefits don’t apply solely to adjustable stocks, either. At the time of its implementation, the AR-15 used a fixed stock. New production fixed rifle stocks offer many of the modern comforts that carbine stocks do, such as better ergonomics and comfort. Stocks like these really shine when used in different shooting disciplines. Long range and precision shooting enthusiasts often opt for enhanced fixed stocks for the added stability they provide.  

Regardless of your rifle’s purpose, modern stocks have enough design diversity to make it easy to find a stock to fit all preferences.  


Just like how manufacturing advancements have had a significant impact on AR-15 stocks, grips have come a long way as well. Older A2 style pistol grips are made from rigid plastic, and while they’re usable, they don’t offer the same level of comfort and utility as modern options. New manufacturing processes have allowed brands to create grips that, in comparison, are much more comfortable and ergonomic, causing a surge in aftermarket grip options. 

Manufacturers are now able to use improved materials, making new grips more durable than mil-spec grips. Depending on the model you look at, they can also come with more unique features, such as enhanced grip texture, rubber over molding, different grip angles, and, at times, internal storage. They’re also available in a wide array of finishes now too, allowing for added personalization and camouflaging capabilities.  

Something else to consider is their adaptability. There are a select few modern grips that are modular, coming with replaceable side panels and backstraps. This kind of modularity wasn’t feasible a few decades ago; however, the precision offered by modern manufacturing techniques makes it easy to implement these features into grips. While not every grip is adjustable, options like the Magpul MIAD grip allow you to tailor your grip for different purposes, which comes in handy if you’re using one lower for multiple uppers.  

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Handguards play a critical role in the functionality of an AR-15. They serve as one of the main points of contact, while also being the mounting hub for different accessories and optics. The classic clamshell drop-in handguard is bulky compared to modern ones, and it doesn’t have any way to mount AR-15 accessories. While other drop-in handguards like the KAC RAS quad rail solve this problem, further improvements to handguards have paved the way for more modern options.  

Free-floating handguards offer much more versatility and have become the standard for many manufacturers. These handguards often run the entire length of the barrel, are lightweight, and either have picatinny rails, KeyMod, or M-LOK slots for accessory mounting. They have much more security, as they’re mounted to the barrel nut instead of being held by spring tension like the original AR handguards. As a result, they can hold zero, allowing you to run lasers, and since they aren’t directly touching the barrel, they offer much better heat dissipation. 

The newer manufacturing processes for handguards have also been beneficial for aftermarket support. There are hundreds of options available, each with varying weights, lengths, and mounting methods. So regardless of how you want your rifle set up, there are plenty of options to choose from. 

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Popular Manufacturers 

While it’s impossible to decide what the best AR-15 is, it’s more than possible to highlight some of the premium options that exemplify the idea of innovation. As we mentioned before, as the AR-15 has become increasingly advanced, new brands are constantly stepping up to develop their own take on the rifle. Below are a few examples of high-quality manufacturers: 

Daniel Defense: Being one of the most well-known manufacturers around, Daniel Defense has many AR variants to their name, with models like the DD4 RIS III, MK18, and MK12, being among their most popular. Each rifle comes outfitted with premium parts and components made by DD. Depending on the model you look at it, they can either come with a free floating RIS II quad rail handguard or their more modern RIS III M-LOK one. Regardless, each option has a DD cold hammer forged barrel, offering exceptional longevity and accuracy.  

LaRue Tactical: Another premium manufacturer of AR-15s, LaRue Tactical is renowned for their high-quality and accurate rifle systems. Though they offer multiple rifle models, their AR-15 variants are no exception, with their PredatOBR 5.56 being one of their flagship offerings. While like other AR-15s, it’s one of the few that uses a monolithic upper receiver, offering a true free-floating barrel with a unique quick-change barrel for easier caliber conversions. It also comes standard with LaRue’s R.A.T. Stock, A-PEG grip, and their upgraded PST adjustable gas block.  

Geissele: Known for their aftermarket AR components, Geissele also produces rifles that incorporate each of the parts they produce. Geissele’s Super Duty AR-15 is one such rifle, decked out with their premium parts and components, including a CHF barrel, upgraded handguards, enhanced buffer and spring, and even their ambidextrous controls. This is all backed by their commitment to quality, ensuring that every rifle they produce is done so with the utmost quality and level of care.  


The AR-15 stays a testament to its enduring design and versatility, proving to be one of the most modular and well-designed rifle systems ever produced. Despite being introduced in the late 1950s, it’s still in use today around the world as an exceptional modern sporting rifle.  

Modern advancements have allowed manufacturers to create purpose-built rifles that are lighter, more ergonomic, and more accurate than historic AR-15 models. With such a vast parts aftermarket, enthusiasts can optimize their rifles to fit their needs. Check out our guide on how to accessorize your AR-15 to see what all is available for your rifle.  

Lastly, no rifle is complete without a high-quality optic. Many AR-15s don’t come with any type of sights. If you haven’t shopped around for them already, there are a lot of optics to choose from. We recommend looking over our guide on holographic vs. red dot sights. It goes over two of the most popular AR-15 sight options in a head-to-head comparison.