My visit to Leapers

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

In August, my friend Mac and I were invited by Leapers to tour their plant for an article I’m writing for the November color issue of Shotgun News. We were invited by the owners, David and Tina Ding. Today I would like to give you a brief glimpse of what we saw.

As most of you regular readers know, Leapers imports all their optics from various plants in Asia — mainly from China and Taiwan. They have very strong associations with those plants, so the products are made to Leapers’ specifications, and not just bought from a generic list the way some optics are. And you also know that Leapers owns the UTG brand name that stands for Under The Gun, which is another large grouping of scopes and optics.

Until recently, Leapers also made all the CenterPoint scopes for Crosman. That association has ended, so in the future the CenterPoint scopes will look different from the Leapers scopes, and they will probably have different features.

What I was not prepared for was the size of Leapers’ manufacturing operation right there in Livonia, Michigan. In the shadow of Detroit that once ruled the world of automobiles and is now a cliché for urban decay, Leapers thrives in 104,000 square feet of bustling manufacturing, sales, design and promotion.

They begin each day at 8:30, with a managers’ meeting to review the business of the previous day and to address the current day’s schedule. Over 30 managers from all parts of the company except manufacturing (their meeting was held at 7) gather in a large conference room and conduct the most efficient business meeting Mac and I have ever witnessed! They covered their agenda with all departments reporting, plus a prototype scope being examined by every manager in less than 20 minutes.

Leapers meeting
Every morning all the managers meet to discuss the day’s operations.

Scope examined
A prototype scope is passed around for comments.

Here’s one highlight of the meeting. The operations manager announced that two 40-foot containers were scheduled to arrive that morning, and he needed a team to unload them. When I tell you how that went I’m sure there will be some disbelief.

Product development
We got to watch the product developers go through their evaluation process with a new crossbow scope. They wanted to get at least 100 minutes of angle adjustment in each direction, so they rigged a test instrument to measure the angles. When we saw the scope, it went off the scale more than two times in all directions, which means they’re getting at least 160 minutes of angle adjustment…and probably a lot more.

Scope measurement
Leapers uses this optical measurement device to measure the adjustment range of their scopes. This prototype crossbow scope adjusts over 160 minutes of angle in both directions.

The Leapers culture
I guess I should cut to the chase and tell you what’s different about Leapers. The short of it is that they’re organized. Not organized like a manufacturer — more like the crew on a nuclear submarine!

When the day’s scheduled shipment arrived I watched a trained team of people from all over the company unload cartons from two 40-foot containers in under two hours! If they keep the drivers who delivered the container longer than two hours, there’s an extra charge. So, the operations manager has trained teams how to unload containers in the most efficient way possible. Not only that, but they also pack the outbound shipments as they pull the cartons from the containers.

Unpacking
The trained team unpacks a 40-foot shipping container in record time.

Pallets
“Where did I put that Ark?” In 90 minutes, the teams unpacked both 40-foot containers, shipped several pallets and prepared these for the warehouse.

As the cartons came out, they were piled on pallets that were bound for the warehouse. Some went to outbound shipments that were transported directly to the outbound shipment side of the house

Packing
Toward the end of the day, we saw another outpouring of people into the warehouse to pack and ship the day’s transactions. These employees came from all over the office, including the owners, and everybody pitched in. Each team of packers had one picker, one checker who compared the packing list to the items to be shipped, using a scanner to track each item. A second person then double-checked the shipment and packed it into a box, which another person boxed, packed and sealed.

Everyone in the company gets involved in the packing and shipping of products, so they all develop a feel for the products. Even the sales team and the design engineers were getting their hands dirty! That’s how they get to know the products and can speak about them intelligently. This duty rotates through the office, and everyone gets at least one day a week on the shipping line.

Packing
The packing and shipping operation is automated for speed and double-checked for accuracy. The packers come from all over the company and rotate this duty once a week.

The main business
As an airgunner, I think of scopes when I think of Leapers, but that’s not what they make in the U.S. They were making parts fort ARs, AKs, SKSs and other popular military rifles. The AR business is strong enough by itself; but for the imports, American law has given them a boost by requiring 10 out of 20 designated key partss on every semiautomatic gun to be made in the USA. The law is called 922R, and it stands for the obscure section of code that specifies which parts are key and what constitutes a legal imported semiautomatic rifle. Leapers makes these parts and sells them to various importers to turn their products into legal weapons. It’s a business that has tremendous potential, and it keeps Leapers expanding all the time.

Mac and I saw the entire manufacturing operation, from raw extrusions to finished products. This all took place in their spotless plant, where you could quite literally eat off the floor. They rely on huge CNC machining centers, and three new ones had just been installed…with another batch due shortly.

Plant operations
The operator in front of the machine gives you perspective of the scale.

CNC machinining center
AR stock extension tubes are being machined from bar stock.

Off the main plant floor are rooms for quality control, a general machine shop, laser engraving and general finishing. The main floor is still very open, and they plan to fill it with more machining centers to allow the production capacity to continue to grow. As I said…if you buy an AKM in the U.S., today, there’s a good chance it’ll have parts made by Leapers to ensure that it meets the legal requirements for key U.S. parts. Two items I see in their catalog that I will definitely buy are a cover for an SKS that includes a Picatinny rail and a built-in cartridge deflector and a slip-on 2-inch stock extension buttpad to extend the pull length to conventional rifle dimensions.

This report is just a brief glimpse of all that we saw in our tour. The entire report will be in the November 20, 2012, color edition of Shotgun News.

The future
David Ding told me at the NRA Show this year that he wants to make optics in the United States. When I asked why, he said, “For quality control. We can’t have someone halfway around the world making these products and us being on the receiving end of a very long supply chain.”

I’ve been asking for a scope that has an internal bubble level built in, and they’re very close to delivering one. A prototype was due within a few weeks, so I expect to see it at the 2013 SHOT Show. But that’s only the beginning. David and I discussed many ideas for other scopes American shooters would like to see. Just imagine if you had the ear of Redfield or Weaver, back when they were making scopes in this country! Leapers means business, and I have no doubt they’ll be grinding lenses and manufacturing their own optics within a few years.

Leapers is one of the very few companies that’s open to new ideas. They’re in tune with their customers and are always trying to better their products. We saw evidence of that everywhere, and we heard it in the ideas they shared with us. I can’t tell you everything they told us, but I can say this is one company to watch!

35 thoughts on “My visit to Leapers

  1. B.B.,

    Sorry to switch topics right off the bat. I’ve been running my IZH-61 through the chrony and saw some interesting, and very repeatable, issues.

    When shooting light wadcutters, 7 to 8 gr, the velocity fluctuates a great deal more than when I shoot domed pellets. In my case variations between shots in the same magazine of 40 to 60 fps were common with Crosman Comp wadcutters and RWS Meisterkugeln Pistols, while Crosman Premier and Premier Hollowpoints typically varied no more than 15-20 fps.

    The second, and even more unusual thing I saw (which again, was repeatable) is that when shooting lighter wadcutters the *last* two pellets in the magazine showed a jump in velocity of at least 20 fps and often 40 fps. This almost always happened. This velocity increase did not happen with domed pellets.

    If you look at the magazine you can see that the last two pellets are supported differently than the first three, which made me wonder if they were being pushed into the chamber differently.

    With regards to the more erratic velocities of wadcutters in my rifle I wonder again if the bolt is not chambering them as consistently as domed pellets.

    Despite all of this I’ve found my rifle to be surprisingly accurate at 10m and less. I’m determined to do some more accuracy testing comparing domed to wadcutters now. I still find the rifle a lot of fun and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone looking for an inexpensive little paper-punching and plinking gun.

    Regards,

    Jerry


    • Jerry,

      I think you have determined the cause of the variation. That is one reason why I do not like repeating pellet guns.

      When you say your gun produces remarkable accuracy, how good do you mean? How does your rifle compare to the groups I published last week?

      B.B.


      • I think I called it “surprisingly” accurate leaving the door wide open for interpretation. :-) I *have* shot groups at 10m more accurate than what you were seeing with your tests but I can’t shoot them consistently. In my case I have a cheap red dot sight mounted so when I’m consistently shooting 3/8 to 1/2″ groups at 10m I’m quite happy.

        In all honesty I was suprised that the IZH-60 didn’t do better in your testing than it did. I’ve always assumed that the gun had the ability but in my case it was a shooter that was inconsistent (the second half of the statement is still a valid assumption). It was *your* accuracy testing results that prompted me to do the chrony testing.

        Sometime in the next couple of days I’m going to mount a scope on the IZH-61 and using domed pellets I’m going to see what I can do. I don’t doubt your results at all–again I was just surprised. I thought from my own results that a much more expeirenced shooter would be able to significantly tighten up what I’m seeing. I’ll let you know how it goes.

        Thanks for the reply and the great blog!

        Jerry



    • Oliver,

      I have toured Crosman, and they were very gracious to let us see everything in the plant. I did it with the television show, American Airgunner, but none of the footage ever aired. Such a shame, because we filmed things like the assembly of Blue Streak barreled receivers and 88-gram CO2 cartridges, the making of BBs plus one room in which some airguns are tested for millions of cycles.

      B.B.


  2. Nice, BB! I’ve always thought of scopes and such by Leapers too. Didn’t know they did rifle parts. Diy you know if they sell to the general public, or only to their distributors?

    /Dave


  3. I’ve always been impressed by the Leapers/UTG line of scopes. Great value for the money, and they make everything from simple scopes to ones with all the bells and whistles. The internal bubble level looks like an interesting feature.

    I never knew they were, for the most part, manufactured and assembled right here in the good old USA.

    Also impressive that their employees are all required to work in the trenches. But I couldn’t help but notice from the photos that there seems to be a lot of Asians working there, for being located in Michigan.


    • chasblock,

      I should have mentioned how proud Leapers is to make so much in the USA. They are bringing manufacturing back from Asia!

      As for the workforce, a few are brought over from the Orient, but the bulk of the workers are hired in the Detroit areas through local Chinese-language publications. The Chinese have a very large population in Detroit and environs.

      They do hire all nationalities, but the bulk of the workforce is Asian-born.

      B.B.


      • I had refrained from commenting about the make-up of that work force… Without the explicit statement that you were in Michigan a lot of those photos could have come out of Taiwan…


  4. I received my FWB 124 back from repair last week. I had time to shoot it this weekend. I remounted the scope, shot it and it was right back to zero. So, velocity is probably in the same area as it was before the seal died. I didn’t have time to get out the Crony. I really like the way it was packed for shipping, no chance of damage when they are packed like that.

    But, it is really “Honking” when you cock it. I lubed the chamber and it seems to be getting better. I was surprised it was like that. Perhaps it’s normal on a reseal? Also, one of the stock screws in front was different. The new one has a shallow slot and is hard to tighten. I found this out as all the stock screws needed to be tightened.

    I’m glad to have it back1

    Mike


    • Mike,

      It might be they installed a very tight piston seal. That does happen. Just don’t over-lube it and you should be okay.

      As for the new screw, I would deepen that slot with a slot file if possible. You don’t want to bugger it!

      Let us know how it shoots after you have a few hundred shots on it.

      B.B.


      • Thanks BB. I used about four drops of RWS chamber lube. I’m getting a little smoke but no “bangs”. I will probably look for a different screw when I get a chance.

        Mike


    • Mike,
      You could also replace the screws with new ones. Button head allens are nice. Your forend screws are metric–M5 x 0.8mm–take one to the hardware store to get the right length if you change them out.


  5. B.B.
    Love your report. Reminded me of my days on the manufacturing floor. Leapers seem to be doing it right. The pic for the employees unloading the container shows that someone has their thinking cap on. All cartons are of a standard size and are designed to pack that container to capacity. Last time I checked, It cost USD7000.00 to move a 40′ container from China to the Caribbean(Guess to the USA would be the same) so you can understand why they do this. A few merchants in the caribbean, when importing from the USA, would buy dry dog food and “stuff” the container-any vacant space between the merchandise and the top of the container gets filled with Kibble which they then sell to reduce the freight cost on their regular line of goods.
    Love their Board Room Table. Three ping pong tables. Neat! Now we can all understand how Leapers can give you a high quality product at such a low price.
    Pete


    • Pete,

      You picked up on the ping-pong tables! I didn’t know if anyone would notice that.

      Yes, they economize wherever they can, but they also spare no expense when it comes to quality. I used to teach Japanese Management, and these guys have reinvented it without knowing it exists.

      B.B.



    • Claude,

      You only have to ask one time on this blog. Go back to the first place you asked and see the answer I wrote. It took some time to research the link I sent.

      B.B.


      • I wish I could see it. When I go to that page, neither my comment nor your reply shows up for me, even when I refresh my browser or open it with an IE tab. That’s why I posted it here, I thought the comment didn’t take.


        • I figured it out. I had to go to the historical section and open the page from there and then open the comments. Going to the url of the original blog doesn’t work. Thanks for the information.


          • Claude,

            Here is the answer:

            B.B. Pelletier has left a new comment on your post “BSF 55N – Part 3″:

            You’re in luck, because you can make a breech seal for your BSF 55N. The seal is probably leather. There may be some later guns with synthetic breech seals, but the two I own are leather.

            Here is a link to an article about making a leather breech seal. The article shows me using a hole punch, but you can also cut a seal from leather with just a sharp knife. So don’t let the lack of tools bother you.

            http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2009/01/diana-27-part-3.html

            B.B.


  6. I had no idea of Leapers product diversity. 104,000 square feet under roof is a big outfit. That’s almost 2 1/2 acres.

    Their efficiency explains why Leapers can bring such good products to the market at hard to believe price points.

    Glad to hear Leapers has a goal of 100 moa in both directions for their scope line. The fact that they’ve produced a prototype with 160 moa is exciting. Wish more manufactures would realize how important a larger range of adjustment is for airgunners since we typically shoot at much closer ranges than 100 yards.

    Since I’m on the subject, I wish more retailers would list the Maximum Adjustment Range (inches/100 yards or MOA) in the scope specifications.

    kevin


  7. Good to see, Asian immigrants revitalizing the economy and kicking butt. They were highly professional in my dealings with them with a faulty scope, and their products are outstanding. If their manufacturing is in China, they must have conquered the dragon of Chinese unreliability. But doing so at a distance must consume some energy, so I can see how they want to move things closer to home. Fine by me! Interesting to hear about them unloading trucks. They don’t look like musclemen.

    BG_Farmer, B.B. says that in his experience the only people who could hold 3MOA standing (at 100 yards) were a state champion shooter and an Olympian. So, 4MOA is plenty good in my book. By the way, I forgot to mention your blackpowder walk in the woods on my list of ideal shooting vacations. Hope you’re having some good times in the fall.

    I’ve been thinking about the previous blog post about how the front sight element is raised above center for both the IZH 60 and the Winchester 94. No doubt the manufacturing capability to center them is there, and it would probably be easier to do it that way. So the raised front sight is surely no accident. Why? I was thinking about a photography class I took in high school where the instructor said that in matters of compositional design, the eye prefers to look up rather than dead center. Maybe that has something to do with it. Any photographers out there, like cowboystar dad who can verify this? I’ve often wondered about this phenomenon, something I picked up out of a fairly humble program. I won the class photography contest by managing to produce a clear photo.

    I finished Seal Team Six, the Navy Seal Sniper book, and I have to change my opinion. My individual observations stand, but my general impression underestimated this book badly. It is outstanding, and the author is a really cool guy and a great American hero. I highly recommend the book. After leaving the Navy, the author became a chiropractor and recently opened a clinic called Absolute Precision Chiropractic. The website talks about targeting solutions for your body and achieving results with teamwork. He is definitely my kind of chiropractor.

    Matt61


    • Matt,
      That shooting vacation is pretty easily obtainable, just let me know!

      Also, note I said “at best” in ref. to 4MOA :)! I also think you’d like to see some of the muzzleloading target matches — they are some of the best shooters anywhere in my opinion when it comes to offhand and open (often primitive, fixed) sights, and I don’t think they give up much to the Olympic smallbore shooters at the national level, even with obvious handicaps in terms of equipment and clothing. I checked the National shoot records, and 50′s with multiple X’s are usually the rule and that includes flint. The targets are not that big!


    • Guys … I just don’t understand why everyone is so concerned about the blade of the front sight, or the center of the insert being centered in the housing. It sounds as if the housing is expected to perform as an essential part of the sight. The reason it (the housing) is there is to provide some protection for the blade or to provide a place to mount the insert, isn’t it? What would happen to the accuracy of the gun if a person took the front site housing away and left only the blade or somehow found another way to locate the insert, what ever that may be, in their normal locations. It wouldn’t change anything as far as I can see. As long as the cross hairs or circle or blade tip or whatever stays in its proper place, the presence of the housing, or the lack of it, won’t change the accuracy one bit. I would think that a person could make that housing shaped like an egg, or a triangle or a beer can or anything else for that matter, and, as long as he didn’t disturb the post, nothing regarding the sighting would have changed.

      Or, am I missing the obvious again … ?


      • Part of the problem is that when sighting through a peep one can easily be influenced by an instinct to center the protective ring in the field of view, along with trying to center the target within the inner ring.

        When the inner sight ring is centered within the globe, a sight picture on targets becomes a concentric series of black bull, white(manila) ring, black sight ring, white(manila) ring, black globe ring all on target background white(manila).

        While the globe is not supposed to be the “sight” the difference between concentric rings vs offset rings could be disconcerting… With concentric sights, one could remove the actual sight ring and still have a viable sight picture (center the target within the globe). I suspect I’d, at least, be fighting an urge to raise the muzzle (to center the globe) against the need to lower the muzzle (to center the sight ring).


  8. I would like to see an efficient meeting run at the likes of the big boardroom table shown in the picture. I recently joined an organization whose main activity during its quarterly meetings seems to be tabling all the business for the next meeting.

    Matt61



  9. Really cool to see a company going full-tilt these days. An efficient meeting is a wonder indeed. My feedback is that Chinese optics are very good now, and it would be most effective to concentrate on mechanical design and assembly here, where more stringent QA can be applied.


  10. I really enjoyed your report on Leapers. I have always like their optics. Great value for the money. Most all of my airguns sport Leapers scopes.



  11. Interesting. I actually knew almost nothing about Leapers aside from reading a handful of online reviews before I bought one of their scopes. As it happened the decision was easy because I needed a scope which could be focus down to six meters (the length of my games room “range” where I actually do the majority of my shooting) and they made one of the few scopes which could do this. Good thing that it turned out to be a pretty good piece of glass, especially for the price. More eye relief, a more progressive adjustment of the illumination and a thinner reticle would be the only improvements I could realistically ask for in the future (and I would expect to pay somewhat more money for a model with those upgrades).


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