Manufacturer of Suspension Systems and Accessories Embraces Miller Products For Flexibility
When employees of Fabtech Motorsports go out to play in their backyard, it's serious business. As a world-class manufacturer of suspension systems and accessories for off-road enthusiasts, Fabtech's backyard–the California desert–is also the premier racing and testing facility for its products (see photo 1).
Founded in 1989 by Dave Winner, the Chino, Calif., company's roots are among the off-road desert racing culture. Built to withstand the pounding of off-road and desert racing, Fabtech's 2- and 4-wheel drive truck suspension kits are known for exceptional quality and superior strength.
That reputation is built on Fabtech's intimate knowledge of the off-road culture. After all, according to company president Brent Riley, the core of the management team and many of Fabtech's 180 employees are off-road and desert racing enthusiasts themselves.
In addition, the company attributes success to its suppliers. "We've set very high standards for our suppliers. We run fast, and require equipment and service that can keep up with our demands at all times," said Riley. "That's why we rely on CP-302 MIG welding power sources from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., supplied by our local welding equipment distributor, Five Star Gas and Gear. Miller and Five Star are excellent partners."
Five Years of Explosive Growth
According to Riley, Fabtech started as a custom fabricator of specialty products. The company had a small base of local customers, mostly 2-wheel drive off-road and desert enthusiasts, who would ask for the same products over and over.
That all changed about five years ago. "Our growth has been explosive, from a 20-person shop to a wholesale suspension manufacturer with nine times the employees," said Riley. "All fabrication processes are performed in-house here in Chino, and we distribute throughout the country via a network of warehouse distributors." Last year, the company moved into a new 100,000-square-foot headquarters, with research and development, manufacturing and warehousing under one roof.
Steve Erdelyi, head of research and development for Fabtech Motorsports, displays a prototype suspension system for the Hummer®. Headquartered in Chino, Calif., Fabtech builds off-road suspension systems for 2- and 4-wheel drive trucks.
Through this meteoric growth, Fabtech has stayed true to its roots–building quality suspension systems for off-road and racing enthusiasts. "We have the same interests as our customers: Fabtech employees participate in off-road racing and 4-wheeling, so we're using our products in the actual environment it was intended for,"said Riley. "Our industry experience is such that in 2-wheel drive and modified stock suspension applications, we are truly the leaders. In fact, when someone asks for a 2-wheel drive suspension kit, Fabtech is the brand of choice."
Fabtech produces suspension kits for vehicles manufactured by General Motors, Chevy, Ford, Jeep®, Nissan Toyota, Dodge and Hummer®, for models dating back to the 1970s with some manufacturers. Kits typically include: Tubular control arms and coil springs to raise 2-wheel drives 4 or 6 inches, with 4-wheel drive kits up to 8 inches utilizing high arched control arm crossmembers for maximum ground clearance, sway bar links, cast iron steering knuckle and 1/4-inch thick steel differential skid plates.
Fabricators in the R and D shop at Fabtech Motorsports use the Miller Electric Syncrowave® 350 LX TIG power source for the intricate weld applications needed when building prototype parts.
To take Fabtech to the level of a high-volume producer, while at the same time maintaining the kind of flexibility needed to deal with such a large inventory, the company has embraced a computer-driven manufacturing process, guided by its research and development team.
"We made a commitment to this process about 18 months ago," said Steve Erdelyi, who heads up the research and development department. "We've written CAD/ CAM programs for the manufacturing of every kit so the software can monitor the complete manufacturing process–from laser cutting to punch press to welding, to cleaning and finishing," he said. "We are still about six months away from having the tracking system fully on-line, but the old method, using grease boards and spread sheets, is a thing of the past."
According to Erdelyi, building a prototype suspension kit can involve up to five different vehicles. "You have to ensure there are no fit problems, and each vehicle can have subtle differences in chassis dimensions," he explained. "We build five kits, each on a different vehicle, so we know the high and low tolerances of each part. Only after all the fixturing and testing are complete, and that can take months, does a kit go into production."
The welder of choice in Fabtech's R&D shop, according to Erdelyi, is the Miller Electric Syncrowave® 350 LX TIG power source (see photo 2). With a welding range of 3 to 400 amps, Erdelyi said the Syncrowave 350 LX gives his fabricators the stable low-end output needed for the intricate weld applications involved with building prototype parts.
A fabricator in Fabtech Motorsports R and D shop welds prototype parts for a kit that will raise the suspension system of the Hummer® by six inches, to accommodate 39-inch tires and wheels. Welders use the Syncrowave® 350 LX TIG power source in the shop.
As an example of the prototyping process, Erdelyi explained that Fabtech was developing a kit to raise the suspension of the Hummer six inches so the vehicle can accommodate 39-inch tires and wheels (see photo 3). "We bring in a stock Hummer and drive it over the desert terrain to see how it handles," he said. "Our R&D team measure drive-line angles, ride height, every conceivable measurement before we tear the vehicle down."
In building the Hummer suspension, prototyping begins with dropping the differential to remove the factory drive shaft. A new all-wheel drive shaft is installed and the differential is re-installed to the truck's crossmembers. "In order to get the lift we need and alleviate all vibration, we raise the torsion bars for ground clearance and change the differential angle to zero, "Erdelyi explained. Modifications to the Hummer's shocks are also added, 'shock hoops' that are mounted to the frame. Erdelyi said the suspension kit will provide zero driveline vibration when it goes into production.
Central to Fabtech's production is the welding operation. It consists of 32 booths in full operation 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday. "We have 70 to 80 welding operators involved in high-production, high-volume operations," said Chris Amrein, production manager. "Also, because we're in an industrial environment we need a reliable power source. That's why we specify Miller Electric CP-302 MIG welding power sources throughout the operation." The CP 302 has a rated output of 300 amps at 32 volts, 100 percent duty cycle. It can run non-stop in Fabtech's environment, where maximum welding amperages are below 300 amps.
Amrein said he favors the CP-302 for a number of other reasons. "First, we want to make it as easy as possible for any of our welders to jump into a booth and start welding. The CP-302 has a hand-cranked amperage adjustment and pre-settable voltage controls. A large analog voltmeter and ammeter make it easy for operators to monitor their work to ensure they say within parameters. All operators have to do is set their wire feed speed and they're ready to go."
Amrein added, "CP-302 is power efficient. That's cost effective when your operation includes 32 booths running 24 hours a day in California."
For all its production welding, Fabtech Motorsports specifies Miller Electric CP-302 MIG power sources. Welders rave about the quality dime-on-dime bead created by the CP-302.
Also, Amrein said the CP-302 gives his welders the quality welds off-road enthusiasts expect from Fabtech suspension kits. "We tried other power sources but they did not produce the dime-on-dime bead our customers like so much," he said (see photo 4). "We use a lot of A36 steel plate and 4130 chrome-moly steel tubing. With the CP-302, we get good penetration with very little splatter. Clean-up is almost non-existent."
According to Mike Montano, sales representative for Five Star Gas and Gear, the CP-302s are equipped with 22A wire feeders, ideal for high duty-cycle applications like Fabtech. The filler metal is ER70S, .035-inch diameter. "We've done some experimenting with this wire and shielding gas mixture and found that a 75/25 mix produces the best bead characteristics," he said. "The operators have commented that their arc is smooth and steady, and penetration is excellent."
Given the critical nature of Fabtech's products, random parts inspections are built into the manufacturing process. "Fabtech relies on its suspension packages to perform flawlessly in hard driving applications over rough terrain," Amrein said. "Inspection helps ensure quality. But in order for us to stand behind the product we build, we have to believe in our suppliers as well. We believe in Miller Electric and Five Star."