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Home / Arkansas Contract Machining Shop Zeros in on Auto Aftermarket Product

Arkansas Contract Machining Shop Zeros in on Auto Aftermarket Product

With the automotive aftermarket industry averaging 4 percent year-to-year growth lately, contract machining shops are finding that aftermarket components can be a lucrative niche . . . . . . such is the case for Service Tool & Fabrication, Inc….

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With the automotive aftermarket industry averaging 4 percent year-to-year growth lately, contract machining shops are finding that aftermarket components can be a lucrative niche . . .

. . . such is the case for Service Tool & Fabrication, Inc. (Searcy, AR), a company that now focuses specifically on producing a throttle body "spacer" that enhances power, torque and fuel efficiency. The 16-year-old company began producing the patented aluminum spacer in 1996 and has never looked back, de-emphasizing other miscellaneous small-batch contract work so that they can concentrate on producing upwards of 2000 of the throttle body components per week.

The spacers, sold under the name POWERAID® TBS (www.airaid.com) and AIRCELL (www.aircellfleet.com), have a unique set of helix bores that cause a spinning action of the incoming air-charge as it passes through the throttle body. Needless to say, the spacers became very popular with the "performance" crowd. But today, fuel economy is the primary selling proposition, especially for the heavy-duty truck market. Law enforcement departments and other fleet operators are saving on gas expenditures with the product also.

Business is brisk. "We're running 120 different part numbers for the throttle body spacer, to accommodate a full range of engines and vehicles," says Larry Patterson, President of Service Tool. "The first spacers were for our own trucks . . . then the word got out and now there are well over 800,000 of them in the field. The market for the product is still growing. New applications include non-automotive uses such as irrigation pumps."

To keep up with demand, the machining workhorse of choice is the MAG Fadal VMC 4020. The company operates five of these vertical machining centers, which are responsible for holding tight tolerances on the helix bore. Accurate circular interpolation, including the Z-axis upward movement, is critical to the quality of the product. Up to 40 offsets are used to machine batches of parts on a single fixture.

"We're currently running one long 12-hour shift," explains Peterson. "Reliability is important, and these VMCs have delivered. Our oldest 4020 is now 12 years old, and we've never had a major problem with it. We jokingly call the Fadal service guys 'Maytag repairmen' . . . there's really no service required, so we never see them." Application support and training are supplied by Cardinal Machinery, LLC (Memphis, TN).

The 4020 table size of 48 in x 20 in (1219 mm x 508 mm) fits Service Tool's work well. The machine features 900 ipm rapid traverse, saving cycle time on ganged part batches. Maximum spindle speed is 10,000 rpm. The system's "Cool Power" ensures thermal stability for consistent positioning repeatability. Flame hardened box ways provide high rigidity and vibration dampening that enhances accuracy.

"The MP CNC control works well for us," notes Patterson. "We've found it to be very conversational, and all of the programming is done at the machine. Every part number has its own profile, so there is input needed to create a new program, but it's basically just a fill-in-the-blanks process. When we add new models, the part program practically writes itself. Back when we were doing job shop work, we would also do programming right at the machine because it was simple."

He adds, "We've found that there is more money to be made in production than in job shop work ? if you get the right machines. The 4020 had the best specs for the price. In fact, our fifth machine that we just installed was less expensive than our first one back in the 1990s."

Service Tool & Fabrication, Inc., 1806 E. Line Road, Searcy, AR 72143, 501-268-6866.

Fadal Machining Centers, LLC, 20701 Plummer Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311, 818-407-1400, Fax: 818-407-0020, www.fadal.com.

For more, visit the current issue of Fabricating & Metalworking.

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