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Firing Up Growth with Design Collaboration

As heavy equipment manufacturers gear up for healthy backlogs, a key West Coast supplier is helping customers find reliable and cost-saving replacements for obsolete parts. Meet the former chef-cum-machinist who’s serving up all kinds of new orders via his CAM software.

Posted: January 17, 2021

Located in Stockton, family-owned Clutch & Brake Xchange makes durable parts for California's booming agriculture industry. Former chef and apprentice Machinist John Hitchcock is third from right wearing an Esprit T-shirt.



Fueled by a housing shortage and desperately needed infrastructure improvements, North America’s construction equipment market is expected to grow 4% a year and reach $33 billion by 2026. Last year, sales of tractors and other farm equipment outpaced 2019’s sales by 15%; and continued growth is expected.

The U.S. is recognized around the world as an innovator in both manufacturing sectors. Experts predict 2021 will be the year of transition as people and businesses look beyond the pandemic to shaping their future. Clutch & Brake Xchange Inc. and former chef John Hitchcock are poised to continue the industry-innovation tradition and personal-reinvention theme.

Founded in 1980, Clutch & Brake Xchange is a wholesale distributor of heavy-vehicle supplies, accessories, tools, and equipment. Located in California’s Central Valley, which produces one-quarter of the nation’s food every year, the company also machines agricultural and construction parts out of aluminum, steel, and cast iron on a Mazak Quick Turn 350MY, Mazak VC-500C vertical machining center, Mazak VCN-570 vertical mill, and a Haas TL3.

Like metal manufacturers everywhere, the family-owned shop will figure out a way to provide whatever customers need and can’t find. It’s also a factory-authorized build center for Permco Inc., manufacturer of high-pressure hydraulic gear/vane pumps and motors, flow dividers, intensifiers, and accessories. The shop builds and assembles nearly any combination of hydraulic gear pump the same day a customer places an order instead of the typical six-to-eight-week turnaround time from Permco’s Ohio plant.

Three years ago, at his brother’s invitation, Hitchcock entered this manufacturing milieu from a completely different trade. He’d been a chef for three decades and was burned out. He didn’t know computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) from a corkscrew. Now, as an apprentice machinist, he’s being asked to replicate obscure and obsolete parts.

“I didn’t go to engineering school,” he says. “I have no machining background. I never know what kind of order is going to come in or how many will be needed. Parts are very complex, there’s no blueprint, and I have to reverse-engineer. Everything I’ve learned has been with the help of application engineers.”

He’s referring to Spencer Hallin and Troy Lewis. They work for DP Technology, developer of Esprit CAM software, which Clutch & Brake Xchange deployed after testing three CAM programs.

Hallin helped him create a program for an obsolete S-cam, which connects the brake shoe with the drum to slow a truck by creating friction and can be 25 inches long. Without it, owners would have to retrofit or entirely convert their brake systems to meet federal and state safety requirements. Hitchcock earned their gratitude (and revenue) by sparing them that significant expense.

Lewis helped him find a workaround when making a hydraulic cap from billet aluminum. Hitchcock wanted to use one tool for two operations to complete the project. “We had to program the software to ‘believe’ it was two different tools from the same pocket,” Hitchcock says.

Collaboration has always been key to manufacturing success. However, with digitization becoming the key to beating the competition, it’s more important than ever – to companies, and to the people who make them run.


Please Join Me In Welcoming…

Allow us to introduce award-winning sales representative Art Mazzone, who joins Adrienne Gallender and LeAnn Whisenant in introducing innovative products and services to the nation’s metal manufacturing companies. Art may be new to Fabricating & Metalworking, but he’s not new to our industry. His previous roles include representing Metal Architecture and Metal Construction News magazines, Metal Directory & Resource Guide and associated digital products.

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