Tool Up!

Dec 2, 2009

If your shop is anything like the typical independent speed shop, you often find yourself pressed for time to get complex automotive upgrades out the door, whether it is a complete block honing for the circle track or suspension work for the off-road enthusiast. And tearing into suspensions, exhaust and motors takes tools, from simple hand tools to the most complex CNC fabrication systems. The problem is, the small shop owner doesn’t always have the time to keep track of all the new tool technologies out there, and how some shop tools may help their bottom line. With that in mind, Performance Business is checking in with a few top tool manufacturers to see what is hot, and what tools all wrench-turning speed shops should know about.

Old And New

Jerry Krotech of Scotchman Industries in Philip, S.D., points out that Scotchman “may not have any hot new stuff,” when it comes to shop tools, but the company has plenty of “hot old stuff” that any Speed Shop doing chassis work needs to know about. When you think of frame fabrication and modification, you have to think of the Scotchman 50-ton three-station Ironworker.

Since the early 1960’s Scotchman Industries started making and selling farm-related products, such as pickup stock racks, corral panels, gates and chutes. In 1967, Scotchman Industries purchased the patent for a hydraulic ironworker and began manufacturing ironworkers. This machine, using hydraulic pressure, created up to a 35-ton force that could punch, bend and shear metal. Today, Scotchman Industries. has a complete line of eleven different ironworkers, ranging in capacities from 45 to 150 tons, with component tool design, and a fully integrated European style; both are available in either single or dual operator models.

So what does this mean for the automotive aftermarket? Instead of breaking out the drill press and torch for frame modification, the Ironworker punches holes quickly and cleanly along with speedy and accurate notching.

“If you want speed, flexibility and clean punches, you have got to go with the Ironworker,” Krotech said. “It’s extremely popular with shops that do custom hot rod frame fabrication. Once they try the machine they all say they don’t know how they did it before. Not only is it faster, with our notcher, the frame pieces fit together like a glove there’s no more big welds to fill gaps.”

While the solid bar cutter may seem like a big, complex shop tool to invest in, Krotech points out setup is right around 30 minutes, and an hour of training is all it takes to be cranking out chassis work.

“We send a field rep out as well to make sure the smaller, independent shops are set up right,” Krotech said.

Another tool from Scotchman smaller speed shops should look into is a circular cold cut saw for tube or pipe cutting. With the new Advanced Measuring System, quick, accurate cuts are made easy.

And when it comes to pipe cutting and bending, attention naturally turns to Ercolina, a company known for making some of the best tube benders on the market. The Ercolina Mega bender with mandrel table offers speed shops tube bending capacity to three inches in stainless, and provides a quality mandrel bend and is useful for bending exhaust with tighter bend radius requirements, says Dave Capper of Ercolina.

“With the right machine, a shop’s productivity, product quality and profitability can dramatically improve,” Capper said. “Offering a tube bending service opens the door for increased sales and customer base.”

Nor is the equipment difficult to use, with Ercolina focusing on easy setup and operator friendly programming for the automotive aftermarket, Capper said.

When you begin to see the rationale in having a frame fabrication system and tube benders in-house, it isn’t a big jump to think of adding CNC machining to the mix. Another large shop tool manufacturer is Rottler Manufacturing in Kent, Wash., a company that makes CNC machining tools for engine rebuilding. A fact Rottler prides itself on is that it maintains a large domestic facility dedicated 100 percent to the automotive aftermarket. Today Rottler Manufacturing offers a range of machines for every type of engine builder, from a custom one-man machine shop, a diesel jobber shop or a production remanufacturing facility. The expensive precision equipment is not a small ticket purchase for an independent Speed Shop, but dropping the big coin on a surfacing, boring and machining center does have its advantages.

“Stepping up to our entry-level F65M Series machine will bring a huge, huge time savings to the small guy,” Ed Kiebler of Rottler said. “Using one of our machines can bring a two-day reduction in precision block machining time, and besides saving outsourcing costs, a Speed Shop can simply turn the blocks much more quickly.”

There are more advantages to going to a large CNC machine, namely floor space.

“A F65M can take the place of four machines with cylinder boring, surfacing, and line boring all handled by one machine.”

Kiebler acknowledges there is more than the price tag that turns off the smaller shop when it comes to CNC machining.

“A lot of guys think G-Code when they think of CNC, but with our machines you do not need to know G-Code, we have written simple, windows-based touch screen controls to run the machines.”

What this means is that instead of learning, or hiring an expert, to do complex computer coding when working a block, the operator of a Rottler machine needs only to enter desired dimension and the software installed on the machine takes care of the settings.

“Hey, I can’t write G Code, either, but I can use our machines,” Kiebler said. “We have spent tons of research and development time making as simple of a system as possible for our machines. We know all of our customers aren’t the Summits or Jegs High Performance with big staffs on hand.”

It all speaks to what sets Rottler apart when it comes to independent Speed Shops.

“I tell people that every manufacturer can build a CNC machine, and yes, some from China are cheaper. But our software is much, much better and using our machines is something almost any mechanic can learn to do.”

While the above machines and manufacturers take care of the big stuff for your Speed Shop what about the times you need a wrench that walked away and the Snap-On truck won’t be around for another week? Think on-line, the options are out there, even when you’re building a race engine, and have to work degreeing a camshaft on a rush job. Powerhouse Products can help with everything from torque wrenches, piston ring compressors, and precision machinist tools to specialty equipment like air/fuel meters, cubic inch testers, and shock absorber dynos all online.

Chris Douglas of Powerhouse Products, a division of the motor sports giant Comp Cams, acknowledged that the online e-tailer serves a very specific niche in the Speed Shop world.

“We have a joke here in the office that Powerhouse is for the guy, who after a hard day at work, is sitting in his underwear at night ordering tools online,” Douglas said. “That said, we strive to find something unique, better and different that the automotive enthusiast or Speed Shop owner cannot find at the tool store down the road or from the Snap-On truck.”

Checking Powerhouse’s site reveals a myriad of small hand tools, as well as part-specific specialty tools.

“A lot of times we will get a sale from some guy looking at the site who says to himself, ‘I didn’t know they made a tool for that’ and makes a purchase for a very specific use,” Douglas said. “We also go after the hobbyist working under the shade tree in his yard. The Snap-On truck doesn’t make stops there.”

But Powerhouse is far from a hobbyist’s only site. It boasts a two-tier distribution system. In which the professional Speed Shop or jobber can create an account that allows for larger bulk tool purchases with the eye toward retail resale of the tools.

“It’s all made possible through the power of the Internet,” Douglas said. “It works well in the Comp Cams business mix and serves a very specific small market.”