Shop Tour: From Shocks to Carbon Fiber Driveshafts At QA1
We have many aftermarket partners here at Dragzine, and we invite the opportunity to find out how things are done on the inside by having a chance to tour a partner’s facility. As QA1 Precision Products, Inc. is one of the leading manufacturers of shocks, struts, and suspension products along with many other racecar components, when the offer was extended to take a look at how they develop their extensive product line, we took the bait and made plans to find out the skinny on QA1’s facility in Lakeville, Minnesota.
Founded in 1993, QA1 Precision Products entered the performance business with an extensive line of rod ends, spherical bearings, and custom linkages for the motorsports industry. The company subsequently purchased Hal Shocks in 1998 and started manufacturing shock absorbers for the drag racing market before moving into street and circle track shock absorber applications, all the while instituting running changes in the product as research and development dictated the need.
Acquiring Carrera Shocks in 2004 accelerated the development process, and today, the company produces shock absorbers for dozens of different applications across a wide range of markets, along with many other performance parts like subframe connectors, control arms, K-members, ball joints, rod ends, and more.
As part of our tour, we sat down with QA1’s President, Melissa Scoles, and Production Manager, Tyler Uilk, to talk about all things QA1. The massive QA1 facility in Minnesota consists of two buildings, housing approximately 83,000 square feet of space. In the main building, you’ll find the CNC department, most of the office space, the shock and strut assembly division, shipping and receiving, some of the warehouse space, the research and development portion of the company, and QA1’s brand-new Advanced Materials division.
Immediately inside the front door is a bit of office space that includes a conference room, but once you walk through the next door into the shop, that’s where the magic happens. Customer service, tech support, and sales and engineering departments are located in offices to the right, but the majority of the building is warehousing space and manufacturing.
Scoles runs the company with an open-door policy – she’s done many of the jobs in the building, and thus can assist each of the employees with their individual responsibilities. “Everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinion and change anything in their work environment,” says Uilk.
Also in this space is the quality department, rack space, robotic welder, and the CNC department. There are two separate shock assembly areas with a clean room where the smaller components are assembled and washed prior to the shock heading to the final assembly area. The R&D area, which QA1 is in the process of expanding, is at the back of this area. There will be three vehicle hoists here, along with an alignment system so that the engineering and development teams can test the fitment and performance of their product line. They also have a dedicated area to film install videos, which will all be available on their YouTube channel.
The newest addition to QA1, their Advanced Materials Division, is also housed in this building. This has the latest and greatest equipment for filament winding custom made carbon fiber driveshafts. They have a filament winding machine, curing oven, torsional tester and balancing equipment here to ensure that each driveshaft is made with the utmost quality. These products aren’t available yet, but will be later in 2014.
The secondary building, just across the parking lot, includes the fabrication division where all of the company’s suspension parts are made.
This area is where the tube benders, laser-cutter, press-brake, and saw reside, along with the pair of AWS-certified welders that burn wire all day creating QA1’s suspension parts.
The company boasts 55 full-time employees on staff; eight of them are engineers. That’s an impressive percentage of mind-power that’s dedicated to building products that perform both on the street and at the track.
Design And Development
Identification of market needs comes from customer feedback and requests. The company maintains a database with those requests and uses that in conjunction with their own market research to analyze trends and popular applications in the marketplace; this is where new products are born.
We’ll never sacrifice quality, and we’ll always make a part that’s as affordable for the racer as we can make it. – Melissa Scoles, President, QA1 Precision Products
“A lot of our employees compete themselves, in a number of different types of racing, and that drives a lot of our product development as well. They tell us what they need and we’re then able to make and test new products that way,” says Uilk.
Development is also driven by a data-acquisition system the company uses to determine operating conditions of their shock absorbers out in the field. The system measures shock speed and forces and other parameters that then are taken back to the research department for further review.
On The Dyno
Each shock and strut manufactured by the company is tested prior to shipment on one of their in-house shock dynos, which records the shock curve to ensure that valving is appropriate for the application. Each shock and strut is also serialized for tracking and warranty purposes.
If a customer has an issue, the company can trace it back all the way to the day it was built and which technician assembled the product. It permits them a higher level of service due to the ability to monitor fitment and build quality of each individual component.
The company places a great emphasis on U.S. Manufacturing. For the drag racing and street performance markets, QA1’s aluminum shocks, steel struts and all suspension components are made in-house.
QA1 produces a large number of different suspension products at their facility, geared towards the street enthusiast and drag racing marketplace. From control arms to k-members to subframe connectors, the company is always looking to make a part that’s as versatile as possible for the end-user.
Each of the suspension pieces are interchangeable with stock components, which gives the end-user the ability to upgrade in steps, rather than having to lay out a large amount of money at one time.
QA1 also offers an extensive line of other products, including rebuildable ball joints, rod ends, spherical bearings, clevises, rod eyes, and even coil springs. The company actually began in the rod end business and has since expanded to its current form. Rod ends are a large part of the business, and their Industrial Division is actually larger than the motorsports division. Like other companies in the performance industry, many of the products they build are applicable for many industrial uses.
Product design starts with computer-aided design simulation in SolidWorks. Fatigue testing is performed on a dyno, and test-fitting is done on each particular vehicle to ensure proper fitment. Road time, race time, and the aforementioned data acquisition are also helpful in determining whether a product is designed properly.
“We’re ISO 9001 certified, so everything has to be run through a quality system as well. The quality checks run through each element of production from machining the components to testing parts that are delivered by an outside supplier,” says Scoles.
There is a full quality room with all of the checking and measuring equipment required to test the product. The company also uses an outside source to test product that’s larger than what their internal machinery can handle.
“We just introduced the Advanced Materials division last year. We haven’t introduced any product there yet but will be in operation by the April/May timeframe of 2014. The first product to come out of that division will be carbon-fiber driveshafts. We see that the market is evolving with more interest in carbon-fiber and different composite materials, and as our company is very focused on engineering, we’re always looking for ways to expand and offer a quality product to the market at the right price,” says Scoles.
To that end, they’ve invested in a filament-winder, material curing, balancing equipment, and torsional testing equipment to be able to produce the product in-house.
In order to produce driveshafts that equal the rest of QA1’s high-quality product line, the company has been investigating different procedures. “We’ve been testing all sorts of materials, making sure that everything from the wind angles to the type of resins and adhesives we use are maximized for the applications we plan to build. We want them to be high-performing, cost-effective, and safe,” she says. Initially, driveshaft production will be targeted at the Dirt Late Model market, and later this year they’ll be introducing driveshaft products for the drag racing and street performance markets.
Our Overall Impression
By the end of our tour, we realized one thing – Scoles and her team are on the hunt for constant improvement in their product line. Their constant need for innovation requires them to build their own machines to perform a function if such a machine doesn’t exist, as they’ve done with the machinery to fill the shocks with oil. That’s a dirty job that no employee was happy about performing – so they went out and built a machine to do it, and morale has greatly improved as a result.