Recently, the good folks at AFCO Racing Products and Dynatech invited us to tour their manufacturing facilities to get a behind-the-scenes look at – and share with our readers – something that most will never get to see.
Founded in 1983 and nestled in the small midwestern town of Boonville, Indiana, AFCO Racing Products designs and manufactures a full line of industry-renowned shocks, springs, and cooling components for the high performance and racing industry, with satisfied customers across the nation and around the world.
And while AFCO and Dynatech are both professional, nationally-recognized operations in every sense of the word, as you step inside their facility and converse with the individuals that make it all happen, you can’t help but sense the homegrown, almost local hardware store-like atmosphere. From the front office staff to those rebuilding shocks and welding headers, everyone is passionate about cars and about racing. Many are active or former grassroots area racers, and all have ties to the local racing community. Sure AFCO and Dynatech are national players, but they certainly haven’t forgotten where they came from.
The AFCO and Dynatech facilities are housed in two separate buildings, but share a common engineering and research and development department.
AFCO's shock assembly area
Shock Assembly Area
After arriving at the AFCO facility and engaging in the obligatory bench racing session with our tour guides, which included Drag Racing Product Manager Eric Saffell, it was time to pull up anchor and head out on our tour.
Our tour, which will wind through the AFCO facility and then a few short steps into the building that houses Dynatech, begins in the shock assembly area at AFCO, which contains several assembly and sub-assembly stages that are all utilized when a specific production run begins.
When the orders come in, the shocks are first assembled in an area that features a tray of shims, where engineers will retrieve the appropriate parts based on the compression stack and rebound stack requirements for the specific shock.
A fact pointed out to us while in assembly is that a large majority of the shocks that AFCO produces utilize deflective disk technology. Thus, racers can know they’re getting made-in-the-USA quality in the care of someone building it by hand and validating it. Deflective disk valving of course allows for complete tuning of the shock per the driving and handling needs, and is the latest in shock technology in the industry today.
The Dyno Room
Just a few steps from the assembly area you’ll find the impressive dyno room, where each and every shock is thoroughly tested for proper operation and specifications.
Utilizing a special dynamometer, AFCO translates all of the information during the process to a computer, where a graph is created, displaying the entire operation of the shock for members of the engineering team to review in real-time.
AFCO engineers keep studious notes on the testing information from the shock, which they can use for reference, should a racer call for information on their shock or send it back in for a rebuild at a later time. Along with testing each shock that’s manufactured, dyno testing is also a key element in the development of new shock designs and valve codes.
The Rebuild Station
As is more common with oval and dirt track cars, shocks will endure a lot of wear and tear through normal use, and over time, those shocks come due for a freshening-up, if you will. Along with numerous rebuild centers all across the country, AFCO technicians will disassemble and make any needed repairs to shocks at their facility, which can typically be turned around within one to two days.
The rebuilding station sees a variety of team's shocks that will be sent back throughout the season for dynoing and rebuilds.
Research and Development
After the dyno room, we make our way to the Research and Development area, where AFCO engineers develop new shocks based on the needs of their customers and the marketplace, aiming to create a unit that caters to the exact needs of both the professional and grassroots racer.
AFCO’s team of engineers will perform field tests at the track with several different shocks and collect data in real-time utilizing special data collection equipment, which can be played back and analyzed to make changes and improve the product.
In the field, AFCO's pro-type shocks can be easily identified with this special orange sticker on the shock body.
AFCO Engineers hand-welding one of their many radiators
With units for everything from hot rods and muscle cars to dirt and oval track and drag racing, radiators represent an extensive part of AFCO’s business, and their radiator production area is a well-oiled machine of stations that churn out these popular units to the highest degree of quality.
AFCO’s aluminum coolant tanks – both of the single and double-pass variety – are designed and crafted in-house. Each radiator goes through a small group of stations where the tanks are fitted, spot-welded, finish-welded, and the distinctive blue AFCO logo painted on.
In addition to AFCO’s standard production run of radiators, they also produce custom radiators per a customers’ one-off specifications or in a small custom production run for a chassis builder to the tune of “a fair amount” per week. For that, a talented fabricator is assigned the role of mapping out the prototypes and crafting the radiators piece-by-piece from aluminum stock.
We've all been at the track and seen the blue-labeled AFCOm radiators, and this is where it happens.
Hop, Skip, And A Step To Dynatech
Just a few paces across the lot from the main AFCO facility is the Dynatech production facility, which is the next stop on our tour. And while fully expecting tube benders and welding stations just as you walk in the door, you’re met with one of AFCO’s other R&D departments; this one housing the company’s in-house supercharged 2011 Mustang GT 5.0L and 2011 Chevrolet Camaro test beds, along with a wicked ’69 Fastback Mustang with a 5.0L Coyote swap that Gateway Classic Mustang has brought over from Missouri to receive a custom set of headers.
Just inside the Dynatech building is the AFCO Research and Development area, where where exhaust, suspension, chassis, data acquisition, and other research and development work is carried out. AFCO presently has both a 2011 Mustang and Camaro that are used for R&D purposes.
It is this self-sustaining area where exhaust, suspension, chassis, data acquisition, and other research and development work is performed by AFCO’s engineering team.
The new Mustang and Camaro, both a large source of sales for the automotive aftermarket, are utilized on a weekly basis for testing of suspension and exhaust components. These cars are equipped with caster-camber plates, AFCO’s front struts, springs, Dynatech headers, and what’s known as a Stealth Quiet exhaust package.
While we were at AFCO, a slick '69 Mustang built by Gateway Classic Mustangs with a 5.0L Coyote swap under the hood was in the R&D area being fitted with a set of custom headers.
Dynatech’s Production Area
A line of completed headers hanging on a rack and ready for shipment provides a glimpse of what’s to come as we round the corner to the header and exhaust production area, where rows upon rows of racks with headers in various but organized stages of completion hang, ready for the next step in the manufacturing process.
As you step into the header productiona rea, you're met with rows of racks containing headers in various stages of the manufacturing process. A cool sight, indeed.
in beginning the process, the pipes that make up a set of headers are pre-cut to the appropriate length at a cutting station and then sent over to a group of bending machines, which operate to bend the tubes based on pre-programmed values for angles and length. Once shaped, the pipes are moved to this rather large work area, where several stations are situated around the perimeter of the room; each assigned to a specific model of production header programs.
At left is one of several welding stations that are assigned to specific production runs of headers. At right, you can see a comparison between an in-process header where tube excess has been left before being massaged down flush with the flange and welded on the cylinder head side.
At these stations, the header pipes, collector, and the flanges are welded together, with some excess left at the cylinder head end of the pipes. The pipes are spot-welded to the flange, and then ground down flush with the flange. They are then fully Tig-welded on the cylinder head side of the flange, which AFCO engineers have found to take away from the heat effected zone on the other side of the flange; thus reducing the possibility of cracks.
Polishing For Quality
Once finished, each header spends an estimated 30 to 45 minutes being meticulously cleaned and polished by hand – including removal of the unsightly weld ‘berries’ and weld smoke. The extra time and effort taken to perform such a process is but one of many steps taken by Dynatech to ensure a product of the absolute highest quality and worksmanship, and seeing this process makes one truly appreciate what goes into every part that rolls out the door.
With the makeover complete, each and every header that Dynatech produces is then checked for proper form and function at a station just outside of the production area. Here, a technician bolts the header down to a work table set up for inspections, and armed with a checklist, works through the process of ensuring a perfect product. First, the flanges are checked with a feeler gauge to make for a perfect seal with the gasket, and then tolerances in various regions of the header design are checked to fit within 1/16-inch of the specifications set by the tight confines of many engine compartments. Finally, the entire assembly and all of the welds are run over by hand to check for satisfactory manufacturing and cleaning work.
Every header manufactured at Dynatech is checked for build quality. Everything from flange gap to fitment tolerances to the cleanliness of the finish is throughly chedked before being sent out the door.
Dynatech prides itself on producing headers of the highest quality on the market that fit right out of the box without beating and banging to install, and it’s in the design department and here at the quality checking station where that mission is made reality.
Back To The Beginning. Literally.
After having seen where the concepts are turned into physical product, we turn the pages back a few steps and conclude our tour by visiting AFCO and Dynatech’s extensive engineering offices, where a team of high performance-minded thinkers collaborate to continually conceptualize, design, draw, and test new parts and ideas.
New products designs go through an extensive process before becoming physical and pubicly available products, all beginning with 3D CAD concept designs by the AFCO engineering team.
But prior to any of this happening, however, the engineering and track support teams combine to research and observe the industry and speak with racers to determine a place in the market for a new product or a need for enhancements upon an existing design. From there, early conceptual drawings are made using all of the parameters found in their market research.
Engineers at AFCO utilize industry standard SolidWorks and Pro/Engineer Wildfire 3D CAD software suites to create three-dimensional designs and perform validation. Once the concepts have been created, engineers will go through a concept review with the sales team, and once a concept is decided upon, a design validation is performed to determine area where the product might fail in the field and any potential issues with the product before ever produced. Once those areas – if they exist – are discovered, the designs are tweaked to mitigate any risk before steps are taken to begin manufacturing.
With a design completed, a product then heads into the prototyping phase with 2D and 3D drawings on the computer, prototype the components on-screen, and then create a physical prototype. That part will go through extensive in-house testing on the dyno and later, field testing on the race track. Although field testing will display any potential issues with the product, the engineering teams’ aim in every design is to handle problems before the prototype is ever machined.
And with that, our tour of AFCO and Dynatech has reached the finish line. To say that this facility and the operations that go on within its walls is impressive would be understatement. On our tour, we saw first hand what goes into the design of new products from the ground up, from the minute and highly technical details undertaken in the engineering department to the craftsmanship shown in the production area and the virtually unmatched attention to quality assurance should leave little doubt that any product purchased from AFCO and Dynatech is as solid a product as one can obtain. And they’re darn proud of it.