Manufacturing The Perfect Beast

May 9, 2006

A cylinder head machining line in Edelbrock's shop

Programming cylinder head machining

Running through valve guide and valve seat machining

ONCE THE BACKYARD SPEED ENTHUSIAST built, tore down and rebuilt to get the most power and coolest looks from a powerplant. There were plenty of aftermarket parts from which to choose, though not all the parts were guaranteed to be compatible with each other.

With today's high precision machining processes, even the automotive OEMs run speed divisions that sell plug-and-play performance components, all the way up to complete "crate" engines. Such engines, assembled by the OEMs or by aftermarket equivalents of a Tier One supplier, suggest art museum pieces too nice to hide under a hood. The engine pictured on the cover would be better between the cowl and radiator of a '32 low boy with no hood, idling a low rumble. The dark lower mass is a mostly a stock General Motors 350 cubic inch block, while the rest of the components, including the dual-quad carbs, turn pump gas into 315 hp and 372 ft/lbs of torque. Any hot rodder would recognize the name on those valve covers, carburetors and cylinder heads, and after seven decades of operation, Edelbrock Corporation's machining operations are indistinguishable from those of an OE manufacturer.

Founder Victor Edelbrock Sr. started in a garage before the war, experimenting with performance equipment, then developing and producing aluminum intake manifolds for Ford flathead engines. The company became a full-scale business just after WWII, with crate engines a recent addition to a catalog filled with aluminum intake manifolds and cylinder heads, exhaust systems, camshafts, carburetors, EFI and nitrous system components, suspension parts, and brake and fuel lines. Vic Jr., who was just two years old when his father bought his first project car, has run the company since his father's passing in 1962. In 1987, Vic Jr. started an improvement program that took the shop from two small CNC machines to today's QS-9000/ISO 9001-rated operation with over 55 CNC machines, a dedicated foundry, and floor space totaling more than 400,000 square feet. Such capacity puts Edelbrock on par with most OE engine operations.

Most production work is for the catalog, but there is also a small team of support engineers working with NASCAR, NHRA and other race teams, like National Mustang Racing Association's Billy Glidden. According to Vic (as he prefers to be called), Edelbrock "is the only independent manifold company working with NASCAR at this time."

Like other team leaders, Glidden specifies details for components for his vehicles and Edelbrock does the manufacturing—for example, an Edelbrock/Glidden Victor Jr. head with improved air flow at a specific valve lift, which increases power output. When combined with an Edelbrock racing manifold last year, the heads helped coax 508 ft-lbs. of torque at 6,100 rpm from Glidden's 305 cu. in. (5.0 l) Ford block.

Edelbrock also works with GM, Ford and Mopar Motor Sport divisions, a relationship that has led to Edelbrock parts in optional equipment catalogs at dealerships. Notes Vic, "We stay involved in racing because it keeps us involved with what's out there. As we learn how to make better racing components, the work eventually leads to new products for street use."

Besides parts for Detroit's big three, Edelbrock produces intake manifolds for Toyota trucks, cylinder heads for Mercury and Volvo Marine, and "power packages" for Harley Davidson motorcycles. Amongst current projects is a line of performance equipment for the Rhino, a Honda-powered off-road vehicle. Little wonder the Edelbrock shop works three shifts.

As the business expanded, Vic added an aluminum foundry that "pours a lot of metal each day." Cylinder heads are green-sand cast from A356-T6 aluminum, while intake manifolds, which don't require the same high strength, use a nonheattreated alloy that machines well.

In the machining facilities are fifteen automated CNC machining centers that include six Mori Seiki MH63 twin pallet machines, and seven fully automated CNC vertical machining centers with four-and fiveaxis capabilities. Two cylinder head machining cells use three Makino A88 4-Axis units. In another work cell, two smaller Makino A55s produce water pumps, throttle bodies and other small articles. A dedicated Transfer Line machine can machine a small-block Chevy intake manifold every 2.5 minutes. All machines are linked together by an automated pallet loader. Laughs Vic, "There's no machines here with a handle, like we had years ago. Everything's done with pushbuttons now."

Suspension and exhaust system components are manufactured in a separate 37,000 square foot building . Equipment includes a Mitsubishi laser cutter and several Eaton Leonard benders for mandrel bends.

The design process has changed greatly over the years, too. OE blueprints were difficult to get 10-15 years ago. Developing a modified cylinder head for production, describes Vic, meant "taking a cast iron head and grinding it, screwing around with it, and if it ran good, you took it to your pattern maker who made a rubber plug off of it, or a wood pattern. Often the copy from the pattern wouldn't run as good, so there'd be more work." Today, heads are designed in Pro-E, and some OE manufacturers are releasing CAD files in exchange for support of their speed teams. Once Edelbrock engineers establish the head's combustion ports and chambers, an SLA machine makes a rapid-prototype model for use in the casting shop. SLA patterns are also used occasionally for manifolds. Machine tooling programs are created in-house with CIM software, with a central computer system linked to all shop equipment for immediate programming. The company has a complete testing lab with dynamometers, air/fuel ratio test monitors and emissions testers.

Edelbrock's goal has always been to build innovative parts, says Vic. This year, the company is introducing a small-block Ford street head with CNC-machined intake and exhaust ports. The design, used by NASCAR for many years, is an improvement over as-cast ports since matched machined ports add power.

There's another good reason for CNCported heads, adds Vic. "Head grinding is the dirtiest job in the world, and people who learn the technique and the tricks of the trade tend to leave companies and open their own shop." With CNC

porting, head production has greater consistency without having to train a new person to the task of porting." The biggest challenges for Edelbrock, reflects Vic, is just staying ahead of the game. Racers are sharper and better prepared today, no longer droping by at the last minute for alterations. Hot rodding and racing component manufacturing is now a business.

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