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Aftermarket Parts Fabricator Shatters Sport Compact Records With Help From Miller Welding Equipment

"Do it fast, do it furious," or so it goes in the 2001 movie The Fast and the Furious, where Los Angeles street racing enthusiasts battle for power in their finely tuned Japanese vehicles. While the import tuner enthusiasts at Skunk2 Racing in Norco, Calif. acknowledge mainstream recognition from the film, they are anything but "Hollywood." They take a purist approach to racing by sticking to the very basics; they make sport compact cars look really clean and go really fast. The company's approach may be simple, but-from its design software to its welding equipment from Miller Electric Mfg. Co.-the technology is cutting-edge.

Race-quality Products

Skunk2 Racing, started in 1994, designs, engineers and tests products primarily through its first-class race program, always keeping the true automotive or motorsports enthusiast in mind. By focusing on racing, Skunk2 develops race quality products that also benefit the consumer, a philosophy the company stands behind. "That's why we're a race-oriented company," says Dave Hsu, founder of Skunk2. "What we design and engineer for the race cars ultimately benefits the consumer. That's why we say our products are race-proven."

John Harper uses a Miller Diamondback TIG torch to weld this header. The Big Window Elite auto-darkening helmet helps novice welders when TIG welding because the position of both hands doesn’t get thrown off, as it can with old-school helmets.

Skunk2 focuses on three key areas for building high performance aftermarket parts: engine, suspension and exhaust. Skunk2 is the premier designer and manufacturer of sport compact engine valvetrain components, such as camshafts, valves, valve springs, and titanium retainers, as well as high-performance intake manifolds. Skunk2's prowess in suspension components started with lowering springs, then evolved into including drag launch springs, coilovers, and full coilovers, which include high-performance shocks as part of the coilover package. Skunk2 also is a leader in exhaust system and header design. The header engineering and designing are an attribute of their high-profile race and motorsports program. Miller equipment plays a paramount part in Skunk2's successful race program, and consumer product offerings.

In its 20,000-square foot facility, Skunk2 houses state-of-the-art engine and vehicle testing equipment, as well as equipment for forming, joining and cutting metal. For design, Skunk2 has a ROMER CimCore CMM, an 8-ft. laser arm that allows them to precisely measure vehicle components. Data is fed into a computer, armed with advanced design, engineering and manufacturing software, and the files are sent to one of several high-end technology partners for manufacturing the components. For diagnostic and performance testing, the company has chassis (load-bearing) and engine dynamometers, providing them with necessary data and distinguishing them from other sport compact companies.

Because the company prototypes components for its demanding applications, they have invested in in-house rapid prototype capabilities, a three-dimensional printer that will allow them to literally "print" ABS plastic components that can be tested right in the shop. For fabricating metal prototypes, John Harper, Skunk2's lead fabricator, uses technology from Miller Electric Mfg. Co.: the Millermatic(r) 135 and Millermatic 210 all-in-one MIG welders (the latter with optional Spoolmate(tm) 15A spoolgun for aluminum), the Dynasty(r) 300 AC/DC TIG inverter with Coolmate(tm) 3 water cooler and the Spectrum(r) 375 plasma cutter.

John Harper MIG welds this fixture using a Millermatic 210, and he uses the same welder on cars when the application calls for the MIG process.

Skunk2 utilizes a variety of metals for their spectrum and blend of race and consumer oriented components that range from various aluminum alloys, chrome molly, mild steel, to titanium. Much of the fabrication work is on aluminum, which for precision and aesthetics purposes requires clean, concentrated welds. Harper, who previously worked for Robby Gordon's 13 Winston Cup Team, understands the world of difference a machine can make to the very fine, critical weldments of race car components. "Starts and stops are just smoother with the Dynasty than any other welder I've ever used," says Harper. "It's a more stable machine, a friendlier machine. It's more consistent and I don't have any problems with it." John loves to demonstrate the capabilities of his "coveted" Miller Dynasty(r) 300. He is often requested to weld razor blades together, edge to edge, or sometimes Harper will cut apart an aluminum pop can and then proceed to weld it back together - perfectly. Harper states that "There is no way I could do this with a so-called competitive machine."

From an aesthetically pleasing perspective, Harper is partial to TIG welding. "We're in a racing environment, where aesthetics, functionality and performance are what we live on," says Harper. "And I take pride in myself for how my welds look at the end of the day. If it looks good, and it's strong and safe, we did our job."

From a body fabrication standpoint, and particularly for thicker metals, Harper uses the Millermatic 210 in the shop and takes the Millermatic 135 and Spectrum to the track. From 22 gauge sheet metal used on some of the race cars, to certain suspension components, motor mounts and motor components, up to the roll cages and mainframe structures, the Millermatic 210 provides the necessary heat and penetration for performing safe quality welds on a range of metal thicknesses.

"There's peace of mind knowing that I have enough amperage to put one of these race cars together and not have any second thoughts as to whether or not it's going to be a safe quality weld," says Harper. "Safety is our biggest concern."

Science and Speed

Skunk2 continues to break world records with their "Project Delta" racecar, such as the National ET record at the NHRA Summit Sport Compact season finale, the ET and MPH records at the BFGoodrich Tires NDRA World Finals, and the drag racing record at the Battle of the Imports. In fact, Skunk2 shatters world records. "When our transporter shows up at the track, the other teams know they are racing for second place," says Hsu. Miller equipment was instrumental in the entire development and engineering process that has made Skunk2 Racing's Project Delta an absolute sensation.

The company's approach is to take vehicles, already designed with the best engineering techniques, and turn them into rocket ships. However, they can only succeed by adopting the same engineering philosophies behind the vehicles they tune. While they may not have Formula One's budget, they understand the critical role that science and technology play in any high performance vehicle. Their scientific approach is widely revered by their loyal fans, and competitors alike.

Here, John Harper uses the Spectrum 375 plasma cutter to trim this tubing. At 55 lbs., the Spectrum is also a regular fixture on the Skunk2 transporter in case emergency repairs are needed at the race track.

"The bottom line is, it's the absolute merging of science and speed," says Hsu. "That's the way I look at it. If something happens and we don't really understand why, then we have to go back to science and try to come up with a scientific explanation why. Otherwise, it's just superstition and black magic. This also differentiates the sport compact market from the street rod market."

As the company prepared for the Seattle IDRC Battle of The Imports, Harper was anything but superstitious. "Our intention is to smash the world record for the Battle of The Imports drag record," Harper said. And, Skunk2 Director of Marketing, Frank Balogh says that "Talk is cheap, and the proof is in the pudding."

And it was. Skunk2 has posted a 9.80 at 140.71 MPH for a new ET and MPH world records. Skunk broke the world record four more times in as many weeks, as well as stunning race-goers and competitors by breaking the world record three times in less than 24-hours at the NHRA World Finals. The proof is in the pudding. And so far it has been sweet!

Skunk2 Lead Fabricator John Harper Reviews Miller's Most Popular Welding and Cutting Equipment

Millermatic 210 all-in-one MIG welder (30- to 210-amp output, welds 22-gauge to 3/8-inch steel. List* price: $1,552. Optional spool gun for MIG aluminum: $535)

In the shop, I can see quite clearly that without the 210 the effectiveness and efficiency of our prototyping and fixture making processes would be compromised drastically. I feel honored and lucky to have the equipment needed to keep the shop running as efficiently as it is now that Miller is involved.

Big Window Elite' auto-darkening helmet (List price: $299)

I'll admit that I'm "old school" when to comes to helmets, and that I often prefer non-automatic "lids." But, I can tell you that I keep the Miller Big Window Elite helmet at arms length due to its exceptional reaction time, huge viewing window, design and lightweight attributes. The sensors are located just right, and when I work in tight areas inside a racecar chassis or engine compartment, the multi-sensor arrangement is a clear advantage over anything else I've ever used. And, let's face it, the look of the helmet is by far the best on the market.

Spectrum 375 Plasma Cutter (cuts 3/8-inch thick steel, plus stainless, aluminum and other metals. List price: $1,540)

Racing is a demanding environment with multiple requirements on a moments notice. On the road we are limited in the equipment we have at our disposal. Having the plasma on hand at the track allows us to perform emergency surgery with minimal clean-up and prep for stitching up the effected area. It's a clean and simple way to move metal in a hurry, and such a pleasure to have that ability if needed.

Dynasty 200 DX AC/DC TIG inverter (advanced squarewave technology; 1- to 200-amp output. List price: $3,024)

For our portable TIG requirements, the Miller Dynasty 200 fits the bill perfectly. It goes with the race team to every track test day and to every race event. It is a permanent piece of essential equipment in our race transport. Along with our Millermatic 135 and Spectrum 375 plasma cutter, there are very few jobs that we cannot handle with these three important assets. So far we've not come up against anything that we can't solve.

Dynasty 300 DX TIGRunner" AC/DC TIG inverter (advanced squarewave technology; 5- to 300-amp output. List price: $7,029. Includes water cooler, torch, remote foot control and carrying cart/cylinder rack)

It's the finest example of a TIG machine and an absolute pleasure using. I have been welding since I was 15 years old, and now I'm 35. You could say I have used the mass majority of machines on the market. The aluminum cycle has the most predictability, adjustment and precision of any welder by far. Even if you're not a good aluminum welder, it will enable you to minimize the frustration and learn the basics. We say in the shop 'if you're not a good aluminum welder, the Dynasty will make you one.' The bottom line is that I can weld a piece of .040-inch aluminum in the morning. And after lunch with the same machine, with the touch of a button, weld a large, intricate 4130 aluminum weldment with all the muscle I need to get the job done efficiently and effectively. I used the first Miller Dynasty in 2000 or 2001 to weld 5/8-inch aluminum and was just amazed at the penetration, precision, no need for pre-heat, and the ability of the machine to produce consistent "certified" welds in an environment that dictated 110 percent quality.

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