PRO-FABrication: custom-made products call for welding
Welding is an integral part of the process at PRO-FABrication in Charlotte, NC. The manufacturing facility specializes in racing exhaust systems, and the shop uses the Maxstar® 200 and Dynasty® 350 on a regular basis.
PRO-FABrication has serviced the racing industry’s needs for more than a decade by providing the finest racing exhaust systems, unparalleled components and customer service to race teams, engine builders and individuals alike. And, the company’s track record of contributing products to more than 50 championship drivers over the last 15 years shows they work with some of the most talented names in the business.
“I think our track record is something to be proud of, as it speaks to the quality of our product, length of time we’ve been in business and the relationships we’ve built,” said Steve Sousley, president of PRO-FAB.
Owner Sousley started PRO-FAB in 1995 out of a 1,200-square-foot building. Specializing in stainless steel and Inconel products, Sousley built 23 headers in that first year. Today Charlotte, N.C.-based PRO-FAB employs 14 full-time and seven part-time dedicated individuals and builds up to 350 headers per year out of their 24,000-square-foot facility.
Product accuracy and repeatability are ensured through continual and comprehensive in-house testing with the following tools and equipment: coordinate measuring machine, mandrel bending, in-house tool and die shop, and Zyglo inspection. In addition, all parts are welded and fabricated exclusively with Miller welding equipment.
“I’ve been using Miller welding equipment for over 30 years, going back to working with my dad in his shop,” says Sousley. “I’ve found Miller welders to be the best-supported products and enjoy working with the local support staff and suppliers.”
Sousley learned to TIG weld when he began working in the race industry. He and his team also continue to use several Miller MIG welders to do internal repairs, such as repairing fixtures, work benches and other maintenance work.
Sousley and the PRO-FAB team build up to 350 headers per year in the shop.
Headers and exhaust systems
All PRO-FAB headers are custom-made and hand-crafted to the customer’s specifications. PRO-FAB works with the engine builder to improve dyno results and ensure compatibility with the chassis and specific car design. The fabricators then use CAD technology, or a chassis supplied by the customer, to build the initial set of headers. To ensure that the header mounts seamlessly to the exhaust system for the best fit and optimal performance, PRO-FAB fabricates and TIG welds the headers using precision-machined flanges in a wide range of tubing gauges. PRO-FAB uses mandrel-bend primaries and merge collectors to increase exhaust velocity and performance.
When creating headers and other exhaust system components, Sousley and his team weld a wide variety of material thicknesses, and use quality machines to handle a variety of jobs and material thicknesses. Sousley and his crew primarily use the Maxstar® 200 and Dynasty® 350 TIG welders, and consider the arc control, pulsing capabilities and power consumption the most desirable features of Miller products.
“We’re typically welding anywhere from 0.018 through 0.14 stainless, Inconel or mild material — we use the Maxstar and Dynasty TIG welders through the entire range of those thicknesses. We’re typically running between 15 amps and 150 amps, and the lower power consumption we get from those machines translates into a lot of cost savings when the electric bill comes,” says Sousley.
In fact, Sousley reports he switched over from a competing welding manufacturer because the power consumption was lower on Miller equipment.
Sousley and his team use TIG welding primarily because of the aesthetic appearance of the bead, pulse and post-flow features, and the increased control over the penetration of the weld.
Have a damaged header? PRO-FAB has the ability to repair them, and repairs are typically more cost-effective than replacing the part. Because headers get extremely hot in a race situation, they have a higher risk of bending in a crash. This leads to backpressure and less efficient removal of exhaust fumes.
Sousley stresses the importance of checking headers by hand to ensure they aren’t bent or cracked — once they’ve cooled off, of course.
Tube bending and manufacturing
PRO-FAB’s unique ability to manufacture custom tubing in-house along with their CNC mandrel bending systems, allow them to fabricate everything from tailpipes to merge collectors and even complete exhaust systems in three different types of material in five different gauges as well as doing subcontracting of tube manufacturing, bending and forming for other people too.
The tube manufacturing process is slightly more involved, but allows PRO-FAB to custom-make tubing in a variety of materials and gauges and to a customer’s exact specifications. A blank is sheared from sheet metal, and then rolled and welded using advanced equipment. The welders use the TIG process to create a cleaner weld with no spatter.
Oval bending is a particularly unique process, but PRO-FAB uses oval material that has been run through a tube mill, creating a more consistent bend that’s easier to cut and fabricate.
Once the tube is created, they’re washed and run through a tumbler to make them as smooth and polished as possible. PRO-FAB either ships it as is to the customer, or bends it in one of their mandrel benders. These benders use CAD technology to create a template for the tubing, based on the vehicle type and the customer’s feedback.
“While manufacturing our products, the tubing is bent, cut and fixtured. We then use the Maxstar 200 for tack welding, complete welds as well as welding on any accessories at the end. Miller welders are used exclusively through the entire process,” says Sousley.
“This process is what sets us apart from our competition,” says Sousley. “We can custom-make the tubes to the customer’s desired specifications. We keep a large inventory of tubing in stock and can make custom pieces to order, so we’re able to quickly turn around jobs, regardless of what the customer is looking for.”
Once the tubes are created and/or bent, they’re washed and run through a tumbler to make them as smooth and polished as possible.
Tube manufacturing and bending
Focus on customer service
PRO-FAB’s No. 1 focus is building quality parts. But a big part of creating quality products, he says, is a willingness to provide exceptional service at all times.
“We can build anything for anyone at any time — that’s what separates us from the rest,” says Sousley. “We build a quality product with quality equipment and quality tubing to create a light but durable product."
“I’m satisfied knowing — at the end of the day — we’re not building some little widget going into something else,” says Sousley. “You know your parts are on some of the best race cars in the world, and winning — winning in every division that you put your parts in.”
For more information about PRO-FAB’s partnership with Miller, visit the “Who Uses Blue” section via the Racing, Customization, Restoring page on MillerWelds.com.
Customization is key at PRO-FAB