Fulrace Engineering specialises in the rebuilding of torque converters, fluid couplings and repair of transmission pumps, and these days takes automotive component manufacture and repair into the fast lane.
The words “precision machining” conjure up images of machines and processes capable of holding tight tolerances in medium to high production part runs.
In machining for performance auto racing, production runs are usually less than 20 parts, and often only one or two parts, but the need for precision, close adherence to engineering design intent, is as demanding as any general machining ever gets.
In an industry where the difference between success and failure, between making or losing tens of thousands of Rands or bragging rights is measured in seconds or even tenths of a second, every component of the race vehicle is expected to be as close to perfection as human thought and effort can make it. That is especially true for machined parts.
Tyrin Murray is well known in drag racing circles for his legendary Escort, which recently covered the quarter mile (400 metre) distance in 8.5 seconds and reached a speed of 258kph
Inside the legendary Escort. The engine has been home manufactured, as well as the clutches and other engine and chassis components
In auto racing, which includes everything from go-carts and motorcycles to the most powerful drag racing, road racing, offroad racing and oval track racing machines, driving and team management skills are critical. But the best driving and team management skills in the world won’t win a race if the race vehicle doesn’t have the potential to beat the competition. Engines must produce the most useable horsepower possible under prevailing racing class rules.
Transmissions, axles and rear ends must transfer that horsepower to the wheels as efficiently as possible. And chassis and suspension components must be adjusted, or “tuned” to match a driver’s needs and prevailing track conditions. Every one of those components uses machined parts and every part must meet or exceed the original design intent in order to give the race team the best possible chance of winning.
Compounding this situation is that engineering designs can, and often do change from race to race resulting in production times from part order to part delivery being measured in days rather than weeks or months.
That means that machine shops that want to successfully service any segment of the performance racing industry profitably must have machines and processes in place to produce very short production runs of high-precision parts very quickly.
Fulrace Engineering specialises in the rebuilding of torque converters, fluid couplings and repair of transmission pumps, as well as repair and manufacture of clutches
Components being machined on the Haas Toolroom mill
One such shop is Fulrace Engineering. Drag racing has been a part of Gavin Murray and his son Tyrin’s lives for many years. Although the shop’s main focus is on the repair and remanufacture of torque converters and transmission pumps and the balancing of engines, propshafts, shafts, armatures and fans, the fun part of the business is dealing with customers who are into drag racing and are in need of one-off components such as brackets and plates that the car builders can’t make for themselves.
Gavin has been in the automotive component repair business most of his life. He and his brother had a business that specialised in converting cars from changing gears on the steering column to the floor.
“Many US manufactured vehicles had a column shift where the lever is mounted on the steering column. This arrangement was once almost standard practice in American vehicles until relatively recently, which had the added benefit of allowing for a full width bench-type front seat. It has since fallen out of favour, although it can still be found widely on North American market pick-up trucks, vans and emergency vehicles.”
“We would work on Studebakers, Chevs, Dodges, Fords and many others. It was fun work and it fitted in with our love for racing. The business took a slightly different direction when we imported a Stuart Warner balancing machine. This machine operates on variable speed and as far as we know is still the only one in South Africa. It gives us a distinct advantage because most other balancing machines operate with a fixed speed. Variable speed means the machine can read vibrations at any speed from 0 rpms to 10 000 rpms.”
“When my brother decided to go into another line of business in 1998 I managed to secure the machine at the auction and Fulrace Engineering was established. Dynamic balancing of virtually any rotating component is still very much part of the business but we now also offer many other services for clients and enthusiasts in the automotive industry. The only limitation we have on the balancing side is that we cannot entertain any component that is over 1 000 kilograms.”
Torque converters and more
“Another important aspect of the business is that we repair and remanufacture torque converters for all kinds of vehicles, busses or forklifts in both the automotive and industrial industry. This was a natural progression because we were already in the automotive business.”
“What is a torque converter? In the automatic gearbox you will have a torque converter. In essence a torque converter replaces the clutch in the automatic gearbox.”
The repair and rebuilding of torque converters is one of Fulrace Engineering’s specialities
The Murray family – Tyrin, Kyle, Gavin and Avril
“Our clients are mainly gearbox repair companies because if you are overhauling your gearbox you also need to overhaul your torque converter. It makes no sense not to do both at the same time.”
“We have repaired converters for Jeep, Toyota, Mercedes Benz, Isuzu, Jag, Ford, Chevy, Honda, Rover, Nissan, Mazda, Dodge, Colt, Renault, Alpha, Volvo, Valiant, Passat, Landrover, BMW, Audi and Peugeot. You could say virtually all the OEMs.”
“On the industrial side we can repair any torque converter or the fluid couplings. To name a few we have seen Yale, Hella, Brock house, Hitachi, Samsung, Daewoo, Daihatsu, Alison, Komatsu, Ford, Borg Warner, Nissan, Toyota, Massy Ferguson, Hyster, TCM, Funk and Hannemag torque converters move through our shop. We are also able to repair all the ZF type torque converters as well.”
“Propshaft repair and balancing is another one of our specialities.”
Family run business
As is customary with most family run businesses the children that end up in the business have usually been part of the business from a young age. Fulrace Engineering is no different and Gavin’s son Tyrin has been on the shopfloor since he was a toddler. It goes even further. Tyrin’s son and daughter are now part of the business, and sister Avril has looked after the administration side since the beginning. Daughter Tanita even boasts to her male friends that she works on CNC machines and is learning to programme them.
Tyrin has also followed in his father’s footsteps in his love for drag racing.
“You could say that we are ‘petrol heads’ or ‘performance freaks’ because of the business we are in and having drag racing as our passion. We virtually live, sleep and eat everything to do with the automotive world. There is very little that we cannot figure out and fix. This comes from years of working in the industry and we are always looking for ways to serve this industry.”
Tyrin is well known in drag racing circles for his legendary Escort, which recently covered the quarter mile (400 metre) distance in 8.5 seconds and reached a speed of 258kph.
“Not bad for my late Mum’s old car,” said Tyrin.
Down the road
But it is what is inside the Escort that really makes the sprint car stand out. Murray’s engine stands apart from others when the ‘Boys’, or should I say grown men, are showcasing their most iconic hard-core altered cars in the country at the Tarlton racetrack.
The first CNC machine that Fulrace Engineering purchased was a Haas Toolroom mill
The second CNC machine that Fulrace Engineering purchased was a Haas TL 1 CNC lathe
“Our goal is to do the quarter mile in six seconds or less. For a four-cylinder that will be some achievement.”
Tyrin does admit though that he would not have been able to get a sub-10-second 400 metre sprint car without the help of his home manufactured race engine, clutches and other engine and chassis components.
CNC machining has been a big part of Tyrin’s ability to manufacture the one-off components that he needs for his passion. And of course the machines fit perfectly into the father and son’s strategy to have fun while coming up with a solution for a client.
“We hate repetitive work and will never go into the production business. We have purchased CNC machines that compliment each other and we use them to machine components where we have suggested design change, to improve component strength and/or functionality,” explained Gavin.
“We also look at the machines giving us better return than if our money was sitting in the bank. We only need a few specialist orders a week and we are making more than the interest derived from a cash investment.”
Earlier this year the company purchased their third Haas machine. This time the company decided on a Haas VF-3 vertical milling machine that has 1016 x 508 x 635mm XYZ travels, 40 taper, 22.4 kW vector drive, 8100 rpm, inline direct-drive, 20-station carousel tool changer and 25.4 m/min rapids
Components that have been manufactured or repaired at Fulrace Engineering
“Additionally we love to be able to help a client whose only alternative is to import the component at great expense. We are quite capable of doing import replacement and often we make an improvement. If we have to machine from a billet or block we will do so. Tyrin’s engine is a good example. He has machined that from block.”
“Hubs, transmission pump housings and brackets, bushes, seals, clutch plates, button clutches, flywheels, splines, fans, you name it, we can either repair, reline, overhaul or manufacture new.”
The first CNC machine the company purchased was back in 2004 when they acquired a Haas Toolroom mill to make parts for the sealed and bolt and part torque converters. Thereafter Fulrace Engineering saw gaps in the market and started making other components such as racecar parts. The machine is still very much part of the machining mix because as the Murrays say “We do not believe in overworking our machines.”
It would be another six years before the second Haas landed on the floor but this time it was a Haas TL 1 CNC lathe.
“The machine is relatively small in that it only has a swing over the cross slide of 241mm, a maximum turning diameter of 406mm, a maximum turning length of 762mm and a spindle speed of 2,000 RPM. We do not need bigger at this stage because of the size of components that we machine. Two of the components that we machine on the lathe are shafts and hubs, both of which are machined from billet,” explained Tyrin who is the driver behind the CNC machines.
“Initially I was taught the basics on how to operate the CNC machines by Johan Pieterse of Haas but otherwise I am a self taught machinist,” added Tyrin.
At the age of 71 Gavin, who is still very much involved in the business, prefers to tinker on the conventional machines that the company has and put his skills to the test on the drawing board. Gavin is a mechanical draughtsmen with an advanced technical 2 qualification, specialising in maths, mechanical design and theory of structures and served his time with Edward L Bateman.
Recent purchase – Haas VF-3 milling machine with 4th axis
Earlier this year the company purchased their third Haas machine. This time the company decided on a Haas VF-3 vertical milling machine that has 1016 x 508 x 635 mm XYZ travels, 40 taper, 22.4 kW vector drive, 8100 rpm, inline direct-drive, 20-station carousel tool changer and 25.4 m/min rapids.
“In order to survive in today’s competitive marketplace, small job shops must find ways to cut costs and increase productivity, all without sacrificing quality. People aren’t going to accept second best any more. You have to exceed the customer’s expectations, or they’re going to go somewhere else,” says Tyrin.
Dynamic balancing of virtually any rotating component is still very much part of the business but the company now also offers many other services for clients and enthusiasts in the automotive industry. The only limitation they have on the balancing side is that they cannot entertain any component that is over 1 000 kilograms
The Murrays are confirmed ‘petrol heads’ or ‘performance freaks’ because of the business that they are in, and having drag racing as their passion
“This machine does put us into another category because of the 4th axis, longer travels, speed and the ability to set up multiple fixtures quickly and easily. Again we have not purchased it for its production capabilities but rather to give us alternative machining capabilities.”
“Most people wouldn’t buy a CNC machine tool without understanding the first thing about setting it up or operating it. That is not exactly true in our case but we are still having to go through a big learning curve.”
“We’re pretty confident we can push the components through enough to make money on it, and still give our customers a good price. You have to be able to give the customer a high-quality part at a good price, or you’re not going to be doing the part anyway,” says Gavin.
“Being creative means taking risks and being adaptable,” he says, “and CNC machines are the most adaptable production equipment ever made. Because machine tools still represent the power to create, they will appeal to the creative powers of people with talent and imagination.”
For the Murrays machining has both the promise to fulfill a passion and the potential to provide a livelihood. This is surely a cause for hope and optimism in looking to the future.
For further details contact Fulrace Engineering on TEL: 011 433 4506 or visit www.fulrace.co.za