Here’s How Flaming River Sets the Steering Systems Aftermarket on Fire
What better place for car enthusiasts to get custom, quality steering systems for street rods, muscle cars, classics, and trucks than a company that is run by car enthusiasts?
Flaming River was founded in Berea, Ohio in 1987 and is owned by Jeanette Ladina (President & CEO). Today, a full line of steering-related components such as tilt steering columns, power rack and pinions, steering shafts, billet accessories, and other related products can be found in their catalog and on their website.
The company's place at the top of the auto aftermarket sector is confirmed by their ISO 9000 certification, by the passion of car buffs for their products, and by numerous awards for engineering and innovation (the company is a seven-time Best in Show winner at SEMA).
We asked Jeanette to give us the background on the growth of the company, and the part played by Ellison Technologies and DN Solutions machine tools.
Finding a Niche
Named for the nearby Cuyahoga River, which had the habit of catching fire in the 1960s, Flaming River began as a sourcing company, working with different suppliers to find rare components for the hot rod industry and auto racing. As time passed, original parts became harder and harder to find. And at best, most OEMs had limited new steering setups on their shelves, usually manufactured overseas. Jeanette and her team saw an opportunity. "By listening to our customers, we discovered what they really wanted was high-quality custom parts in small quantities machined to their specifications," she said.
"A steering system can have all different types of setups. Because we build it in-house, we can customize each piece to the customer's particular requirements. It’s very turnkey, and other companies can’t do that."
To fill this gap, the company began a push into manufacturing.
The company needed to tool up for the switchover and knew just where to go for guidance. "We’ve worked with Ellison for a long time," Jeanette said. "Matt Bujoll (President of the Ellison Cleveland Office) knows us, knows what we’re looking for, and knows what will fit."
The first machine Flaming River bought was a Japanese twin pallet horizontal machining center, which was very new tech at the time, but has its limitations. "Every time a job changed, we had to tear everything down and redo it," Jeanette said. "Constant programming, fixturing and adjusting consumes all your time. We need maximum flexibility and found it in the DN Solutions NHP 4000 with a 12-pallet system."
NHP + Lights Out Automation
The NHP 4000 was a perfect fit for Flaming River's needs. It features automatic tool changes in under a second, a 15,000 RPM spindle, thru-spindle and flood coolant, center-thru chip evacuation, highly precise linear guides, large work area, and a compact footprint. "Now we can set jobs up and store them in the library. That makes us faster and allows us to better control our inventory. The NHP 4000 has given us room to grow."
That statement gains even more truth when you factor in the powerful automation paired with the NHP 4000. A standard horizontal machining center comes with two pallets, but Ellison paired Flaming River’s new NHP with a 12-pallet Linear Pallet System (LPS).
“The 12 pallets and setup station allow Flaming River to run their NHP through the night,” said Matt Bujoll, President of the Ellison Technologies Ohio territory. “Camera feeds let them monitor production through their phones whenever they need to.”
Turning Center Standouts
The NHP isn’t the only Ellison-installed machine with automation equipped. The company has also purchased a PUMA 2600SY, PUMA 300, and a Lynx from Ellison, and the 2600SY is equipped with a robot that was integrated and set up by Ellison Ohio.
"The new machines, with more power and beefier spindles, run parts faster," Jeanette said. "The Lynx and the PUMA 2600SY both have bar feeders on them, so we can run bars lights out."
“The guys at Ellison are just always willing to help,” said Rocco Piccolomini, Operations Manager at Flaming River. “Really, if you have a problem, they’re there right away. That’s the big thing.”
When it comes to using machine tools from DN Solutions, Jeanette says it's all about the people who service them and stand behind the product. "We're not into disposable machines," she said. "Matt and his team at Ellison are willing to work with us until everything runs smoothly, both now and well into the future."
Awards & Accolades
Flaming River does their own R&D on what they build, coming up with their own product ideas. Over the past 30+ years, the company has designed many award-winning products, including the Tilt Steering Column program and Rack and Pinion Cradle Kits.
Top honors were also given to the VDog® Variable Angle Gear, which was named the SEMA Best New Street Rod and SEMA Best Engineered new product, and the Custom Microsteer Column, which won the SEMA Best New Street Rod/Custom Car Product award.
"Probably 2,000 new products a year are reviewed, and for a company our size to win so many awards speaks to the perfect combination of ideas plus technology we have here," said Ron Domin, VP at Flaming River. "Best of all, these new products are made in the USA."
Jeanette's favorite part of her job is developing something the customers love to have on their vehicles. "We get to help a lot of people make their dreams come true."
Whether you're new to manufacturing or expanding your business, Ellison Technologies can provide equipment that precisely matches your needs. Contact us to find a representative in your area.