Truck Camper Magazine visits Hellwig factory in Visalia, California and finds out what’s hot, extremely hot, screaming orange and yellow hot, at Hellwig.
The day after our visit at Lance Campers, we drove our camper 170 miles north to Hellwig Products in Visalia, California. Hellwig Products had joined the magazine while we were in Denver, Colorado and we were very excited about the opportunity to meet their team and see their facility. We had no idea what irons in the fire Hellwig Products had in store for us, literally.
Hellwig Products manufactures sway bars and helper springs and offers a line of air suspension products. Sway bars, also known as stabilizer bars, anti-sway bars, and anti-roll bars, are suspension enhancement products that are designed to decrease sway and body roll and improve cornering traction and control. Hellwig Products also touts the advantages of sway bars for towing and heavy hauling. Obviously anything that controls sway and aids with towing and heavy hauling is right up our alley.
LEFT: Our guides for our visit were none other than Mark Hellwig, President of Hellwig Products, and Melanie White, Mark’s daughter and Hellwig Products’s Marketing Director. Mark is the third generation owner of Hellwig Products and told us wonderful stories about his father and grandfather. We’ll be interviewing Mark in Truck Camper Magazine in the near future to learn more about Hellwig’s history and products.
CENTER: If you call Hellwig Products with a product question or need customer support, you’ll most likely talk with Tim Lamarsna. Tim has been at Hellwig Products for many years and has worn many hats at the company. We only met Tim for a few minutes, but we quickly got the sense that he’s the go to guy for any Hellwig Products question.
RIGHT: The Hellwig Products factory is nestled in a California farming community and gives no exterior indication of what lies inside.
The first room we walked into at Hellwig’s manufacturing plant immediately reminded us of the Rieco-Titan factory. There were the immense punch presses, custom steel dyes, and the familiar, “Cah-CHUNK” sounds bringing back recent memories of Rieco-Titan’s Bertha.
LEFT: At the front of the room were piles of long steel bars of varying thickness. Mark explained that the steel Hellwig uses is either 4140 chromoly steel for the sway bars or 5150 steel for the helper springs. This exact steel chemistry allows Hellwig Products to heat, form, and treat the steel into finished Hellwig sway bars and helper springs.
CENTER AND RIGHT: In these two photographs you see Garland Slover punch cutting (CENTER) and Corny Ortiz using a CNC machine to cut the steel bars (RIGHT). While the sound of steel being cut isn’t exactly music, it was neat to watch the machine precisely cut the bars to length.
Without question, the furnace area at Hellwig Products is the most extreme environment we’ve ever been in as a magazine. Like something out of a Steven King novel, the furnaces have a dark and menacing presence. Inside they glow an intense orange and yellow that screams, “Danger! Extremely hot!”. And if the visuals weren’t enough to set off your common sense alarms, the incredible heat coming off these firey beasts certainly would be. With Mark and Melanie calmly guiding us, we settled down and enjoyed the show.
Here see Robert Rios heating, bending, and punching solid steel sway bars. After the steel bars have been heated to 2,200 degrees, Robert moves the bars into a bending press and then into a punch press. The punch press puts 520 pounds per square inch of pressure on the heated steel to punch holes in the bar. Once half of the bar has been heated, bent, and punched, the other half of the bar is placed back into the furnace to be heated, bent, and punched.
On the backside of the press, an invisible laser barrier prevents the press from operating should someone get too close to the press during operation. We learned this after getting too close with our camera and shutting down the press. In the center photograph you see Robert signaling to us that we were in the way.
Hellwig Products manufactures a significant amount of product for other companies including Freightliner Trucks, the largest manufacturer of heavy duty trucks and chassis in North America, and Oshkosh Corporation, a leading manufacturer of defense, fire, emergency, and commercial trucks.
TOP ROW: The jig shown in these photographs was custom designed to manufacture sway bars for a major Hellwig Products client. Again the steel is heated to 2,200 degrees before being lifted by Raymond Martinez and Roy Rader with steel tongs and placed into the jig. Once the heated steel bar is in the jig, Raymond and Roy operate the jig to bend the metal both horizontally and vertically.
BOTTOM ROW: Once the bends are completed, the bar is again lifted via tongs and placed into a 100 to 225 degree mineral oil bath. When the hot steel bar hits the oil there’s an immediate hot flash of fire and steam as the metal descends into the bubbling liquid. Raymond and Roy have to move fast to avoid the firey hot flash.
Along side of their sway bar production, Hellwig also manufactures a line of steel helper springs. Once removed from the furnace with steel tongs, the spring is punched on one press (LEFT) and then the curvature of the spring is formed on a second press (CENTER). After the spring has been punched and pressed into shape, it’s dropped out the back side of the second press and into a hot mineral oil bath (RIGHT).
There are multiple stations for sway bar production in the Hellwig plant. Each one is designed for a different thickness of metal bar and has a different corresponding jig. Here Raymond and Roy hold another glowing hot orange bar, bend it around the jig, and then lower it into the hot oil mineral bath.
After the hot metal processes are completed, the steel is put on a conveyor belt and cooled enough to touch. The formed steel products are then placed into a 1,001 degree draw furnace to change the metal grain structure from loose to tight. This changes the steel to the appropriate strength for use as sway bars or helper springs. Without the draw furnace, the steel would be far too brittle to place into a vehicle.
Once through the draw furnace, the parts are rinsed and the quality control inspects the sway bars and springs. A small percentage of sway bars and springs are then adjusted with cold hydraulic presses to bring the parts into Hellwig’s specifications.
Speaking of cold presses, not everything at Hellwig is heated until orange hot, bent, pressed, and then soused in bubbling mineral oil. Tubular steel bars used for smaller automotive sway bars are bent without heat with a hydraulic CNC press. In these photographs, Dave Wheeler programs the CNC press and then steps back as the machine automatically bends, twists, and turns the metal into shape.
After passing quality control, the sway bars and helper springs are placed into one of two large metal tumblers that descale the products until smooth.
LEFT AND CENTER: In the these photographs you can see one of the tumblers and the metal medium inside the tumblers that removes the scale.
RIGHT: This photograph shows a part before entering the tumber (right part) and after (left part). Once the sway bars and helper springs have been tumbled, they are ready for powder coating.
Fresh out of the tumblers, the sway bars and helper springs are hung on metal racks and wheeled over to the powder coating area. Power coating applies a very fine mist of polyethylene plastic powder which sticks to the product when an electrostatic charge is applied. In these photographs, Gino Hernandez (LEFT) and Rogelio Vega (CENTER) apply the powder to sway bars with powder coating guns. The right photograph shows the oven where the powercoating is baked.
Once the powder has been applied, the sway bars and helper springs are placed into a 400 degree oven and baked for thirty minutes. This liquifies plastic onto the metal creating a durable bond to protect the products against corrosion and road abrasion.
In the above three photographs you can see the product as it appears from the tumbler (LEFT), with the powder coat applied (CENTER), and after baking (RIGHT). Hellwig sway bars and helper springs are given one of two powder coat colors, gloss black (pictured right) and hammertone, which is a grey speckled finish. After powder coating is completed, the sway bars and helper springs are ready to be packaged and shipped to Hellwig distributors.
As Hellwig receives orders from their distributors, the products are pulled from the shelves and racks (LEFT) and assembled into Hellwig packaging. Once the products for an order are packaged, the packaged products are placed onto a palette for shipping.
Mike Helon is the foreman in charge of the Hellwig Products warehouse. Mike showed us how he packages the products (CENTER) and wraps the completed palettes for shipping. We were most impressed with the fire breathing Shrinkfast blowtorch device Mike uses to shrink wrap the palettes (RIGHT). Let’s just say Mike and his Shrinkfast give new meaning to “packing heat”.
We truly had a blast at Hellwig Products. Actually, make that blasts plural including blasts of heat from their 2,200 degree furnaces and blasts of steam from their tanks of hot bubbling oil. Of course it was also a blast getting to know this dynamic family owned company and its team. We’re very excited that they’re turning their attention to truck campers and look forward to our interview with Mark to learn more about the company’s history and the benefits of their products.
And did we mention they’re cooking up something specific for the truck camper market? That’s one iron in the fire that will have to wait.
For more information about Hellwig Products, visit www.hellwigproducts.com.