Partnering for Growth: Dan Patrick Enterprises and HFO Midwest

Dan Patrick Enterprises has grown from a farm boy’s hobby to the gold standard for monster truck chassis and parts; HFO Midwest

Dan Patrick believes in seizing opportunities when they present themselves. His firm, Patrick Enterprises, Inc. (Circleville, OH), has grown from a mere sidelight, something he did to augment his income from farming, to the gold standard for building or repairing monster trucks. Many of the most famous and successful vehicles in the monster truck field -- trucks like Bigfoot, Grave Digger, and Bounty Hunter -- have chassis built by Patrick. He was aided in this growth by his determination and entrepreneurial spirit, along with help from high quality machine tools and the knowledgeable people who sell them.

Patrick, however, didn't set out to be a leader in the field of monster trucks. “My background is in farming," he relates, “and tractor and truck pulls were something my family did as a sort of hobby. We began to notice monster trucks coming on the scene in the early to mid-80s as a sort of fill-in, or novelty, at some of the tractor and truck pull events that we took part in.”

Patrick had another sideline: fabricating parts for the types of trucks that he competed against on weekends. “The 80s were a difficult time for farming,” he recalls, “and at a certain point back then I saw that I was making more money from my part time fabricating work than I was from the farm.” The die was cast.

Working out of his 3,500 sq. ft. shop, Patrick plunged wholeheartedly into metalworking. His chief customer was the rapidly growing monster truck industry, for whom Patrick parts became synonymous with quality. Why? Simple: “We stand behind our products,” says Patrick.

By the late 80s this attitude, coupled with a lot of old fashioned know-how, had propelled Patrick Enterprises to the forefront of monster truck parts suppliers. In 1989 the company ceased

to produce only parts and built its first complete monster truck.

It was the first of many. The same attitude that had propelled Patrick Enterprises to the front rank of parts builders was evident in the company’s approach to the building of chassis and complete monster trucks. So much so, in fact, that by 2004 when reporters from Monster Truck Racing News visited the Patrick workshop they spoke of “the famous ‘Patrick Chassis.’”

In 2007 the company moved from its 3,500 sq. ft. workshop to a 10,000 sq. ft. facility. “Frankly,” confides Patrick, “at the time I wondered if we would ever need this much room.” Two years later they reached another milestone, moving for the first time into production machining with the purchase of a Haas CNC machine.

Crossroads

“We were at a crossroads,” recalls Patrick. “We had been outsourcing our machining work, and then the machine shop we had been dealing with went out of business. Worse, this was the third machine shop in seven years that we had been dealing with that had closed its doors. It seemed clear that if we were to continue offering machined parts under the Patrick imprint we would have to start machining them ourselves.”  Patrick made the decision to purchase the closed shop’s equipment. “They had a number of older manual machines of a type we were familiar with, but they also had a Haas TM-3 CNC mill. That was their crown jewel.”

Patrick and his small staff had no previous experience with CNC machining. “It was a big transition for us and we were very nervous going into it,” he admits. Fortunately, the Haas TM Series CNC Toolroom Mills are designed to provide an easy transition from manual to CNC machining. That’s because they come standard with the Haas Intuitive Programming System, a proprietary programming system that simplifies and eases set-up and operation  – even without knowledge of G-code.

With help from an experienced machinist who was brought in to serve as point man for the transition, as well as lead programmer, Patrick and his crew were soon producing parts on the TM-3. Not only did this prove faster and more economical than outsourcing parts, it gave Patrick more control over the final product.

“Our good reputation is an essential part of our business,” notes Dan Patrick, “and when

 we machine the parts ourselves we can be absolutely sure that they are exactly the way we intended them to be, something that wasn’t always the case when we outsourced our machining

work.”


Roughly a year after the purchase of the TM-3 Patrick brought another Haas on board. “The US Hot Rod Association, one of the key promoters in the field, is a customer of ours,” Patrick says. “At the time they had a fleet of 30 trucks but they planned to expand to 40 and they wanted us to build parts for those additional 10 trucks. Many of these were turned parts. I looked at our old manual lathe and said no way I can build all those parts on that old thing.”

This is where Haas Factory Outlet Midwest, Twinsburg, OH, comes in. HFO Midwest is a full service distributor for Haas Automation, offering not only the complete line of Haas machine tools and rotary tables but also replacement parts for next day delivery, and providing installation and ongoing service.

The Right Machine

Patrick was leaning toward Haas because of the success he’d had with the TM-3 and because he believed in standardizing whenever possible, so he approached HFO Midwest. The distributor worked with him to identify the right machine for his needs, which turned out to be an SL-30 turning center.

There were a number of reasons for this. For one thing, Haas turning centers are designed to be extremely rigid, highly accurate, and very thermally stable. All castings have been optimized using finite element analysis (FEA) to produce the most rigid designs, while improving chip and coolant flow, and simplifying maintenance and service. The spindle heads feature a compact, symmetrical design for thermal stability and rigidity.

In addition, the Haas turning centers feature next-generation digital servomotors on all axes for precise motion control, and are available with fully programmable tailstocks for additional workpiece support. Robust tool turrets index quickly to reduce cycle times, and live tooling and C-axis options are available on most models to perform secondary operations without refixturing.

The SL-30 in particular is designed to provide heavy cutting ability, a definite plus when processing monster truck shock tubes and other large parts, along with the high rigidity and thermal stability that Haas turning centers are known for. These versatile 10-in. chuck machines have a maximum capacity of 21 x 26-in. and feature a 30 hp spindle that turns to 3400 rpm. A 12-station BOT turret is standard, and rapids are 945 ipm.

Patrick purchased the SL-30 in July of 2010. How has his choice worked out? “We were

amazed at how much faster our production was after this machine was up and running.” The large US Hot Rod Association order was handled smoothly as a result, but the business continued to grow along with the monster truck industry that it serves, so, again working with HFO Midwest, Patrick Enterprises bought another Haas machine tool. This time it was 'used' SL-20.  Santoro adds 'that the 'used' machine was a steal because it had been employed in robotic parts loading demonstrations and had not been used to machine parts.'

The SL-20 turning center is an 8-in. chuck machine with a maximum capacity of 15 x 21-in. and a 20 hp spindle that turns to 4000 rpm. As with the larger SL-30, a 12-station BOT turret is standard, and rapids are 945 ipm, with a variety of options available for both.

“Since I had learned the SL-30, the SL-20 was very easy for me to understand and to operate,” says Dan Patrick. “I could switch tooling back and forth between the two with no difficulty. Between them, these two machines were able to successfully handle our growing turning needs.”

Patrick continued to work closely with HFO Midwest. “I knew I needed a higher degree of automation in order to efficiently handle our growing business, and they worked closely with me to explain my options. Even though we’re a relatively small shop,” he says, “they treated us just like we were a major buyer.”

He chose a VF-2 vertical machining center. Its 30 x 16 x 20-in. work envelope is spacious enough to handle a large percentage of the prismatic parts that the shop processes, and its 40 taper, 30 hp drive and 8100 rpm spindle speed, coupled with a 20-station carousel tool changer, 1000 ipm rapids, and 1 MB program memory all combine to speed production.

Recently Patrick has further beefed up production by adding another Haas, and he gives a great deal of credit to his HFO Midwest sales associate for facilitating this move. “Our HFO Midwest sales guy, Lou Santoro, has been outstanding. He has come to our facility and taken a real interest in what we do, and when I told him I was considering upgrading our original TM-3 he helped us find a buyer for the TM-3 so that we could purchase the VF-4 at a price that made sense with our budget.”

The VF-4 vertical machining center, a big brother to the VF-2, offers an expansive 50 x 20 x 25-in. work envelope.

“Now I’ve got the sort of machine shop I’ve always dreamed of,” says Patrick, and he’s got plenty of work for those machines. Some 100 of the approximately 164 trucks active in the monster truck field were built by Patrick, with Patrick Enterprises now building eight trucks a

year and handling about 80% of the industry’s parts service work. And that 10,000 sq. ft. facility that Dan Patrick thought he could never fill? “I’m thinking of adding another 5,000 square feet,” he says.