Wheel of fortune

Sometimes the best ideas stem from informal conversations, quite often involving a pint in the local public house. Fortunately, on very rare occasions, those ideas fester, develop and evolve and somewhere down the line become a reality. Mark Hadaway visited Parkway Prestige, Manchester to witness the outcome of one such moment…

Parkway Prestige Accident Repair Centre was founded in 1993, and is, as the name suggests, a prestige brand approved bodyshop based on Trafford Park, Manchester. Owned and operated by business partners Dave Gage and Tony McCauley, the business holds approvals for brands including Bentley, Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, Mercedes, Skoda and Nissan.

Having been at the forefront of accident repair within the region for many years, Dave and Tony were becoming increasingly aware of one key area of vehicle repair that continued to elude their personal quality and service expectations, that of alloy wheels.

Dave explained, ‘It all came to a head for us when we had a vehicle in the bodyshop that we simply could not find a replacement wheel for. The damage was superficial scuffing on the wheel face so, in the end, we sent it off to be refurbished. However, just this one, simple element added several days to the cycle time of the repair and it was at this stage the penny dropped that we needed to find our own solution.’

And so, with that, in January 2015 Dave and Tony undertook market research to assess just what was available within alloy wheel refurbishment sector and, could they compete. They concluded that a medium-scale alloy wheel refurbishment project would be suitable with the installation of a high temperature box oven and a powder coating/liquid coating spraybooth. This would be accompanied by the purchase of a face-copying CNC machine.

All change

However, what sounded like a relatively straightforward solution was to all change at the 11th hour following a chance call from Neil Hoban, managing director at House of Hoban Ltd. ‘The message from Neil,’ Dave recounted, ‘was loud and clear – ‘don’t do anything until I’m back off holiday and we’ve had a face-to-face conversation’ were his exact words – so we listened.’

On his return, Neil met with Dave and Tony, along with Ray McClellan of MIS Ltd, and it was during that infamous first pub meeting that an idea was hatched. Two more meetings followed and the concept of the Rader International alloy wheel remanufacturing plant was born.

The remit for Rader was simple. Dave said, ‘The plant and process must produce a coated wheel quality equal to or better than original equipment. Quality comes first.’ However, the system is far more detailed than what the remit may suggest. The build started in earnest on 3 June, and by the second week in August the system was up and running.

Employing a dormant floor space within the existing Parkway Prestige facility, which was previously used for parts storage, the plant installation is a fully automated, floor mounted, monorail chain conveyor specifically commissioned for alloy wheel processing. Vertical rods with circular holding plates are evenly spaced along the chain, specifically measured to ensure even the largest alloys can be accommodated. Alloy wheels are laid horizontally atop the holding plates prior to being conveyed through the process.

Process

The process sees all wheels first undergo a chemical strip and manual preparation process. At this point stringent checks and procedures are in place to ensure the structural integrity of the wheel. Dave explained, ‘We will simply not process anything that we even suspect to be structurally compromised. Should we identify any such defects the customer is informed and the wheel is destroyed – this approach, as far as we are concerned, is a must within our business.’

With the wheels stripped and cleaned, they are then loaded onto the system and taken through a thorough drying and heating process to eliminate any remaining residue and casting gas. The wheels then pass through a water-wash booth where a bespoke powder coating primer is applied by hand whilst still on the conveyor system. From here the wheels then pass through a curing process and are baked at 200oC.

On completion of the process circuit, the wheels are then removed by hand and placed onto the second conveyor system for finishing. The wheels this time then pass through two adjacent booths – one for hand application of coloured lacquer if necessary, the other for final powder coating with bespoke glycidyl methacrylate (GMA) acrylic clear lacquer. Once through the final coating process, employing a unique design air input system designed to ensure OE quality levelling and lacquer clarity, they then once again pass through a curing oven for final bake-off. Within the process, there is a provision for any diamond cut alloys to be refaced accordingly. Full tyre fitting facilities are also available onsite.

Investment

The remanufacturing line process has seen an investment approaching £500,000, but with the capacity to cater for 300 wheels per day, the return on investment has the opportunity to be significant. Two weeks from going live, throughput averages 30 wheels per day but this is gradually ramping up as practices, procedures and processes are formatted. The line is currently managed by one full time member of staff but this will increase to three once operating at full capacity.

‘The aim is to offer a facility that is as close to the original equipment manufacturing environment as possible – offering consistent, cost effective and quality results,’ said Dave. ‘We are creating what we deem to be a franchise model, by which the process is standardised and could be replicated anywhere in the UK, or indeed, globally.’

The development of the system has been a real team effort involving a number of parties namely Dave and Tony of Parkway Prestige ARC, House of Hoban Ltd, McClellan Industrial Services Ltd and key repair supply partner, Carlac. ‘I have been working with Dave and the team for many years and this project has really captured the imagination,’ said Gary Healer, sales director at Carlac Ltd. ‘We’re working closely with the team in order to explore the true potential of this proposition but needless to say, we believe it has the capacity to be huge.’

Operational

On an operational level, Rader International now functions as a standalone business within the Parkway Prestige ARC site catering for in-house needs which average between 30-40 wheels per week, as well as extending out to private customers, main dealership, bodyshops, de-fleet centres and insurance volume contracts.

Dave said, ‘The aim moving forward is to get people here to see the facility and show people exactly what it is we are doing. There is nothing like this out there and once people see it, they will understand just what we are trying to achieve. I can certainly see it being the answer for many of our work provider partners and already we are in conversation as to how it can best be utilised by them.’

Although in its infancy, and with several additions in the pipeline such as a QR coding stamp system and a likely increase in logistic capabilities, the team involved in the project are enthused by what they have realised before them and already Rader is seeking partners with which to expand through multi-option franchises at all levels of investment.

Only time will tell if success prevails but all indicators are pointing in the right direction and it’s safe to say it’s certainly a facility like no other I have seen to date.