By Rob Mullner, Chief Enthusiast JC Whitney
Photos by the Author
Small American business is thriving and I can’t think of a better example than a factory I just toured in San Angelo, Texas called Coverlay Manufacturing, Inc. Founded in 1983, the folks at Coverlay realized that the Aftermarket needed a better solution for cracked dashboards and worn out door panels. Their team designs, engineers and manufacturers aftermarket replacement parts for over 350 different vehicle applications in vacuum molded painted and/or upholstered plastic materials offered in an assortment of colors.
Jan Henderson, Director of Sales and Marketing showed me the primary steps in the process. Beginning with their popular dashboard covers I saw the engineering and prototyping center where Coverlay personnel disassemble popular dashboards to learn how they go together and where their “Achilles heels” are located. It can take as long as a year to develop a functional solution. As I learned from Jan, much of Coverlay’s success has come from producing dashboard coversand replacement door panels that can deal with the stresses of everyday use as well as the relentless UV rays from the sun.
Once Coverlay designers have discovered a problem vehicle series, the next step is to create a mold that will be used to produce the part that provides the solution. Previously made from plaster, Coverlay has found that fiberglass makes for a longer lasting mold. Today, Coverlay has an arsenal of over 300 active molds and is constantly looking for new products to produce based on feedback from current and potential customers and through requests on their website via their “Didn’t Find It?” portal.
Moving to the manufacturing floor, we watched an operator heat a plastic sheet to vacuum form a dash cover. Once the plastic cools the new dashboard cover is transferred to a cutting station where a skilled operator trims the cover by hand. After the trimming process, the dash cover is ready for painting and packaging. All parts are painted regardless of color as the paint mixture includes a UV protectant prolonging the life of the parts. Take a minute to let that soak in-all of the steps in the Coverlay process are controlled by hand, a craftsman or craftswoman owns each stage of the process.
Another mainstay at Coverlay is their replacement door panels and kick plates, which feature tremendous craftsmanship. In addition to matching as closely as possible original colors and fabrics, door panels represent a challenge since they must integrate factory mounting points, hardware, switch openings and functionality.
Fortunately, Coverlay creates all of the key components in-house so all of the pieces will fit and look as good as the originals and hold up even better. For example, some door panels flex and eventually fail at the door handle/arm rest; Coverlay makes their arm rest cores out of precision cut wood with reinforced fasteners for factory fit and enhanced durability.
I was also impressed with the closed loop efficiency of how plastic remnants from their manufacturing process are handled. Trimmings and scrap are fed into a grinder and containers full of plastic are picked up by the sheet supplier to be recycled into new sheets.
With all of the hands involved in producing Coverlay dashboard covers and replacement door panels you would expect their output to be slow and orders to take weeks to fill. In the era of immediate Internet gratification, Coverlay has mastered the “order today, make tomorrow, ship next day” mantra that has made them a stellar supplier.
The last stop is the Shipping Department where finished products are bagged and boxed for the trip to the customer. Each Coverlay product also includes specific instructions and special installation adhesives and hardware if required. Jan told me that on an average day hundreds of orders leave their dock.
American ingenuity and manufacturing is alive and well at Coverlay. If your late model car, truck or SUV has a cracked or discolored dash or broken down door panels or needs an interior update, I would recommend visiting the Coverlay product section on JC Whitney to find Coverlay applications for your vehicle today.