by Rob Mullner, Chief Enthusiast
The next stop on the Made In America tour took us to Tempe, Arizona to visit Dash Designs and meet their team of dedicated employees creating unique accessories for vehicles interiors. The Dash Designs story is rooted in American ingenuity and opportunity. As an ASU graduate and local mechanic, Dash Designs founder Brad Schiff saw many customers at his repair shop with cracked dash tops from the brutal Arizona sun. Brad seized the opportunity and crafted a dash cover from carpet to solve the problem and founded a business to create custom dash covers.
Fast forward three decades and you can see that Dash Designs has grown into a company with numerous custom interior solutions whether or not your vehicle resides in a sunny climate. With as many as 80 employees during the peak season, the designing, cutting and sewing of seat covers, dash covers and related accessories has propelled Dash Designs into an Aftermarket Accessory leader.
Brad served as our tour guide and showed us all of the key elements of the Dash Designs manufacturing process which is a unique combination of manual and fully automated design, cutting and sewing.
Beginning in the design room experienced pattern makers review new vehicle applications and create full size drawings that are digitized and downloaded to Dash Designs servers. From the server, files can be uploaded to one of the automated cutting lines on the manufacturing floor ensuring a correctly cut and sewn accessory no matter how frequently the pattern is used and a smooth installation for the end user.
Speaking of installation, our tour stopped outside where Dash Designs Master Installer, Marco was working on a new set of seat covers and a dash cover on a 2005 Honda Civic. Marco showed us how easy it is to install Dash Designs products and the little details that make them fit so well.
Starting with the neoprene seat covers, Marco began with the seat back and gently pulled the cover over the top make sure to smooth out the material for a wrinkle-free fit. Marco pointed out the air bag pocket and how to the flap should be placed to avoid impeding the air bag if it were ever to deploy. Then Marco turned his attention to the seat bottom and used the Dash Designs tool included in their seat cover kits to pull the straps tight under the seat to secure the cover and keep it in position Dash Designs uses metal hooks for added durability and with the provided tool Marco crimped the hooks for a perfect fit.
Next Marco prepared the dash for a new cover. Brad pointed out that when Dash Designs started in 1984 the average dashboard had a very simple shape, so it was much easier to fit a cover. Now, virtually every dashboard has complex curves and includesstorage, airbags, speakers, etc. The current generation of dash covers can be comprised of as many as 15 different pieces hand sewn together to produce the best fit.
To ensure adhesion of the Velcro squares that will secure the Dash Designs cover to the Honda dashboard Marco swabbed the dashboard with the provided alcohol pads and placed the provided Velcro squares on the dash. With the cover laid out across the dashboard, Marco pressed the Velcro squares together for a clean installation.
We learned that Dash Designs recently expanded into the this building about two years ago as their business strained the capacity of their previous location and Brad assured us that they have room to grow in the Tempe facility, with plans to add a fifth cutting line in the near future.
From the digitized files, personnel on the floor have access to all of the patterns in the Dash Designs archive. As orders come in from the sales department they are grouped and dispatched to the cutting machine operators that load the appropriate color and fabric for the cutting process. The Dash Designs library of patterns runs into the thousands and they keep over 21 different types of materials in multiple colors in stock.
With computer controlled cutting Dash Designs ensures precise, repeatable production of the pieces and the creation of minimal scrap. As the pieces are removed from the cutting table they are placed on the sorting table; from here they will be joined together downstream with lining, elastic, edging and related components by the team of sewing machine operators and their skilled hands to become finished goods ready for final inspection and packaging.
At the conclusion of our tour, Vice-President of Sales John Maxwell showed us into the Dash Design retail storefront to have a look at all of the various accessories they offer-the range of styles, materials and colors is impressive and they have something for everyone looking to protect, personalize and enhance their vehicle. John mentioned that RV’s have become a new customer segment for Dash Designs and they expect to launch 100 new patterns in 2017.
As we said our good-byes to the Dash Designs crew we were impressed with the way the team integrates old world manufacturing skill with digital tools to create custom products for virtually every vehicle on the road and look forward to adding their latest products to the JC Whitney catalog as soon as they are available.
To learn more about Dash Designs and their broad range of interior accessories please visit their exclusive Brandstore at: http://www.jcwhitney.com/dash-designs/b1175j1s9.jcwx