by Rob Mullner, Chief Enthusiast – US Auto Parts
Photos by Jeff Simmons
Celebrating over 60 years in any industry is noteworthy; so many pieces must line up perfectly to enable a brand to build a solid foundation for future expansion. In the Automotive Aftermarket, the environment is even more fickle; trends come and go, vehicles rise and fall in popularity and other challenges like recessions and fuel prices are beyond control. Clarence Shook founded Ranchoin 1955and the brand has continually adjusted its approach and products to an ever changing market; and done it all while based in Southern California.
On a recent tour of the Rancho plant and R&D facility in Long Beach we saw firsthand the reasons why Rancho has thrived in the Aftermarket suspension category and why it will continue to be an example for any brand seeking to adapt to a dynamic market with many influences and countless competitors.
Among the many impressive features of the Rancho facility is the tenure of its personnel, many have been on staff since the Long Beach plant opened in 1985. That continuity is invaluable and fosters a team spirit that can overcome many obstacles. Rancho also values safety and has operated over 1,700 days, nearly five years without a workplace injury.
Chris Gauss, Director of the Performance Group at Rancho’s parent company,Tenneco, Danny Walker, Plant Manager, Larry Sergejeff, R&D Shop Manager and Bob Willis, West Sales Manager served as our tour guides. The Long Beach plant produces a full range of suspension components, complete lift kits and creates prototype kits and components in its R&D center and serves as a feeder plant for the Rancho shock manufacturing center in Paragould, Arkansas.
The Long Beach plant is ISO 9001 certified and works in three primary gauges of American HSLA (high strength low alloy) steel and the Rancho team cuts, bends, welds, assembles and packages all of the Rancho suspension systems sold in North America. Secondary processes like powder coating are procured locally.
Another impressive trait of the Rancho manufacturing process is the relentless measuring of the elements that become Rancho components. From the laser cutting process, to the press brake and on to the welding booths, every piece and every completed assembly undergoes a Quality Control check to guarantee dimensional accuracy.
For example here is the front cross member of a Rancho truck system in its raw state, the components are laser cut from a sheet of steel and will move to a press where an operator will shape the pieces and send them to a welding booth where the pieces will be joined together in a welding fixture. Another fixture will ensure dimensional accuracy. Rancho has over 500 active fixtures.
The Rancho team was excited to show us new key Jeep lift kit components including progressive rate springs and upgraded control arms with enhanced rebuildable bushings that will ensure quiet, comfortable operation. After three years of testing, these new components will begin shipping late Q1 2017.
The focus on precision extends to the Rancho R&D Shop where new parts are developed and prepared for full scale manufacturing. Chris and Larry showed us a new Rancho rock slider under development as well as its fixture and a first article part that Rancho will install and evaluate the part over 6 months and many miles to ensure fit, finish and functionality.
After production parts are finished, inspected and approved, they move down the line and are carefully packaged to eliminate transit damage, then racked in the Long Beach warehouse to be shipped around the country to fill orders as they come in.
Before we finished our tour we wanted to tackle the articulation ramp that Rancho testsall of its suspension systems on-our Centennial Jeep was able to reach over 100 degrees on the ramp and still keep all 4 wheels in contact with the ground.
Our Rancho equipped Centennial Jeep has handled every trail we have attempted, from Moab to Maryland and many points in between, after touring the plant it was created at we have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the engineering effort and manufacturing precision that went into our Rancho 4” short arm suspension system.
To see all of the Rancho Parts available at JC Whitney please visit their exclusive Brandstore here: http://www.jcwhitney.com/rancho-suspension/b958j1s9.jcwx
To see the Rancho RS66104B 4” Suspension System Installation on our Centennial Jeep please visit: http://100.jcwhitney.com/2015/02/27/episode-2-rancho-4-lift-kit-and-rs5000x-shock-install/