Since its founding in the early 1980s, Uxbridge, Ontario-based ATL Industries has expanded from a product line of six brake-calliper pistons to become North America’s largest manufacturer and distributor of those products. Today, the company makes more than 800 different pistons from aluminum, steel, and phenolic, and distributes them to automotive manufacturers in North America, South America, and Europe. Clearly, ATL Industries is no small operation: its 70 employees, who are comprised of shop supervisors, lathe programmers, machine operators, and administrative staff, make enough product to keep 200,000–300,000 pistons in inventory at any given time. Despite that quantity, the company prides itself on its quick turnaround time.
Automobile brake calipers, which are essential to a car’s ability to stop, are one of the most important brake parts—and ATL Industries is the king of calipers.
A car’s wheels are attached to metal discs, called rotors, that spin with the wheels. Fitting over these rotors like a clamp are brake calipers, which are essentially U-shaped housings that hold components. Inside each caliper are brake pads—pairs of metal plate bonded with friction material—and on the interior of both sides of the “U” are brake-caliper pistons. When a driver steps on the brake, brake fluid creates hydraulic pressure on the brake-caliper pistons, forcing the brake pads against the rotor. This slows the rotor down, and when the rotor slows, so does the wheel.
ATL Industries imports brake calipers for vehicles built from the 1970s on up, because there are no North American businesses with forging companies that can make castings. “It’s purely an economic issue,” says general manager Sean Selose. “It’s just cheaper overseas.”
However, all of the company’s alloy-type brake-caliper pistons are manufactured in the company’s 100,000-square-foot Uxbridge facility. “We buy raw, solid-steel bars locally, then cut them into pieces on automated saws,” Selose says. “We end up with chunks of round material, which we put into CNC lathes that we’ve programmed to make the 800 different types of pistons we manufacture. We then send the finished pistons out for chrome plating, which smooths the surface, so the seal inside the caliper rides on the piston and the vehicle doesn’t lose brake fluid.”
After boxing the pistons, ATL Industries sends them to one of its two warehouses, located in Uxbridge and California, where they are distributed to automotive companies internationally. “At any given time, we stock 200,000–300,000 pistons, and we turn that inventory over every three months,” Selose says.
ATL Industries has achieved this level of volume because it can turn orders around much more quickly than its competition. “I’ve heard of industry turnaround times from three weeks to a month, because many companies don’t carry a lot of inventory; they process orders as they come in,” Selose says. “Because we inventory a lot of products, we can turn around orders very quickly.”
Beyond that, ATL Industries is capable of fulfilling orders for custom pistons not in inventory within a few days or weeks, depending on quantity and time of year.
The company’s pistons are also popular because of competitive pricing, which is the result of a unique manufacturing process. “Our machines have features that minimize loading time, and we run two shifts a day to cut down overhead,” Selose says. “As a result, our machines rarely stop—we make parts from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.”