Getting Lost On a Three-Hour Tour
of ATI’s Factory
By Chris Demorro
When we first strolled into the ATI Performance Products
factory located on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland,
the first thing we noticed was the wall of gold-plated
plaques hanging behind the secretary’s desk. “What
are those?” We asked.
of these plaques is a patent, owned by
either Jim Beattie Sr. or JC Beattie Jr.
“Patents,” the secretary
responded. “Most of them belong to the owner, Jim
Beattie Sr.” This wall of plaques set the tone for
the rest of our tour of the ATI production facilities.
In true American fashion, ATI is a family owned business,
though we didn’t expect to find the entire Beattie
family working here. Pets included.
Our guide for this tour would be J.C. Beattie Jr.,
who recently became a father himself. Inside the front
office is Jr.’s mother, and his daughter Ava, bouncing
happily in her baby carrier.
Sr.’s office is in the back (though not for much
longer) right next to the massive machine shop that
makes up ATI’s headquarters. Also working at the shop
are JC’s girlfriend and a number of close family friends,
who are as much family as they are employees.
First Stop: Transmission Cores
The first stop we make on our tour is in the receiving
room, when transmission cores come in. “We’re always
purchasing transmission cores,” JC Beattie Jr. tells
us. “It is a big part of our business, with an emphasis
on Powerglides.” ATI currently produces one of the
strongest Powerglides on the market, the Superglide4,
and JC estimates that anywhere from 30% to 50% of
the transmissions they do in a year are of the Powerglide
variety. So they’re always looking for a good core
get to work on. From there, every part of the transmission
is refreshed, replaced, or otherwise improved upon
before leaving ATI’s shipping facility across the
first stop on our tour was the receiving area,
where transmission and torque converter cores
Just what kind of improvements
or refreshing the transmissions get depends on what
the customer wants. As mentioned, the Superglide4
is one of the strongest Powerglide on the market.
Remember those patents we mentioned earlier? The Superglide4
features a patented input shaft system that significantly
improves its strength, which is often considered the
“weak link” in modern Powerglide performance transmission.
But every ATI transmission gets new internals, either
to OEM spec or upgraded for hardcore racing, from
the valve body to the shift lever. It just all depends
on what you need it for.
In the case of ATI’s top-notch transmission, the
SuperGlide4, the upgraded internals are rated at 3,000
horsepower. And like all of ATI’s transmissions, it
is thoroughly dyno-tested to that everything is functioning
as intended. The transmission must also be leak tested,
have all the pressures verified, as well as the flow
rate of the pump before being boxed up and shipped
off to the customer.
Torque Converter Turnaround
ATI needs more than just transmission cores though.
“Another big part of our business are torque converters,”
JC Beattie Jr. explains. “And the way we’ve set it
up, we can rebuild a torque converter core and ship
it back out to the customer in 24 hours or less.”
How are they able to turn around a complicated part
like a torque converter so quickly? For one, ATI employs
a trained crew of rebuilders whose sole job is to
take cores apart and rebuild them to customer specs,
all of which is done in the same area. But anybody
who knows torque converters knows that there are a
lot of time and parts involved.
this room, trained professionals disassemble and
reassemble torque converters in as little as 24
“Pretty much the only thing
we don’t have is a foundry,” JC Beattie Jr. says. But
what they do have are stacks upon stacks of blanks and
CNC machined torque converter parts, many of them made
right here in ATI’s facility. ATI also builds and sells
torque converter manufacturing equipment, which allows
them to produce almost all of the parts they need to
rebuild a torque converter to almost any spec.
This means while they may have some blanks shipped
in, they do all of the machining and welding in-house,
allowing them to ensure the quality right off of their
own assembly lines. This also protects them from supply
line issues, and allows ATI to maintain an extensive
inventory of parts needed to rebuild just about anything
having to do with the transmission and torque converter.
ATI does more than rebuild torque converts and transmissions
though; they make many of the machines needed to produce
these components in the first place.
One of their most popular tools (that they sell to
many other transmission specialists, including those
overseas) is the converter welding system. First developed
in 1979 by (who else) Jim Beattie Sr., this system
“Allows for a precise, controlled weld by clamping
on to the torque converter and spinning it around,”
says JC Beattie Jr. It is a simple-yet-brilliant design
that allows ATI to deliver top quality products and
precise welds with an amazing turnaround time.
converter welding machine allows welders to quickly
and accurately press and weld together torque converters
in very little time.
As we watched from a few feet
away, it took the welding technician less than a minute
to weld a new torque converter back together. ATI has
sold over a 100 of these machines around the world,
adding even more depth to ATI’s diverse business model.
Other tools they build and sell include a converter
leak tester, a cut-open lathe (for opening up an old
converter) and a pass-through converter washer. As you
might imagine, ATI thoroughly tests all of its transmissions
using their own machines before shipping them out to
customers and has recently purchased a torque converter
dyno for like duty.
Stockpiles of Transmission Parts
The pride JC Beattie Jr. takes in the family business
is evident as he shows us the superb welding skills
of his crew. Taking apart a half-completed torque
converter, he goes over each weld and part, explaining
how seriously they take the “Made in America” moniker
and that sometimes, the old ways are still the best
ways. We’ll see exactly what he means a little later
in the tour.
warehouse and storage containers hold just about
everything ATI needs to build torque converters
and harmonic dampers. "The only thing we don't have
is a foundry," says JC Beattie Jr.
After checking out the torque
converter rebuilding station, JC Beattie Jr. leads us
through the extensive warehouse, which was in the middle
of getting its light bulbs replaced. Not exactly conducive
conditions to proper photography, though we did get
a good look at a bunch of engines and transmission cores
lying around, waiting for their turn at greatness. The
back warehouse leads to the back yard, where shipping
containers abut the highway, are protected by tall fences
topped by barbed wire.
This is where ATI keeps a majority of the transmissions,
torque converters, and other cores. A forklift idles
in the yard with a longtime family friend sitting
on top of it with some bad news; the lift, a used
one recently purchased online may have some serious
mechanical issues. JC Beattie Jr. looks unhappy, but
as he explains, “Even with the cost of repairs, it’ll
still save us a lot of money over buying a new one.”
And it isn’t the oldest piece of machinery in ATI’s
shop, as we’ll soon find out.
uses an eclectic mix of classic and modern machines
in their daily operations. Many of the machines
in this picture are from around World War II.
Modern Machining and Old School Muscle
After we’re through in the back yard, it is on to
the machine shop, the heart and soul of ATI’s business.
This is where precise modern CNC machines mix with
an eclectic collection of pre-World War II machining
devices that still perform their original functions
as well as ever. With high tech computerized devices
rubbing shoulders with classic mechanical creations,
there is a whole lot of work to go around the ATI
“We sell about 12,000 harmonic balancers every year,”
says JC Beattie Jr. “It’s a huge part of our business,
and about 75% of the machines in our shop are dedicated
to making different kinds of dampers.” There’s a reason
why ATI harmonic Super Dampers are used in many extreme
horsepower applications; they are tested to perform
above and beyond the calls of duty, and it is a good
thing too, because they have a lot of vibration to
Harmonic Balancer 101
Let’s take a brief detour just to explain the importance
of harmonic dampers. Every time a cylinder fires,
vibrations are transmitted via the piston to the connecting
rod, and the crankshaft. The crankshaft “deflects,”
or bends, and while it may be hard to imagine that
huge lump of metal bending, it really does on a microscopic
At certain engine speeds, the torque and engine vibrations
come into sync and cause resonance, which will stress
and crack even the toughest crankshafts. While an
engine can last a little while suffering these vibrations,
in the long term you’re talking about a spectacular
engine failure and huge repair bills if the vibrations
are allowed to go on unchecked. Thus, all the effort
and testing ATI puts into its harmonic dampers (or
balancers, depending on what you want to call them.)
"exploded" view of ATI's elastomer-style Super Damper.
Harmonic dampers are heavy
because the mass of the unit resists the acceleration
of vibration, and an energy absorbing element (usually
rubber or fluid) negates the vibrations. This essentially
eliminates resonance and significantly extends the life
of a crankshaft. It isn’t hard to imagine why a good
harmonic damper is important for extreme racing applications.
“A lot of people rely on our product,” says JC Beattie
Jr. “And there are literally millions of dollars of
engine parts at stake.” He isn’t kidding. “We provide
100% of the dampers to NASCAR Sprint Cup Cars,” says
JC Beattie Jr. Those engines run a lot of very pricey
parts that rely on ATI’s damper to keep them together,
which why the whole ATI extended family of 50+ employees
take their job seriously. But what is it about ATI dampers
that make them so popular with the NASCAR crowd?
There are many different types of dampers, though
through years of trial and testing ATI has found the
most success with the rubber O-ring style elastometer
dampers. This style of dampers feature hard rubber
bands wrapped around a metal disc. While many OEM
elastomer dampers have just one rubber O-ring, ATI’s
Super Dampers use multiple rings, and a damper-within-a-damper
These dampers also have just four major components;
an outer shell, inertia weight (with the elastomer
bands), inner shell, and crank hub components. Depending
on the application, the outer damper may be as big
as seven-inches, and the inner damper just four-inches
in diameter, with the inertia weight fitted in between
Many studies have shown that elastomer-style dampers
have a greater resistance and absorption of vibration
than either viscous (liquid) or friction-type dampers.
Available in both steel and aluminum, ATI Super Dampers
also have the added benefit of being easily rebuildable,
something many other damper types can’t lay claim
raw cuts of blank metal will be brand new harmonic
dampers before long.
Building a Balancer
The process of building a harmonic balancer begins
with a 40-foot long bar of raw metal stock that is
cut and shaved right in ATI’s own facilities. The
dampers and torque converters are actually built side-by-side,
often using the very same machines. Each individual
component of the dampers is CNC-machined to exact
specifications, and while each damper may only have
four parts, those parts must be precisely aligned
and thoroughly tested before being sent to customers.
After machining each part, the O-rings are inserted
on to the inertia weight by hand before everything
is lined up and pressed together. Then the outer shell
and interia weight are pressed together, then the
inner damper, and finally the crank hub (that attaches
to the crankshaft.) And viola! A brand new ATI Racing
harmonic damper. But next comes arguably the most
important step of all; testing.
final step for building a damper is pressing the
four different components together.
That is why ATI invested in
a Damper Torsional Testing Machine, which allows ATI
to set up an engine or chassis dyno and collect torsional
vibration data from the engine. “This machine lets me
tune the damper much like you’d tune a carb or engine,”
says JC Beattie Jr. “I can take off the damper shell,
change the durometer (hardness) of the rubber elastomeror
even the entire damper size itself,” until it meets
the proper specifications. In case you haven’t noticed,
a lot of testing goes into the finished products before
they head to the shipping department across the street.
Ship It Out
This is the last stop on our tour, and we came at
a time when ATI is in the middle of remodeling the
latest addition to the facility. While much of the
space inside the warehouse is dedicated to storage
(including a huge boxes laden with ATI’s own Super
F transmission fluid), ATI is currently adding more
office space to house their ever-expanding operation.
Jim Beattie Sr. will be getting a much bigger office
here, and the hope is to streamline their operations
even more, shortening the turnaround on rebuilds and
getting parts out to their customers in the most expedient
finished our tour in ATI's vast new warehouse, where
row-upon-row of torque converters and harmonic dampers
sit waiting for new owners.
That about does it for our
tour of ATI’s facility, and we left Baltimore knowing
a whole lot more about torque converters and harmonic
dampers than we knew before. And while these may not
be the most glorious parts of a performance car, their
importance cannot be understated. Luckily the Beattie’s
are hard at work, testing, tuning, building and rebuilding
these oft-overlooked parts to the best of their ability,
giving our engines and transmissions an extra dose of