Keeping Them On the Road – A Tour of United Pacific Industries

Factory original parts are great, but most older cars don’t have factory support anymore. Fortunately, companies like United Pacific Industries help keep these classic cars going where the factory no longer exists.

While I was there to shoot the feature on the 1932 Ford Pickup, which features many of their own products including the body, I took advantage to tour United Pacific Industries’ (UPI) facility. It is a staple of modern warehouse technology mixed in with classic human elements. Here is what I got to see.

Location, Location, Location

What was surprising to learn was where they were in Long Beach. It’s right behind the airport, which you probably saw in the 32 Pickup photos, but it’s also across from Virgin Orbit. Yeah, the private aerospace company setup by Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson, and led by Dan Hart who used to be at Boeing and their government satellite division. Consequently, that division of Boeing is in El Segundo, not far from Virgin Orbit’s headquarters.

UPI has been around since 1994 and create parts for classic cars and even heavy-duty trucks. One of the key things they are probably best known for in the industry is their LED lighting offerings.

Their headlights allow classic cars with their original sealed beam lights and dim signals to upgrade to modern LED lighting without hurting the classic looks that made them desirable.

They also work with hot rodders, sponsor events like the Street Rodder Tour, and participate in hot rod shows like the Street Rod Nationals, Grand National Roadster Show, and many others.


Inside the Warehouse

I was first greeted by Crystal Gutierrez, UPI’s marketing specialist, and Jai Baek, the director of marketing before handing me off to Sam Chau, operations manager of UPI’s warehouse.

This place was deceptively massive as I looked around with Sam leading me. One of the first things he explained to me was how their products were assembled. Originally, the parts that required assembly were done overseas simply because it was inexpensive. However, they began to realize that there was a hidden expense in doing that. While it may be cheap in labor cost, its actual costs began to grow when they didn’t have quality control at the assembly facility.

On top of that, any improvements made to the product line had to be translated in both language and in tooling, which meant they would eventually need engineers and QA in their overseas facility. That’s when they decided to bring that part of production to Long Beach and have since found they save more money by not requiring expensive man power to travel or even live outside of the United States.

They are also able to work with less interruption due to the long Chinese New Year where factories are shut down for nearly a half month. Chinese New Year is traditionally 15 days long and many businesses and factories close between seven days and the full time of the celebration. That’s also usually when old workers leave to new jobs and new workers come in and introduce new quality issues. Thus, by assembling here, quality remains constant year long.


Automation with Human Interaction

The interesting part of the facility is their use of the Opex Perfect Pick and iBot pickers. Inside the long, tall body of the automated picker are cartons with popular parts and assemblies that UPI produces. When a picker inputs orders into the machine, the iBots scale and pull cartons with the parts for the orders it receives. A human picker then pulls from the cartons and scans them, letting the Perfect Pick know what was pulled.

Once the human gets everything they need, the iBot is sent back into the machine to replace the carton and get a new one for the next order. When the box is filled with everything it needs, it’s sent on its way on the conveyor system after the human picker taps the button lit by a red light to let the conveyor system know its time to send it to ship. It pushes itself out and goes up a spiral system and moves on, unless it was sent by mistake. The system catches that and kicks the box back to the picker to fix the order. It’s a neat system to watch in action.

Sam explained that the Opex system sped up picking time by a factor of ten basically for every iBot the machine has. This is because a single carton can supply up to ten orders at the same time and that’s less time that it takes for someone to do it by searching the entire warehouse, pulling the product, and heading back to shipping to package a box. It hasn’t replaced anyone, it’s made their jobs easier and faster. The warehouse still holds larger parts and less popular parts, too. So, someone walking around to find parts hasn’t been eliminated, either.

The 1932 Assembly Area

Of course, the area you guys are probably more interested in is the assembly area for the 1932 Ford Coupe and Pickup bodies. It’s located at the back of the warehouse with several shelves lining the wall just behind that automated picker. While you can get individual panels, UPI is also supplying Ford Motor Company approved and complete bodies. Essentially, they take each panel that’s made by them and assemble a complete body. It’s done on jigs that were measured off original 1932 Fords they have and still have in the warehouse.

What’s more impressive is that they try and use the same manufacturing techniques at the 32s did when they were originally built. Where parts were riveted, UPI made sure their bodies were done the same way. Spot welding is done where it was originally but uses modern technology to ensure the weld is consistent. There are only two deviations due to a lack of existence in either technique or material. ARC welding has been replaced by TIG welding in areas where that’s done. The steel used by UPI is 18 gauge instead of 19. 18 is thicker but only slightly so. 19 gauge is 7/160-inch (0.04375) thick and 18 gauge is 1/20-inch (0.05) thick. That’s only a difference of 0.00625-inch or just smaller than the thickness of the larger end of a human hair (181-micrometers or 0.00713-inch).

Those bodies aren’t the only things they have from 1932 Fords, either. They have several frames, an original flathead four-cylinder, complete engines like a Ford Flathead V8, axle assemblies, and a lot more.

They also have a couple of complete cars and the beginnings of another truck that I know more than a few hot rodders would love to get their hands on, too.

That’s Not All

While the 32 Ford is their halo line now, they also have a full first-generation Ford Bronco back there that they use for measurements and prototyping new parts. It’s going to be their next line of full panel restoration parts just like the 32 Ford. Will they offer a full body? Possibly but haven’t hinted that to me while I was there. Considering they have that Bronco in the 32 assembly area, I won’t be surprised to hear about it soon.

Among the shelves lining that entire back wall are grilles, panels, and other assemblies they plan on using for testing and reverse engineering to create even more restoration and restomod parts.


End of the Tour

It was amazing to see UPI’s facility, so I want to thank Shari Afrons from McCullough PR for putting me in touch with Jai Baek and Crystal Gutierrez over at United Pacific.

However, it’s you guys who have truly helped make this possible. As you continue to share and comment on these articles, more and more possibilities continue to open for us. It allows me to cover some amazing stuff like this and that 1932 Ford Pickup and gain more traction to expand Carbage Online further than before. So, I have all of you to thank as well.

Justin Banner

Justin Banner, Lead Editor and Founder of Carbage Online, has been involved with the automotive media and industry in many capacities and now tackles publication ownership with CarbageOnline.com. Prior to that, he has freelanced for top online publications of modern media that include Speedhunters, MotoIQ, Super Street Online, Hot Rod Magazine and many others. All due to his nearly 20 years experience as a mechanic, service writer, and technical support in the automotive industry. Justin is also a Journalist Level member of the Motor Press Guild - an industry recognized entity of professional automotive journalists - since 2015.