While talking to a lady working one of the tables at the 2016 Brodak Fly-In, she happened to mention that the Brodak Manufacturing & Distribution operations plant is located about a mile away, right behind Brodak's Hobby Shop in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. I made sure to stop by after first visiting the hobby shop.
Brodak, unarguably the largest seller of control line models and flying supplies, has the advantage of being its own manufacturer for most of its products. Because of that, they are able to sell at the lowest prices possible for a proprietary line of goods. Control line model airplane kits, nuts and bolts and washers and other assembly hardware, flying lines and handles, landing gear, nitro fuel, dope, thinner, adjustable line leadouts, balsa, plywood, and all other manner of items listed on the Brodak website are produced, kitted, packaged, and/or shipped from an expansive warehouse behind the hobby shop. When the shelves of the hobby shop run dry, employees restock directly from the warehouse. Mr. John Brodak, in case you do not know, is according to most people is credited for breathing new life into the control line aspect of model aviation. Prior to John's efforts to revive the hobby by building a huge inventory of C/L kits, engines, and supplies, control line was quickly fading in the shadow of the rapid growth of relatively inexpensive, ready-to-fly radio control models.
While talking to Brodak employees who run the plant, I was amazed at the amount of fabrication and kitting that is performed in situ. I assumed that Brodak had all their kits and components made and packaged in some faraway country and brought on barges to the U.S., but such is not the case. You would need to visit to fully appreciate the work of primarily three people. Jan Hower wears many hats as the operations manager, purchasing agent, kit packager, quality control strategist, among others duties. John Parker's duties include fabricating landing gear and control line handles, running the laser cutting machine, and making copies of plans. Nick(?) fills fuel jugs and builds every metal fuel tank by hand.
When you receive one of Brodak's kits, it includes many parts made right there in Carmichaels. The landing gear - whether dural aluminum or music wire - has been cut, formed, and drilled manually, not buy some automated process. The bell crank assembly was put together there as well. All of the wood comes from a massive stock of balsa, plywood, and hardwood which is purchased in bulk. It is cut on a laser or bandsaw and/or pre-shaped on a sander as required. The plans and instruction booklets are printed there as well. Packages of miscellaneous hardware are picked from row after row of organized bins, and the bag is then heat sealed.
When it comes to actually putting the parts in a kit box, neatly stacked piles of balsa, plywood and hardwood sheets, sticks, and blocks, bags of hardware, plans, and all other things for inclusion are arranged along with tags indicating the quantity of each for a complete kit. A carefully sized cardboard box is then methodically filled with all the components in an order and location that has been determined for minimum volume and maximum shipping survivability. Finally, the newly filled box is run through a machine that heat-shrinks plastic around it.
If you happen to order a new set of control lines for your model, they will be wound onto a spool on a machine in the plant. Did you order an adjustable handle? If so, the wood portion will have been cut and shaped there by hand, one at a time, and all the metal parts for it assembled there as well.
Your metal fuel tank will have been built there by hand. The process begins with a flat sheet of metal that is subsequently run through a tool that impresses the strengthening ridges and forms the seams. Then, the copper tubing is bent and soldered into holes punched in the sheet metal. End caps are installed and everything is soldered, again by hand.
Did you buy some dope for the finish? The can it comes in had the label applied by hand and the contents filled from large drums. A jug of fuel would have been filled, in turn, by someone sitting in front of a 55-gallon drum and controlling the tap as it fill the container - gallon or quart.
Much of the printing is also performed in an adjacent part of the plant by a separate group of employees who handle artwork and operate presses. Brodak also prints jobs for other businesses in the area.
If you look closely at the photos and videos, you will see that a lot of the tooling and machinery used in production is very old and has little in the way of automation features. That is primarily because a good portion of it was purchased from other companies that formerly made the products which Brodak now makes. That is one aspect of how John Brodak helped rescue the control line realm from having its supply of accessories disappear forever. For instance, he bought out Perfect Parts Company's line of fuel tanks, along with the many decades old, original equipment for fabricating them. Except for the laser cutting machine, you would be hard pressed to find anything in the production area with a microprocessor in it. Human brainpower provides the necessary reason, logic, manipulation, troubleshooting, and error correction.
A lot of the individual hardware components like nuts and bolts and washers, eyelets, wheel collars, etc., are purchased from outside vendors because, well, they can't do everything there. One thing you can be sure of when you place an order for a Brodak-branded item from Brodak is that in most cases, honest to goodness Americans are responsible for producing, packaging, and shipping your items from beginning to end. That it can all be done at a reasonable price is a testament to how the line you are told about Americans not being able to provide goods and services at a cost competitive with offshore sources is a pile of bunk.
Now when I see at the Brodak label on a can of Cessna White dope, or a spool of 0.015" braided control lines, I envision the fine people I met in Carmichaels who were taking care of me long before I ever knew them. Everyone in the hobby and the printing areas of the pant were very friendly and helpful... which is no surprise since, after all, they're Pennsylvanians - like yours truly.
Why not visit the Brodak website right now and check out the Brodak brand of products? You might be able see what you're ordering in these high resolution photos on this page.
This article titled, "Carmichaels man is top producer of model aviation kits" appeared in the June 8, 2016 edition of the Greene County Observer -Reporter.
Posted August 20, 2016