If you are anything like me, you’re a long time admirer of Rock Exotica. They make some killer gear with incredible designs and amazing craftsmanship (too many adjectives?). That’s why I was so excited to get a chance to visit the Rock Exotica factory in Utah. Phil and Matt showed me around the place and let me take some photos and videos of their process.
It all starts with the metal. Rock Exotica orders the highest grades of aluminum and steel. Matt explained that they want to have consistency and high strength with all of thier metal.
Carabiner Shaping and Stamping
That metal is eventually cut to length and bent into shape using some custom-designed machinery. Depending on the shape of the final carabiner, the die in the middle can be swapped out. After that, each carabiner is pressed, giving it whatever raised markings it will need. If it’s an H Frame carabiner, that’s also where that will happen. This is a machine that you definitely don’t want to get your hand stuck in!
Solid Block MillingOf course, one of Rock Exotica’s claims to fame is that many of their products, such as their pulleys, are milled from solid blocks of metal. This makes the final products stronger than if they’d been bent into shape.
The Rock Exotica factory is completely full of machinery (so much so that they are out of space and hoping to move to a larger facility). Many of these machines are the mills. The bigger ones can work on several pieces at the same time. The liquid in a mill is the mill’s coolant that’s sprayed as the mill works to keep the metal from fatiguing from heat.The vises in the mills occasionally need to be swapped out. These bad boys are heavy. Fortunately, they have pulleys on hand to help out!
When the parts come out they are a bit sharp at the corners and rough around the edges. To solve this, the parts are tumbled in large vats of ceramic rocks. They take off the rough edges to make a part that’s easy on your hands.
The parts end up on an assembly line where they are put together into final products. Rock Exotica certainly has a crack team there… putting together a carabiner is exacting work. Each carabiner is hand inspected at each step of the process. They showed me the reject bin and gave me one to check out. It had been rejected because of some slight cosmetic scuffing that I didn’t even notice at first. Once each carabiner has been put together, a machine finishes the rivet. After that, every product is pull tested to half its rated capacity to ensure that it’s good to go. I’m glad that they take this step, though Phil and Matt assured me that by this point practically no products have an issue. And, for a nice finishing touch each carabiner is examined for straightness. If you’ve ever used a carabiner that stuck just a little bit when opening and closing, it might be because it wasn’t perfectly straight. Rock Exotica takes this extra step, and it really shows in the smoothness of their products.
After all of this, the products end up in racks waiting to be laser etched. This step adds important markings, manufacturer dates, and cool stuff like logos and names of products.
Commitment To Quality and Safety
I also got the chance to meet many of the staff members at Rock Exotica. Thier commitment to quality and to safety was impressive and universal. Throughout the tour several different people commented to me that because people trust their lives to the gear, quality must be taken seriously. Quality has clearly permeated the whole staff at Rock Exotica. Their general manager explained that Rock Exotica is on the high end of the market because of American manufacturing and the level of quality that they demand, but they are fine with that. Since safety is important, they want to only provide high quality. For those looking for lower end product, Rock Exotica would rather that they choose a different brand than that Rock Exotica introduce any inferior products.
I’d like to say a huge thanks to Rock Exotica. Not only do they make awesome gear that I love to sell, they were also kind enough to let me drop by and check out how they get it done. Rock Exotica, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re nailing it!
Written by Jacob Wallace