Imagine taking a HOG off the assembly line and taking a ride on the back roads – wind blowing in your face as you take the bike from 0 miles to a “few” mph over the speed limit.
Well, that is just one of the many jobs handled by employees at the Kansas City Harley-Davidson plant. The plant takes a Harley from the order sheet to loading a brand new bike on a truck bound for its new owner.
We took a tour of the plant during a recent trip. It was well worth it! Watching a motorcycle created step-by-step was cool. We first started with a view of the fuel tank of a Dyna or Sportster. They take a flat piece of metal , and robots then set up the piece with a fuel tank mold ready to go to work. I believe 250,000 lbs of pressure are exerted into molding the fuel tank.
Afterward, the tank is forwarded to another set of robots that sand and buff it. Then, a set of human employees inspect the fuel tanks. They check for smoothness and then leaks by submerging the tanks in water, looking for bubbles.
A neat thing about Harley is that for everything a robot does, a human inspects the work. The goal of Harley-Davidson is to turn out the perfect motorcycle every time one is created.
After walking the factory floor and viewing several pieces of operation, we took a look at the painting area. You cannot touch anything on the factory floor for safety and cleanliness reasons. Thousands of fuel tanks were lined up painted and polished. They are inspected by several people. Each employee carries a set of yellow sticky arrows that they can put on any piece of a bike for further work.
We checked out the Dynas and Sportsters on the assembly line. It was neat seeing almost a mile worth of motorcycles being made. Each bike spends about three minutes at each assembly point. The team working on a specific task has that much time to do its work and move on to the next bike.
Harley has employees rotate tasks every two hours. That way, employees do not get bored doing the same thing over and over. Also, it helps to identify if problems can be traced to equipment or employees.
Once a motorcycle is completed on the assembly line, it goes to a pseudo road test. The bike is put in a room on a treadmill-like device. It’s then revved to several thousand RPMs.
The final test is the fun one. The Quality team picks a variety of motorcycles off the finished area. They inspect them for quality. Then, the actual test ride takes place off property, along Kansas City back roads, streets and interstates. The evaluator takes it for about a 30-mile ride. He or she then inspects the motorcycle again. If it passes, it is cleaned and put on the shipment list. However, if the bike fails inspection, it is placed in the employee lunch room with the names of the team members who worked on it. There it sits for a day, so the employees can see the mistakes made in an effort to ensure those mistakes don’t happen again.
After the tour, guests can browse the gift shop for some nice souvenirs.
Whether or not you’re a bike enthusiast, the tour of the Harley plant is an interesting way to spend about an hour.