Harley-Davidson Motor Co. has always inspired a sense of comradery among its customers. The more than 50,000 riders expected to wheel into Milwaukee next month for the company's 95th anniversary celebration will stand (or rather, sit) as a testament to this fact.
In recent years, the legendary motorcycle manufacturer has tried to instill this same spirit into its new-product development process, pairing engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, marketing, and suppliers from the conceptual stage of design.
"Product development is not a subset of engineering," says Don Kieffer, director of the office of program management. "The process includes people from all across the corporation."
No small words, considering Kieffer, an engineer himself, is the man charged with marshalling new-product development across Harley-Davidson's four motorcycle platforms: Sporster, Dyna, Softail, and Touring.
Harley underscored its commitment to this design-team philosophy last year when it opened a new Product Development Center (PDC) near its powertrain plant in Wauwatosa, Wis. While the motorcycle maker had been moving toward a cross-functional approach to new-product development for years, the PDC solidified this vision, locating design engineers, purchasers, manufacturing personnel and other crucial players in a single building. These team members are dedicated to the new-product development process on a full-time basis.
A handful of engineers from key suppliers also are stationed at the center, working elbow-to-elbow with Harley's development teams on a full-time basis. Other suppliers interact with these teams at the center a few days a week. Leroy Zimdars, director of development purchasing, says the new design environment not only blurs the adversarial lines that have traditionally existed between OEMs and suppliers, but it also promotes the sharing of ideas to develop better motorcycles.
"If you walked into the PDC, you wouldn't be able to tell a supplier from a Harley employee," says Zimdars. "They have a [Harley-Davidson] badge and they sit right alongside purchasing and engineering throughout product development."
Earl Werner, Harley's vice president of engineering, says integrating other functions into the design process will help Harley develop better quality motorcycles, faster, and at a lower cost.
"It's crucial to have input from all these areas, as they are affected by engineering's designs at some point in the cycle," says Werner. "The more input we have up front, the better our products will be."
A rapid product development process will help Harley-Davidson throttle the growing number of competitors, such as Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki, that have been pumping out copy-cat cycles based on the classic Harley look. It could also put the company closer to realizing its goal of producing more than 200,000 motorcycles a year by 2003.
Centers of excellence
At the PDC, Harley-Davidson designs motorcycles from the ground up. Design engineers and purchasing "engineers," many of whom have engineering degrees, are sectioned into "centers of excellence" (COEs), which, as the name suggests, are focused on a specific material, component, or system.
Engineers and purchasers typically work side by side in the COEs for major product areas, such as powertrain; noise, vibration, and harshness; and electrical. However, for some products, such as castings and forgings, purchasing has established a single COE, headed up by a buyer who is also a degreed engineer.
The reason? "If we really were supporting all the areas that needed castings and forgings, we would need to have six different castings and forgings COEs," says Zimdars. "This way we have one group that truly becomes the experts of that commodity and can support a number of different teams."
Design engineers and purchasing engineers are pulled from these COEs to work on concurrent development teams with manufacturing and marketing personnel. Their goal: To integrate the various components developed in the COEs into a new motorcycle.
More recently, representatives from Harley-Davidson's accessories and after-market parts organizations have been added to concurrent development teams to help speed the development cycles of supporting parts and accessories.
"It wasn't long ago that, when we put out a new bike, our competition had accessories for it before we did," says Kieffer. "That shouldn't have happened because we knew what the bike was going to be before our competitors did. Now, with the accessories people working on the design process with us, they get a heads-up view of what's happening and can be a lot more strategic in developing products for new bikes."
Concurrent development teams are headed by either a product engineer or a manufacturing manager. Each team has a purchasing lead who is responsible for contributing to the life-cycle plan for the new product and ensuring it meets all quality, cost, and timing targets. This lead also integrates the appropriate purchasing engineers and suppliers into platform activities.
This is a vital role because, according to Kieffer, the success of Harley-Davidson's future designs lies with how well the company aligns itself with top suppliers.
"Purchasing can add a huge dimension to new-product development by bringing in the right talent and expertise from our supply base to help us with new technology and capacity we need," says Kieffer.
Suppliers know best
Early supplier input and close alignment with key suppliers is crucial to Harley's new-product development process. Evidence: Engineers from a half-dozen suppliers currently work full time at the PDC, providing design input for such crucial components as fuel injection, electrical, and brake systems. Other key supply partners, such as seat suppliers, visit with the development teams a few days a week. Harley plans to station another dozen suppliers at the PDC by year-end.
Kieffer says integrating suppliers into the design process lets Harley's engineers develop new products that are more manufacturable and that "take advantage of the particular skill sets or efficiencies suppliers may have in their processes."
Zimdars says there's a simple reason why Harley-Davidson is involving its supply partners in the design process: "Suppliers are the experts. They have expertise in not only what they're developing today but also what's going on in their industry. Instead of hiring this expertise in-house, we're relying on the competence that already exists within our supply base."
Indeed, for some complex components, such as brake systems, Harley has tapped suppliers to lead development. "It's co-development," explains Zimdars. "But the supplier is doing the magnitude of the design work. We have a resident Harley engineer on-site at the brake supplier who can provide them with quick input when they need it."
As part of a larger strategy to rationalize its supply base, Harley is curtailing its use of suppliers who only provide prototypes. The motorcycle maker soon will require its production suppliers to build prototypes themselves or procure or align themselves with a supplier that can provide prototypes.
"The plan is to link the prototype and production suppliers together so, as we're developing products, the production supplier will understand what's going on right from the concept stage," says Dave Rank, the engineer who heads Harley-Davidson's Softail platform. "Now [production] suppliers can see how the product will work, how it applies to them, and offer input on how to improve it."
Harley-Davidson also is encouraging its production suppliers to implement the same CAD-CAM system it uses, which is Pro/Engineer from Parametric Technology, or a compatible system. Computer-aided-design software programs will be key to Harley's plans to use an increasing number of virtual build events to see how the various parts of new products will fit and function together before building a physical part, system, or prototype.
"Virtual builds allow us to visually see the product coming together before we even start creating any hardware," says Zimdars. "It gives [the concurrent development teams] and suppliers the insight to start asking the right questions and offering the right kinds of suggestions on a design before we even cut the first part."
Harley, which sponsored its first virtual build at the PDC last year, expects such events to speed new-product development cycles and cut costs.
The first motorcycles completely developed at the PDC won't be unveiled until next year. But Harley-Davidson expects the center--and the process it supports--to deliver better quality motorcycles, faster, and at a lower cost than in the past.
"There's a revolution going on in how Harley-Davidson develops motorcycles," says Kieffer. "We're pulling together all the different functions that have impact on product development, including suppliers. And the whole system is beginning to run more smoothly. Cycle times are beginning to shorten and we're working together to attack quality, reliability, and manufacturability of our products. The end result will be more fun for us delivering and developing motorcycles. And, most importantly, more fun for our customers."
Such results should keep customers loyal to Harley-Davidson well into the next century.