Harley-Davidson Plant Excels with Proactive and Predictive Maintenance

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation

"Get your motor runnin'. Head out on the highway. Lookin' for adventure and whatever comes our way . . ." - lyrics from Steppenwolf's 1968 classic song "Born to Be Wild"

The Harley-Davidson image is the antithesis of predictable. No schedules. No plans. No boundaries. No cares. The unknown lies around the bend. Just strap on the helmet, fire up the engine and ride.

It's the motorcycle riding image - the lifestyle - that's embraced by customers and glorified in music, movies, advertisements and TV shows. Harley-Davidson is the off ramp from the same-old, punch-the-clock, 8-to-5, report-to-your-boss world.

The Harley-Davidson manufacturing image, however, is all about predictability. No surprises. No bottlenecks. No breakdowns. No downtime. What lies ahead is known. Just turn on the production equipment and create.

It's the reliability image - the lifestyle - that's built by maintenance and embraced by employees in production, operations, finance, and plant and corporate management. Reliability-fostered predictability is the on ramp to increased output, productivity, efficiency and profitability at this truly American industrial company.

Perhaps no Harley-Davidson plant embodies this spirit and vision like its powertrain operations factory located in the Milwaukee suburb of Menomonee Falls.


The Harley-Davidson plant in Menomonee Falls, Wis., frequently uses multiple predictive maintenance tools to solve machinery issues.

"At many places, reactive maintenance and fire-fighting gets celebrated," says Larry Angel, the plant's maintenance manager. "From Harley's perspective, if you really want to hit a home run, it's your background processes - the enhancement work - that make a difference. It's not as exciting. It's not as visible for others to see. But, this is what saves you time, effort and money. It's predictability. We believe in that, and we recognize our people for doing the right things that help us achieve that goal."


Machine repairman Gordy Pollari is the plant's expert on vibration analysis.

The plant's maintenance organization is a strong proponent of:

  • Technology

  • A focus on detail and root causes

  • Team concepts

  • Communication and sharing

By effectively using these "tools," says lead maintenance reliability engineer Dana Fluet, "we are moving toward being 100 percent proactive and having zero fire-fighting. . . . It's the way that we're doing business at Harley-Davidson."

The factory, which manufactures engines and components for three powertrain variations installed on Harley-Davidson brand motorcycles, is not a newcomer to progressive maintenance strategies.

"We have always had a very aggressive maintenance department," says Dean Bodoh, an electrician with 19 years of experience at the site.

But the pace, progress and prowess have accelerated greatly since the hirings of Angel in 2001 and Fluet in 2003.

Angel and Fluet changed a mentality of outsourcing predictive maintenance (PdM) activities, instead placing the onus and opportunities on the department's skilled trades.


Electrician Dean Bodoh is trained and certified in infrared thermography.

"Many companies outsource these things when they are testing or dabbling with PdM," says Angel. "We found that by utilizing our own people, we could be more effective at monitoring and staying on top of equipment issues. Plus, we would have immediacy by shifting away from one-week or two-week turnaround times for results and reports from the outside contractors."

Fluet came from the nuclear power industry with advanced knowledge on PdM technologies. "Dana opened up doors for us in terms of how to fully apply these technologies and utilize the findings," says Angel.

The goal was to provide non-intrusive technical services and as little disruption as possible to the production process.

The work of these maintenance leaders culminated in the creation of a PdM super team in early 2006.

"We have the right people in the right positions," says Fluet. "This is their full-time job. We aren't pursuing this half-way. These people provide skills and consistency to this effort. The bottom line is time savings, in-house expertise, overall cost savings and increased machine uptime."

The predictive team includes:

  • Bodoh, who is in charge of infrared thermography.

  • Randy Czeszynski, a millwright who is focused on machinery lubrication and oil analysis.

  • Gordy Pollari, a machine repairman who is focused on vibration analysis.

They are joined by pipefitter Eric Radke and machine repairman Steve Cummins, who incorporate PdM applications in their roles as leaders of maintenance-related Continuous Improvement activities.


Randy Czeszynski, a millwright and certified lubrication analyst, manages the oil analysis program.

"These individuals are passionate about what they are doing," says Fluet. "We didn't go out and hand-pick these guys for these slots. They volunteered. They had a deep interest in elevating what maintenance can do for this plant."

Each PdM technology leader underwent extensive training to become proficient in his focus tool. Bodoh attended thermography classes through FLIR Systems and obtained Level I certification. Czeszynski took classes through Noria Corporation and Computational Systems Inc., and is now a certified lubrication analyst. Pollari has taken courses through CSI and Technical Associates, and is pursuing a Level I vibration analysis certificate.

The predictive team works on the first shift and resides in a central office area.

"This maximizes communication," says Fluet. "By talking with one another about what they are seeing and finding with each technology, everyone is able to learn. The synergy of the team is growing. The collaboration of these skilled people and their tools helps to confirm and verify findings."

In the predictive team's first year, the machinery lubrication/oil analysis program provided some of the biggest gains by rewriting the rules. The department shifted its preventive maintenance (PM) philosophy related to lubrication.

"The old process of preventive maintenance and writing PMs was basically to follow the old manuals," says Czeszynski, a Harley-Davidson employee for 17 years. "In six months, you dump this oil. In a year, you dump this. In two years, you dump this. By bringing in the oil analysis program, we have moved from a time-based system to a condition-based system. Those PMs have been rewritten; the old ways are gone. We do it all as it is required. That's low-hanging fruit, and it saved us a ton of money."

So much so that the reduction in oil consumption alone within the program's first six months paid for the department's elaborate oil analysis laboratory (it's the only lab of its kind within Harley-Davidson).

"We haven't tracked cost savings related to availability, waste disposal, manpower," says Fluet. "We are trying to get our hands around documenting these savings, as well."

The program has also rewritten the definition of "what is clean oil?"

"Probably the most aggressive attack since we put in the lab has been starting a program for our incoming oil," says Fluet. "Initially, we didn't realize how contaminated some of the incoming oil was — not until we had the capability of testing the incoming oil ourselves."

There's "clean," and then there's clean.

Fluet initially focused on oil stored in bulk tanks. An elaborate filtering system has brought contamination levels in new oil down to a miniscule 3 microns.

"As we deliver oil to our transportation containers and oil stations, we now know that it is at an expected cleanliness level at the lube station," says Fluet.

Czeszynski followed that up by teaching operators how to properly lubricate their machines as part of the plant's Total Productive Maintenance program. As an instruction tool, Fluet created colorful instruction sheets that use photos and graphics to identify the correct lubrication points and proper lubricant types for each machine.

The oil/lube program is currently working to expand into wear debris analysis, so that, as Czeszynski says, "we can predict three or four months in advance that a machine is showing early signs of degradation or failure."

Big saves and savings also came after the thermography program was brought in-house and its processes re-examined.

An outside contractor previously took semi-annual infrared scans of switchgear systems that provide power to production machinery. In between scans, as part of the PM schedule, plant electricians opened up electrical cabinets and verified torque settings on contactors. The latter process required a shutdown of the machines tied to those cabinets.

All of that has changed. Today, Bodoh not only does regular scans of switchgear, but of individual machines, as well.

"Using infrared on the assembly line is a big plus," he says. "If the line goes down, this plant isn't making money."

He also regularly scans cabinets and other electrical components for hot spots, making the torque checks fairly obsolete. These infrared activities do not require a shutdown.

"I can go out and save the company time and money by using the camera and finding things before they break down," he says.

One example relates to certain PM tasks for generators.

The previous electrical PM called for the generator to be shut down. After throwing the disconnect switch, the unit's full-revolution fly wheel would take nearly an hour to coast to a complete stop. Then, the examination could take place. Today, Bodoh opens the electrical panel on a running generator and performs a full scan. In 15 minutes, the PM is completed. There is no machinery downtime.

In another example, Bodoh used the technology to uncover a tricky, easily overlooked issue with contactors inside a panel. Intermittent problems were leading to occasional machine trip-outs.

"Dean's scan showed the ambient temperature inside the panel was 146 degrees," says Angel. "It was still functioning, but not for long. With that information from that camera, we looked deeper and identified the problem. The front of the contactor looks perfect, but the sides were cooked. The contactor heats up, and there may be a bad weld in there somewhere. As it heats, it loses contact. When it cools down, it re-contacts. It's hard to spot that with just a visual check. It looks normal. But, you get another view with the camera."

The time savings were huge.

"It took the troubleshooting time down from hours — or more if you have an electrician hanging out for a shift or two, waiting for it to fail again — to minutes," says Angel. "We got the picture and found the problem. We went to the tool crib and got the needed parts, shut it down for 15 minutes to make the replacement, and we were done. It's resolved. The technology got us to the root cause."

Predictability and detection are also the byproducts of the vibration analysis program.

The plant has had the most hands-on experience with this PdM technology. An outside contractor set up the original analysis parameters for the program in the late 1990s. The maintenance department then made tool implementation the part-time job of a machine repairman.

"It was adequate," says Fluet, "but there was room for improvement."

Enter Pollari. Since his ascent to the full-time role of vibe leader, he has used two-channel analyzers and his computer keyboard to raise reliability and trending capabilities. Pollari, a nine-year Harley veteran, says the work is important but far from sexy.

"Much of my time is spent doing database work," he says. "The contractor set up the initial program. When a company like that comes in, it typically rolls out a vibration program using standard analysis parameters to look at any machine that has a pump on it or has this particular horsepower range on a motor. I've taken those data sets and adjusted the analysis parameters so they are specific to our machine.

"I'll look at a machine and figure out how many rotor bars are in that motor. I'll document the stator slots, specific bearing types. In a pump, I'll examine how many vanes are on the impeller, plus bearing types, process temperatures. Those characteristics need to be put into a database so I can accurately acquire vibration data and do a thorough diagnostic. That way, when I do my routes, I'm acquiring good, trendable data, and I can identify potential component issues prior to failure."

The technology has proved beneficial in, among other areas, finding above-baseline conditions on motor spindles. The subsequent proactive work defused the risk of catastrophic failure. And, the changeouts didn't impact production.

Pollari's work allows maintenance to effectively communicate findings to anyone inside and outside the organization.

"As opposed to 'I think we have a vibration issue,' it's 'We have a vibration issue. It's the inboard bearing. Let's send the motor out or do it in-house and replace the bearing,'" says Fluet. "We know exactly what we need to repair or replace."

This Harley-Davidson plant is achieving high predictability thanks to oil analysis, thermography and vibration analysis. However, it is on the verge of launching additional technologies that will push its capabilities to unchartered territories.

Since 1999, the company and especially the Menomonee Falls plant have financially backed research done by Dr. Jay Lee in the field of intelligent maintenance systems (IMS). Professor Lee initially founded the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Today, the program resides at the University of Cincinnati. His groundbreaking work is developing condition-based sensing technologies that can predict and forecast equipment performance to a point where "near-zero breakdown" status is achievable.

This summer, the plant will be a pioneer in truly employing intelligent maintenance.

This implementation project has been two years in the making. In 2005, the maintenance department purchased wireless sensing equipment from Techkor Instrumentation. A student from Lee's program spent all of last summer at the plant developing a computer program that uses a triggering mechanism to initiate the capture of monitoring data from a machine. In essence, it leap-frogs time-based sensing capabilities and delivers data collection at the first sign of an event or anomaly.

Since that time, Techkor has been developing a communication protocol between the sensing technology and the computer program. A true solution was scheduled for delivery in late May or early June.

"We are still in the developmental and infancy stage of this," says Fluet. "We will start to see actual daily benefit of this technology this summer."

Eight machines will serve as the initial test area for the linked-up IMS project. The plan is to expand it out to critical machines among the plant's 1,400 total assets in the fall.

The benefits will be substantial.

"Right now, Gordy has a walk-around vibe program," says Fluet. "He has to physically take a machine out of production, set the spindle at a fixed speed with a tool on it, and take his vibration data. It's good information, but it's counterproductive to production because we are removing a machine out of production to get that non-intrusive data. This wireless system will trigger on any anomaly and allow us to collect that data. In the future, Gordy will be able to come in, sit at his desktop and actively watch equipment in a live state."

But vibration isn't the only application.

"We will also monitor current. We can monitor tool life," he says. "A new tool is going to draw X amount of current off of a spindle motor. As that tool gets dull, the current demand for that particular tool will start to climb. We can establish a baseline and trend the tool life. We have machines out there that use 60 to 70 tools for a particular process. So at some point in the future, we are going to be able to baseline each tool and independently track tool life for each specific tool.

"The premise of this computer program will have such an impact on how we use predictive technologies in the future."

Fluet and Angel envision IMS ushering in an era of automatically generated work orders and alerts based on data findings.

"I want to have a trigger mechanism that would alert the operator, saying, 'We've had an adverse trend in your spindle. Contact maintenance,'" says Fluet. "Our electrical engineers are working to put up an andon board that would flag when a certain machine requires attention."

Says Angel, "The ramifications are huge. Production would see an immediate impact. Maintenance would be directly helping production become more cost effective."

Technology is important and factors heavily into the maintenance department's future plans. But the trump card of this Harley-Davidson plant, as documented in many of the initiatives listed in this article, is people. It is their work, as individuals and as members of groups or teams, which enables world-class reliability and predictability.

Fluet has played a major role in revising a machinery specifications manual that is used by current and prospective suppliers. This 200-plus-page book provides strict guidelines to original equipment manufacturers on how to design Harley-bound machines based on the company's maintenance and reliability requirements. It includes criteria for, among other things, design features, run-off testing and standardization.

Tied to those written specifications, the plant also assembles asset integration teams that create a complete care strategy for a new machine prior to its installation on the plant floor. The team includes skilled trades representatives, PdM team members, engineers and machine operators. The asset care strategy is derived from a full-blown Reliability-Centered Maintenance analysis. It includes a complete preventive maintenance checklist and schedule, predictive maintenance checklist and schedule, and a comprehensive spare parts list.

Maintenance representatives also work with engineers and operators on equipment improvement teams. They examine chronic mechanical issues and, in a kaizen/RCM format, jointly develop care, use and/or design solutions that increase performance.

Findings from such teams and projects, or from PM/PdM/RCM/IMS activities, are shared with other Harley-Davidson plants through best practice circles or e-rooms.

Best practice circles are quarterly, in-person meetings for leaders of a particular discipline (maintenance management, reliability engineering, etc.). E-rooms are Web-based outlets where people from a particular department, work group or function compile and share meeting notes, documents, procedures and strategies.

Weekly reliability meetings bring maintenance leaders together with planners, production leaders and the plant general manager. Demonstrating that "you can't predict tomorrow unless you know what happened yesterday," they perform a post-mortem on recent equipment issues. They also discuss battle plans for emerging ones.

Communication-driven people power is also evident in the little things. Maintenance work group advisor Jim Breister visits production areas where recent maintenance activities took place. He chats with operators to ensure their satisfaction and to perhaps identify additional needs that the department can address.

"I know all of the operators by their first name," says Breister. "Good communication leads to good decisions."

Harley-Davidson is on the road to maintenance greatness. Its professional peers see the company's maintenance organization as a front-runner.

"Harley-Davidson has done a fantastic job," says Bruce Bremer, the facilities engineering manager for Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America.

Toyota colleague David Absher, the facilities control manager at its plant in Georgetown, Ky., is equally impressed. "I've reviewed some of the work that Harley-Davidson has done in maintenance," he says. "I was wowed."

Predictably, the motorcycle manufacturer deflects much of the plaudits.

"Are we 10 percent or 20 percent of the way there? I don't know," says Angel. "I see us at the bottom of the curve, going up. There is so much more that we can do."

That is not just management's stance.

"It's getting better and better with each year," says Bodoh. "I think that we are on the verge of taking this to a whole different level. The sky is truly the limit on what we can accomplish."

That is what keeps their motor running.

"I am hoping that in the near future, all of our PMs will be predictive," says Czeszynski. "There will be no surprises. I think the company is going to benefit tremendously as we continue to move forward with this program. There's that much promise."

Born to be predictable.

You won't find it tattooed on a bicep or airbrushed onto a cycle helmet. However, it's a reliability image and lifestyle for which any manufacturer should strive.

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