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OM in the News: Harley Goes Flexible

September 24, 2012

Our Global Company Profile that opens Chapter 7 describes the manufacturing process at Harley-Davidson’s plant in York, PA. The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 22-23, 2012) writes that “until recently, the company’s sprawling factory here had a lack of automation that made it an industrial museum. Now, production that once was scattered among 41 buildings is consolidated into one brightly lighted facility (see photo) where robots do more heavy lifting. The number of hourly workers, about 1,000, is half the level of three years ago and more than 100 of those workers are “casual” employees who come and go as needed.”

This revamping has allowed Harley to quickly increase or cut production in response to shifting demand. Harley got serious about cutting costs when Keith Wandell became CEO in 2009. On his first visit to the York plant, he declared the layout and working methods unsustainable and began scouting sites for a new plant to replace York. When the company notified its union that the plant would move unless it approved a new contract giving Harley more control over costs, union members voted overwhelmingly to make concessions, and Harley stayed in York.

Instead of 62 job classifications, the plant now has 5, meaning workers have a wider variety of skills and can go where needed. A 136-page labor contract has been replaced by a 58-page document. The pace of work is faster now, but managers and workers work together more smoothly, according to the Journal. In the paint department, for example, people used to do the same chore all day but now rotate through several tasks to avoid body strain and boredom.

Some items formerly made in York, such as brackets and screws, come from outside suppliers. Production fluctuates depending on day-to-day sales, so the company doesn’t have to stock up well ahead of the spring peak-selling period and guess which models and colors will be popular.

Discussion questions:

1. What major OM changes did Waddell make to turn Harley around?

2. What is the impact of job classification changes (a topic of Ch.10)?

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