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REPORT: 2013 Harley-Davidson Manufacturing Plant Tour York, Pennsylvania

Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations
Manufacturing Plant Tour
York, Pennsylvania 9/20/2013
Submitted by Bruce Petro

This event was different. Some people say it isn’t the destination, it’s the ride. Our trip to York, PA to tour the manufacturing facilities of Harley-Davidson was both of those things: Both a great ride via motorcycles (and cars) and a very interesting tour of the big factory where these all American vehicles are assembled, tested, and shipped all over the world. We also got some great exercise hiking what must have been several miles both within the factory and outside as well. Riding the new bikes was very exciting and a rare opportunity.

The Demonstration Rides of 2014 Harleys.
Harley-Davidson had at least a dozen of everything they make including all the colors and variations of equipment with several of the very expensive Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) models in each grouping. All you needed to qualify was a valid motorcycle license and they could lend you necessary safety equipment. The approx. 10 mile tour route was marked by arrows and was very scenic, and also very hilly, and twisty, and free of traffic so you could really test it, meaning crank it and bank it, to your hearts desire. The engines sort of get winded when cranked beyond the red line, my signal to shift gears, and feel free to use all 6 of them, if you can.

The factory tour.
There used to be two very large factories at this site, one was old, made touring bikes, and one very new and only made softails (Heritage and Fatboy bikes). Now there is just one very modern, spacious, comfortable, and highly automated manufacturing facility that makes both types. The old factory is gone completely.

The new factory makes all the touring and softail bikes on one long serpentine highly automated assembly line. Teams of 2 or 3 workers are all along the way and each bike seems very different. Two similar bikes in a row is a rare sight.
Production starts with the frame assembly and it takes approximately 1 minute to complete the initial operation and the VIN number is assigned.

At the end of the line, 400 motorcycles a shift, 800 motorcycles a day are produced here. There is a fork in the line where both the CVO bikes and the police bikes get set aside for special treatment. These engines are bigger than the others and are still just air cooled, no radiators.

Having ridden some of them, I can vouch the CVOs are significantly faster too.

Tour center.
This facility provided samples of various parts through various steps of manufacturing. It is amazing how many variations of these parts are provided by one company. And it is not at all unusual for each and every owner to customize their bike to personalize it with chrome extras. Casual observation of the thousands of motorcycles in the parking lot and no two were exactly alike.

The tour center also provided a souvenir shop with t-shirts, pins, patches, toys, and lots of other stuff including temporary tattoos all with the Harley-Davidson logo. For many visitors, this tour center is all they see. Today, we toured the entire factory and it was operational all along the way.

Dealer Mall.
Outside the tour center there were 5 different Harley dealers with tents filled with more t-shirts, and other items, many sale priced, and lots of souvenirs with their dealer logo also applied. It is very fashionable to wear a Harley-Davidson t-shirt with your home town or some exotic place you visited colorfully displayed on the back. Although these come in all the colors of the rainbow, the color of choice was basic black. Event t-shirts were also available from the local union, and from the official assembly site too. It is also fashionable to wear vintage t-shirts from the same event but dated earlier in time.

Vendor area.
Think food. In years past, a free lunch was provided by Harley-Davidson. Not this year. But there was a variety of food vendors, with tasty items from hot dogs to crab cakes and pop corn, and lots of beverage choices too. No beer tent, probably because of proximity to the demonstration ride area. Live entertainment was performing on a stage all day long. A diner a block away was also taking advantage of the event and had a huge parking lot packed with motorcycles, riders, and aftermarket vendors.

Our timing was good because we completed everything we wanted to do ahead of schedule and under budget. Speaking of budget, did we mention there was no charge to those attending our tour? We still encourage contributions to our funds, such as the Marvin Mundel scholarship, commensurate with what must be an overwhelming satisfaction of this event. Note to self: Next time take both survey forms and pencils (and maybe even a pencil sharpener) to the event.

In spite of our split up group we successfully completed the tour and demonstration areas. It was just a coincidence that our planned plant tour coincided with the annual open house at this site, and we got to share our activities along with some company, think tens of thousands of other folks also eager to join in our exclusive annual event.

This event was certainly one that also scored points for cultural diversity. IEs and friends of IEs are sort of homogeneous mix but bikers and friends of bikers are a mixed lot.

Miscellaneous exhibits.
A wall of rememberence was on display, with photos of events such as 9/11 and a list of military names lost in action along with it.

New motorcycles were also on display with literature explaining the details on each and just some of the options available to customize your ride. So many choices! You could also sit on a new Harley and rev it up and put it through all the gears while secured on a stand with rollers so no motorcycle license needed to get the feel of it.

Card carrying members of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) could collect their free event pin at this site too. I got mine. Not a HOG but want a commemorative pin? Not a problem, lots of that sort of thing available from the tour center and dealers.

This program event was another industrial engineering service and certainly a thorough educational experience made available and delivered by your National Capital chapter of the IIE at the right time, the right price, and the right place and all just for you. Thanks to all who took time out to participate in this special tour.

Feel free to send me your evaluation forms at your convenience or send them directly to Chapter Secretary Joe Scheibeler. Contact me again if you might have misplaced your copy of the form.

Bruce Petro standing by the brand new 2014 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle that he took for a demo ride.  The grin stayed on all day!

Bruce Petro standing by the brand new 2014 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle that he took for a demo ride. The grin stayed on all day!

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