My Tour of the Arctic Cat Manufacturing Plant At Thief River Falls, Minnesota
by Scott A. Sumner
It had been about ten years since my last trip to the Arctic Cat plant to see first hand the creation of an Arctic Cat snowmobile. It was fun to get an up close and personal look at the entire process with Dennis Buckley, Plant Manager at Arctic Cat.
The plant is 500,000 square feet with 1100 employees at this site and 1400 overall in the company. They run three shifts per day for welding, two shifts for paint, fab shops and machine with one shift for assembly. Arctic Cat will produce ATV’s, ROV’s or side by side and snowmobiles all on day shift. On a good day depending on demand, like my tour day was, they are building 260 M series 1100 Turbo models. Arctic Cat will start making snowmobiles in May and go to early December. ATV’s are all made year round.
“ We do everything here from the raw tube or the raw machining of the extrusion and exchangers. You weld them, paint them and we have a robotic area where we put the chassis and it comes out riveted ready to go to the assembly line. Then we start attaching all the different components. We go to line with a parts car system that goes along side the line for bulky items and we use a bin system as well.,” said Dennis Buckley, Plant Manager at Arctic Cat.
The first step in the process is to stamp the VIN number on and then it depends on the model for the order of how they do things. The suspension arms will go in, the track will go on, the engine will be put in place and then you start tying everything together. “ We use DC tools and they measure the torque and the angle. For instance they can measure the suspension bolts to make sure that every one of those joints for that model were torqued to the right torque and angle. If it doesn’t it throws up and alarm and we put it on hold until we investigate the problem and take care of it,” said Buckley. “Our seats are made in a unique way where we take different types of chemicals and combine them with a carousel machine with 8 molds for any vehicles. We have programmed it to where we can change the ratios and shot time for a more plush set for a touring model or a light race seat.”
“ We had about 240 people on snowmobiles today. You run up the machine at the end where we fire up the engine, check the electronics and for any kind of leaks and go through a routine. We also have a separate audit where we pull one of the machines off every couple hours, tear it down and make sure everything is OK,” said Buckley. “ The consumer can know the sled has had a lot of checks and balances. Our people take a lot of pride in that. The average employee here has 12 years seniority and we are very proud of that.”
The Arctic Cat snowmobile has about 2000 parts. It starts with a master schedule that states what they are building and they send electronically this information to the suppliers. Every night the Arctic Cat team will go through a list of every part on every vehicle and that goes to a supplier for what is needed. The parts can come from all over the globe. It is a just in time parts arrival system. The intent of the system is to know parts requirements each day.
“ After they sleds come off the line we have independent truckers that deliver them. We have a monthly plan of delivery to the dealers. The whole manufacturing process is complex but that also makes it fun.” said Dennis Buckley who has his degree in electrical engineering and got into manufacturing when he got out of school, enjoyed the work and has a passion for it now.
“ The 50th Anniversary last summer was really cool. Our customers are very passionate and loyal. We had 3000 people here and it was one of those experiences I will never forget. They came through our plant over two days to see how we produce our product for them and it was awesome. We also got to spend some time with them outside of the plant at the activities and met people from all over the world. It was really refreshing talk to our customers.”
Arctic Cat is in a growth mode and will need about another 200 people in the next two years. “ The Wildcat ROV has been a great success for us. It is a new thing we had to figure out how to move in and out of the building because of it’s size and the different components but it has been a great product for us and fun to build.” said Buckley.
Every weekday at 1pm you can tour the Arctic Cat plant. It takes about 1 to 11/2 hours and there is no charge.