When you think of manufacturing a snowmobile engine, what
comes to mind? Molds, big, robotic welders, hunks of metal stacked, ready to be
cut, formed and assembled?
If that’s your image, then you might be surprised if you
were to walk through the Polaris engine plant in Osceola, WI.
Are Polaris engines manufactured at the Osceola facility or
are they assembled? We guess it’s a matter of semantics. For the record, none
of the parts used in Polaris’ engine assembly plant are produced there. Polaris
Liberty engines are assembled in the plant. They come in as parts and leave as
completely assembled engines.
How about we agree that the engines are built in Osceola.
Either way, it’s pretty interesting to watch an engine come
That’s just what we did this past summer on a tour of the
engine plant, which also included a tour of the other parts of the plant where
seats are formed and then covered as well as a part of the plant where parts
are manufactured (think of the big robotic welders and laser-guided cutting
machines making exhaust systems and the like).
We’re just going to focus on the engine assemble plant for
now. The factory has three engine lines. The first line assembles ATV engines,
which is what we saw being built, because when we toured the plant it wasn’t
the right time of year to watch snowmobile engines being put together. However,
we were told the process is much the same between ATVs and snowmobiles. The
second line assembles the Victory motorcycle V-twin engine. It runs year round.
The third line assembles 2-stroke snowmobile engines, specifically the 600, 700
and 800s, both EFI and carb. Our tour guides for the day, Al Hogen, director of
operations at the Osceola plant, and Bob Steffl, drive train unit manager,
explained there are minimal changes on the line to build carb vs. EFI models.
Hogen and Steffl both pointed out that assembling the
engines is very operator dependent. While employees utilize state-of-the-art
equipment to do their jobs, engine assembly requires manual labor. There are 150
hourly employees in engine assembly plant. Between the two plants (engine
assembly and the other plant where parts like pipes are manufactured), Polaris
employs between 600-700 people and ships out 600,000 parts a week, whether it’s
an engine, an exhaust or other parts.
One of the primary reasons for bringing the engine assembly
in house was that Polaris could control the quality of the end product. Hogen
said, “By buying components from outside and assembling it ourselves, we can
control quality. We control our own designs and costs by having our own
We were curious how long it takes to assemble an engine. To
build an engine it takes about 2.2 hours from start to finish—of course that is
dependent on several variables like the line rate and any problems that may
arise (which during our visit seemed to be zilch). At that rate, the line is designed
to produce up to 400 ATV engines a shift. On the Victory line employees can
assemble 50 engines a shift while on the snowmobile line it’s 400 sled engines per
Employees are divided up into cells, which is a small
section on the assembly line. They are cross trained (as a necessity in case
someone calls in sick or is on vacation) and every two hours workers rotate
within a cell. That eliminates repetition by being at one spot all day. Along
the assembly line, there are several sub assembly stations, which saves the
employees time while offering quality control during the build.
The engines we saw being assembled the day of our tour was
Polaris’ new ATV Razor. Here’s a visual journey along the Razor engine’s day of