36 (131) 2018
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Polaris Poland: off-road vehicles – and managers for special tasks

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Poland is a country often chosen by investors from the automotive industry, right across the supply from the smallest of parts, through to sub-assemblies and assembly of entire vehicles.

This is confirmed by the presence of Polaris Industries, which produces off-road vehicles of the ATV type (all-terrain-vehicle) or SxS (side-by-side vehicles for 2-6 people) in its Opole facility.

Founded in 1954, Polaris Industries is now a global leader in the power-sports segment, employing over 10,000 people worldwide. The company has been a global leader in the field of off-road vehicles (quads, motorcycles and snowmobiles) for over 30 years. It has its factories in the US, Mexico and – since 2014 – in Opole. The Polish plant is the first Polaris factory that manufactures off-road vehicles outside North America.

“The idea of locating a Polaris plant in Opole, of course, was based on a very strong business case,” says Bogusław Dawiec, chief operating officer of Polaris Poland. “The European market has become so large that the location of production in Europe has become justified, financially and logistically. Poland was chosen due to the existence of special economic zones, which helped to greatly speed up the investment. Opole's election was also not accidental. “From the beginning, as a company, we didn’t want to compete with large centres such as Wrocław or Gliwice. Opole seemed like a great idea, especially since the distance to those two cities is not large, thanks to which we could have access to experienced technical staff,” adds Mr Dawiec.

At the time that production began, in September 2014, the Opole factory employed 140 people, producing the first four ATV models. Currently, 19 different platforms are produced for nine ATV models and ten SxS models, in total in 160 variants. Annual production – at around 16,000 vehicles – allows Polaris to satisfy 80% of its sales in Europe. The main markets are France, Sweden and Norway. Polaris machines from Opole also go to Germany, Spain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the entire African market. There are plans are also to expand to other distant markets such as Australia.

Production process

The 33,700m2 plant consists of several areas. In addition to the warehouse where components from all over the world are stored, the factory has a welding shop, paint shop and vehicle assembly area.

The path of each of the 7,000 components delivered from 200 suppliers from around the world, starts from acceptance into the warehouse. The shelving system has over 3,300 pallet places and 1,000 storage places where components are sorted and stored.

The next stop is the welding shop, which allows Polaris employees to weld the structures of 46 ATV and 26 SxS vehicles per day. Each of the 10 stations for ATV or 20 stations for the SxS chassis is equipped with systems such as the Visual Work Instruction work screen, which shows an isometric view of the parts for the operator. There is also a robotic welding cell in which suspension elements are manufactured. The department is equipped, among others in a robotic welding cell. The paint shop enables the delivery of metal and plastic components. It is equipped with a liquid and powder paint shop. The metal parts painting system has an automated painting line that deals with the entire process from pre-treatment to hardening.

After welding and painting, the components go into assembly, including two lines – one for SxS models: RZR, Ranger and General, Zeus, and one for ATVs: Sportsman, Scrambler and Ace. The factory has been designed to provide optimal performance. All operators are visible from any point of the line, so that the group leaders can observe how the production proceeds and make possible corrections in case of any problems. The assembly time depends on the complexity of the vehicle, for SxS vehicles it is an average of seven hours per vehicle, for ATV vehicles, between four and five hours.

In 2015, the factory received the ISO 9001 certificate, thanks to which it became the first Polaris plant with a certified quality management system.

Constant development

The Opole facility does more than produce vehicles for the European, Middle Eastern and African markets. “For someone from outside, it would seem that we are just a simple assembly plant. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Mr Dawiec. “The competences of our employees are appreciated, that's why in Opole we’re also responsible for homologating and developing off-road vehicles for many different markets. Polaris Poland focuses on developing its own know-how. One example of this is the production equipment, which since last year has been developed locally. “Currently, about 60% of the tools we use are created on-site,” says Piotr Komisarczuk, manager of the maintenance department and the Polaris Poland facility.

The Engineering Department at Polaris Opole combines typical engineering functions – preparation of vehicle structures, prototyping and validation tests – as well as programme management tasks, including participation in planning future vehicle models. This department is responsible not only for the development of products for the EMEA market but also for the APLA (Asia Pacific and Latin America) markets. “Currently, we have 23 engineers in the department,” says Roman Dutka, the engineering manager “Our team is consistently expanding to include new specialists, thanks to whom we can get involved in new projects, important for the development of the whole Polaris group. Although it’s a young team, it can already boast of significant successes, such as the launch of ABS braking in SxS vehicles as the first in the world. The project team focuses on providing products compatible not only with the requirements of the EU or local EMEA / APLA regulations, but also with the expectations of local customers in terms of overall quality, reliability, equipment and adaptation to local working conditions.

As part of the engineering centre, there’s also a team that tests vehicles on a 2km-long track located on the premises of the special facility. Vehicles’ noise levels, suspension and braking system are tested here. The data obtained is used for vehicle development in cooperation with the team at the company's US headquarters in Minnesota.

A vehicle distribution centre was created by the factory in 2017, thanks to which Opole took over most of the competences from the current centre in Belgium.

A European supplier chain is also being developed. “A specific challenge for us is the large variety of vehicles we manufacture,” –  emphasises Mr Dawiec. “As a factory, we are focused on the production of many variants, but in quite short runs. We may be asked to produce a couple of hundred of vehicles for say, a forestry service of a European state, which are quite unlike other vehicles we produce. The high degree of customisation means that many elements are not profitable to be produced locally, because their cost is usually higher than those produced in the US and supplied to all Polaris plants,” he says. Although such critical components as engines or transmissions come from the US and Mexico, more and more components come from Europe. Seats are delivered from Spain, lights and brakes from suppliers from the Czech Republic. From Poland come all the body-frame tubes and suspension springs, as well as a fair part of plastic components.

Investing in employee development

The growing interest in off-road vehicles translates into an increase in production and employment in Opole. “In January 2017, we had 245 employees; by January 2018 we were already at 320 people,” points out Aleksandra Nowak-Kmieć, the HR manager. “We will be recruiting this year as well. We are currently planning to increase employment by another 12-15%. Engineers are particularly well-liked; they can take part in global Polaris projects from Opole. Over the past year, we have also developed a path for the development of production workers, which offers several opportunities for promotion through internal recruitment,” says Ms Nowak-Kmieć.

From the beginning of its activity, Opole Polaris pursued a strategy of openness towards both employees and outsiders. The company organises factory open days for its employees and their families. The possibility of using one of several available vehicles manufactured in Opole is highly popular among staff. “Polaris employees can use our vehicles outside of work,” says Mr Dawiec. “It gives them the opportunity to get in and check how the products they have been working on are like to drive. After a few hours of training, confirmed by an appropriate certificate, they can borrow a quad for a weekend for free.

Polaris Poland also supports the development of vocational education, cooperating with local universities and schools. So far this year, 12 Polaris vehicles were sent to engineering faculties of local technical high schools, universities and training centres. Students have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the technical solutions used in vehicles. “We are very interested in educating future production and engineering staff,” says Ms Nowak-Kmieć. “We organise internships and apprenticeships with Opole educational institutions. Annually, we receive about 20 interns and dozens of apprentices. We also develop our own internship programme.”

The management of Polaris Poland and its employees engage in numerous activities that benefit of the local community. They cooperate with local NGOs; Polaris vehicles take part in events organised by the city of Opole. Employees participate in various sports events, such as running events and football matches. Every year, they join the Szlachetna Paczka campaign, support local public benefit associations, educational institutions, and local community initiatives.

The openness may also be testified by the fact that throughout the year from all over Poland, both school and pre-school trips (on average two a week) come to the Opole facility.

From 2019, the factory plans to start production of the iconic Indian motorcycle. Pre-dating its rival, Harley-Davidson (the first Indian was produced in 1901, two years before the first Harley), the Indian brand is associated with cruisers, bobbers and flat-trackers. Production of motorcycles has been in preparation for several months, and is another big step for the company.

Polaris in Opole is a company that not only produces some of the most interesting products in the automotive industry, but is a dynamic, development-oriented organisation and has to offer – as an engineering centre, production plant, and as an employer.

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