TITAN MOTORCYCLE COMPANY: Rebuilding an American Motorcycle Manufacturer
by Douglas Chasar
One of the largest Titan dealers in the country, Don Proudfoot, was left with a number Titan motorcycles after the manufacturer filed for bankruptcy and finally closed its doors in April 2001. Deciding to try selling the bikes in Laughlin, Proudfoot loaded his Titan inventory in a trailer and headed west. Selling everything he brought with him, Proudfoot realized a lot of interest still exists in Titan motorcycles, so he made a stop in Phoenix, Arizona to visit the factory on his way back to Florida. Finding enough inventory and assets to build anywhere between two- and three hundred motorcycles, Proudfoot decided to buy Titan out of bankruptcy. By June 2001, the custom motorcycle manufacturer was up and running once again.

For the remainder of 2001 and 2002, Titan continued to roll existing models off the production floor. Though Proudfoot excels in sales and marketing he realized the company needed help with operations. Looking for an investment opportunity, Pat Coval has had his eyes on Titan for several years. In March of 2003 Coval and his partner, Deborah Fanning, were brought in as consultants to help streamline Titan's production process. By July, the two joined Titan's payroll. Coval is now five percent owner and General Manager of Titan, while Fanning holds the title of Operations Manager both putting years of manufacturing experience into practice, consulting and training in the Lean and Six Sigma (LSS) manufacturing process.

LSS methodologies are actually two separate approaches to process improvement. Where lean manufacturing focuses on eliminating waste and reducing the number of variables in a process, Six Sigma methodologies emphasize process mapping, linking step-by-step procedures in a logical flow. In recent years many businesses have begun to incorporate both methodologies. Combined, LSS is a standard methodology proven successful in various industries and several companies have applied the techniques including Honeywell, Motorola, Toyota, Honda and Harley-Davidson. LSS methods, however, have never been applied to a custom motorcycle manufacturer.

By adopting LSS methodologies and techniques, Titan's employees become involved in determining the production process. Gaining useful input from employees, doesn't come without constant training, however. In the beginning, Titan's production staff and management spent one hour every day training LSS techniques. This time is now reduced to 15-20 minutes each day. In the winter, however, Coval and Fanning will scale down production to spend more time training. According to Coval, the efficiency in production gained through training has more than paid for the time spent.

Training and education helps develop the workforce empowering Titan's employees to come up with their own solutions. Every workstation shows a flow chart or process map, which is continually changing by getting simpler and better with each step. This results in an overall improvement in quality as quality checks are now made after each step in the manufacturing process rather than after the bike is finished. Due to increased quality checks, servicing a completed bike now only takes a couple of hours where it used to take an entire day. The indisputable proof of gained efficiency is an increase in output, despite a reduction in personnel. In just a few months, the current output has nearly doubled from 14 to 27 bikes every month.

The new business philosophy of Titan Motorcycles is expected to prove successful where previous incarnations of the custom motorcycle manufacturer have been less so. A lot of little things can be done to improve efficiency, and Coval believes Titan is only about two percent of the way there. Once they have laid the foundation for the production floor, Coval and Fanning will focus on streamlining administration, and they both believe they can bring everything together over the next three years. In the end, elimination of waste, participation in value-added activities, teamwork and training will determine the ultimate success of Titan Motorcycle Company.

Ride safe, ride often...hell, just ride! - dpc

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