Inside Harley-Davidson

Great communication helps Milwaukee-Eight™ engine project to succeed

Engine development process relies on teamwork


Developing the Milwaukee-Eight™ engine

Developing the Milwaukee-Eight™ engine required a significant investment in planning, communications, new and retooled equipment, and training. But it was teamwork that brought the new engine roaring to life.


“If you don’t have the people element nailed, you will have a very high likelihood of failure. It was not just a transition of equipment and processes,” said Mike Merrill, project manager during the Milwaukee-Eight engine development at Harley-Davidson’s Powertrain Operations plant.


“The key to success is communication - not only communicating engineer to engineer, but communicating to Operations, which was tied to the project every day. It also was communicating to leadership at the plant so they could advocate for change or additional resources,” he said.


Keeping employees informed of project progress was important, whether or not they were directly involved, Merrill said. There were daily huddles for eight weeks, during which team leaders shared new developments, accomplishments and other details.


Creating the new engine while also producing Twin Cam™ and Sportster® powertrains required great flexibility because the same machines were needed to produce all three. But the assembly line never stopped rolling - machines were relocated or reprogrammed, and employees built up necessary inventory to ensure parts would be immediately available to satisfy customer demand.


Employees also underwent extensive training, both on- and off-site. Merrill said an assembly “dojo,” or mock work station, was created so every member of Assembly could get a feel for the new components as they learned the detailed instructions required to build the new engine. That led to an added benefit: Workers were able to identify ways to make further improvements.


“We were able to make a few changes to components based on feedback from operators that resulted in a more robust powertrain,” Merrill said.


That type of teamwork and desire for excellence exemplifies Harley-Davidson employees.


“This investment in our future wasn’t a gift,” he said. “It’s something employees earned, and they should be proud that they are part of this legacy.”


Communication and teamwork during the project helped create not only the legacy of a powerful new engine, it fueled even greater camaraderie at the plant.


“It’s amazing to see the product go down the line. There is a feeling of togetherness, of supporting each other, being respectful of each other and being able to communicate with each other freely,” Merrill said.