In a state that consists largely of farmlands and agriculture, Milwaukee remains a stronghold of US-based manufacturing stalwarts. Unlike many manufacturing cities in the US, much of the Milwaukee-based manufacturing firms have managed to weather the storm of an uncertain economy. Few exemplify that better then HB performance systems – or what we all know as the Hayes Bicycle Group. As a company that was started in the 40s by Harold Hollnagel making parts for outboard motors as H-H Products, today Hayes makes a lot of parts for what many would consider pleasure vehicles like bicycles, four wheelers, snowmobiles, and motorcycles. As you can imagine when the economy takes a hit those types of recreational vehicles are among the first to take a hit as well.
Fortunately, HB performance systems is alive and well – illustrated by the sprawling 160,000 square-foot facility in Mequon, Wisconsin and their sister operation, Sun Components, just down the road. Currently a multi million dollar conglomerate, the bicycle side of HB Performance Systems accounts for almost 40% of their total business. In the year 2000, the bicycle group became Hayes Bicycle which is part of 4 independent business units reporting to the same leadership among HB Performance Systems. Today the company is relying on their business practices and thorough quality control system to be a product based company that offers both quality and value across the line…
Walk into the Hayes Bicycle office and you are greeted by, what else, bikes. Maybe some cake if someone in the office is having a birthday. The office area houses most of the engineers, sales, marketing, and design team that keep the bicycle product rolling.
Big John likes to shelter his cubicle in foliage to create a more immersive work environment. He also rips on a bike, like his rad derailleur equipped BMX.
A quick glance around the Hayes marketing/design office will reward you with a creative atmosphere that is as fun as it is functional. Shaun Palmer’s fork? Check. Autographed Aaron Chase helmet stating that he could have never, ever done it without Struve’s help? Check. The dry erase board in Jamin’s office is where the brainstorming for naming and product takes place – there are some good ones hidden in there.
Products like the new Manitou Mattoc are designed, engineered, and ultimately tested here. While some of the Hayes/Answer/Manitou product is made here, the forks are produced and assembled in Taiwan which you can check out in part 3 of our Hayes Factory Tour.
Genesis. The first bicycle brake from Hayes was a Schwinn Approved disc brake. They’ve certainly come a long way.
Hayes is a company with some serious history in the bicycle industry which you see all over the facility. This room in particular was a shrine to some of the coolest advertisement and awards Hayes has received over the years.
On the bicycle side of things, few components are still made in the US with the exception of Wheelsmith spokes. You get the feeling that this is really due to most of the bicycle industry being centered around Taiwan and China, rather than Hayes wanting it that way. For a company that manufactures the majority of their bicycle components in Taiwan and China it’s amazing when you walk through the door in this Wisconsin facility to see the amount of manufacturing employees they have on hand. Thanks to major clients like Harley-Davidson, Polaris, and Arctic Cat, Hayes’ US-based manufacturing is alive and well. And state-of-the-art.
Hayes does manufacture and devise all of the testing equipment for their product here and runs a full battery of tests on products here as well as over seas.
Inside the test lab are a number of cycle tests that operate things like QR levers, brakes, and suspension forks repetitively until failure.
Brake dynos are essentially a massive engine that turns a rotor mounted to a spindle. A brake then clamps on the rotor while it is turned by the machine, torture testing it into submission. There are blast shields around the machine for a reason. The same brake dyno can be used for mountain bike and motorcycle brakes but they basically take off all of the shaft weights from motorcycle testing to just run the spindle for mountain bike brakes. There’s a vast amount of in-house testing that is done from the mentioned dyno testing, to UV exposure, salt spray, corrosion, temperature, and a lot of the more bicycle specific tasks like wheel roll or drop testing.
Inside the blast shield is a brake that was or will be undergoing testing. The rotor is mounted to the shaft of the machine which spins at a specified speed and torque while the caliper clamps down on the rotor to measure heat build up. Many of these are tested to failure hence the ventilation to remove smoke and blast shields to keep engineers safe!
A quick look at the environment cabinets and salt spray test box shows just how many tests products must undergo. From freezing to boiling, to being dropped in the ocean it can be simulated here.
Measuring and testing is a big part of what Hayes does here with a lab set up to measure microscopic flaws or failures. All of the measurement tools are routinely calibrated and given stickers of dated approval.
CMM or coordinate measuring machines are important tools for manufacturing which is why you will find them in most of the modern factories. When you have big parts to measure you need big machines, and this Brown&Sharpe is one of the biggest/most advanced CMMs we’ve seen.
Hayes makes no effort to hide who their customers are, in fact they take great pride in providing parts for some of the biggest names in motorsports including Harley Davidson.
Having a powersports division in house means there is also the need for a killer mechanic shop for all the toys. You never know what you may find in the repair bays from snowmobiles to side-by-sides with prototype ABS systems.
With over 70 CNC machines inside with two of them as big as a small house, the warehouse floor is populated by a number of cell manufacturing stations each using modern manufacturing techniques including six Sigma, JIT, and Kaizen to operate as efficiently as possible. If you’re wondering how a company can split the time between bicycles and motorsports, it’s fascinating to see just how similar they are in many regards.
Many of the disc brakes they make for other vehicles (which resemble much larger versions of the mountain bike brakes) are now produced using techniques they learned on the mountain bike production side. The process of sending built, bled, and cut to length brake systems to dealers was a process first built for the mountain bike applications, which then was used to revolutionize how brakes for Powersports applications were prepared. They also share a lot of the same testing equipment between bicycle and Powersports, though a few changes have to be made.
One of the things that you’ll see across all of Hayes’ manufacturing is the brake or suspension fluid housed in a centrally located drum and pumped to where it is needed. This cuts down on spillage, and make it easier to manage the fluids.
Even though there isn’t a bicycle production line here in Mequon, they do have a full prototype machine shop capable of building just about anything the guys in the office can dream up. That means the engineers next door can design something and walk over to where prototypes are being made before sending off the design to their factories in Asia for full production.
Join us for part 2 as we check out Sun Ringle’s facility just down the road where they produce Wheelsmith Spokes!