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Visiting the Arctic Cat Manufacturing Facility

Last Fall, Arctic Cat invited us to a media event to present their 2023 line. During this event, I had the chance to visit the Arctic Cat manufacturing site located in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

Although this was not my first visit to Arctic Cat, it was the first time I had the opportunity to visit the place where the vast majority of Arctic Cat quads are built. If you own an Arctic Cat quad, chances are it was born in this facility. With the exception of a few small displacement Alterra models (Alterra 90, 300 and 450), all Arctic Cat quads are built in Thief River Falls.

Variations in assembly line activity depending on the time of year

At the time of our visit at the end of October, the assembly lines were on break and a few employees were busy taking inventory and doing maintenance on the equipment. You will notice that I mentioned “the assembly lines”. In fact, the building has two separate assembly lines, one for quads and one for snowmobiles.

Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

These assembly lines operate at different times of the year. Our guide explained to us that Arctic Cat employs around 900 people, 600 of whom work on the assembly lines and the manufacturing stations adjacent to it. The plant is not only the place where the vehicles are assembled, but also where many components are manufactured. Among these are the chassis.

Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

Other elements, such as engines, are built elsewhere or come from other engine manufacturers such as Yamaha. On the other hand, the 100% Arctic Cat engines are manufactured in Saint-Cloud, also located in Minnesota.

The Manufacturing Process

Although the assembly line was not in operation, our visit allowed us to learn a lot about the manufacturing process. Instead of the usual image of a stationary mechanized line where components move from station to station, Arctic Cat uses robotic carts that follow a tape on the floor.

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Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

Of course, the carts are able to know their position on the track and stop at different stations.

This provides incredible flexibility to change the number and location of stations. In addition, moving the position of the tape that the carts follow makes it possible to completely reconfigure the assembly line.

On-Site Component Manufacturing

As I mentioned earlier, many of the components needed to make the quads are manufactured in the same building. Arctic Cat invests a lot of money in robotization and automation. This helps to overcome staffing shortages and ensures consistency in the precision and quality of the parts produced.

Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

This eliminates repetitive tasks for employees and ensures a constant production rate and availability of components on the production line.

Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

Quality Control

The manufacturer leaves nothing to chance and has established quality control processes for the quads produced. Thus, units can be targeted for quality control. Moreover, if an anomaly is detected during assembly, research on the cause(s) will be done in order to correct the situation and prevent it from happening again.

Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

Finally, each vehicle produced will undergo a test where its engine will be started and the forward and reverse gears will also be checked. In addition, a host of other elements will be tested.

If these tests are conclusive, the quad will then be prepared for shipment to the dealer.

Visite de l'usine d'Arctic Cat à Thief River Falls

Labour Challenges

Like the vast majority of companies, Arctic Cat has to deal with a declining labour supply. For a municipality with a population of less than 9,000, filling 900 positions is a significant challenge.

The manufacturer was still able to continue production, but the pace had to be reduced. Our guide explained that the assembly line has a production capacity of nearly 200 vehicles per day. However, at the time of our visit, less than 100 units were being produced daily. This slowdown was mainly due to a lack of manpower.

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Another complicating factor is that the Polaris manufacturing facility in Roseau is less than a 70-minute drive from Thief River Falls. Both manufacturers are essentially using the same population pool to recruit their local workforce.

This explains in part the lack of new units available at the dealerships and the delays when ordering a quad.

I greatly appreciated my visit and I thank Arctic Cat for this unique opportunity!

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