Back to On Track


By Hal Armstrong, SnowGoer Canada and SnowTech magazines

In today’s world we expect everything we purchase to be of high quality. What that means to you may mean something different to someone else. Quality could mean “exceptional fit and finish” or long lasting durability (less prone to failure or breakdown).

Some brands are associated with higher quality (Mercedes, BMW, Apple, etc.) than others. The manufacturers that have high quality associated with their name did not arrive there by accident. Ski-Doo snowmobiles (as well as all the other manufacturers) has quality systems in place from design through production to minimize problems on the trail, as well during the manufacturing process.

SnowGoer Canada recently visited the BRP manufacturing facility in Valcourt, Quebec to meet with the people responsible for continuous improvement from design, engineering, fabrication and assembly. We wanted to get an insight into the industry sales leader to find out how the Ski-Doo brand continues to bring innovative new products to the trail with minimal issues. This doesn’t happen by chance. This story takes you into the process that continues to make BRP’s Ski-Doo brand the industry leader on and off the trail. Let’s face it – no one wants their sled sitting at the dealer with a breakdown when you could be out riding.

The People: We met with three members of the Engineering/Quality Assurance and Production Management Team at Ski-Doo: Andre Fournier, Director of Engineering Services; Mathieu Langevin, Team Leader for Quality; and Eric Courtemanche, Production Manager Assembly.

These individuals are part of a much larger team of people that ensure every Ski-Doo snowmobile meets BRP internal specifications, as well as external specifications established by government regulatory bodies such as the EPA.

“The BRP Quality Management system is customer driven. The goal is to make sure we provide customer satisfaction and meet their requirements,” exclaimed Fournier.

BRP manufactures over 200 variations in its model lineup for 2016, which includes models built for the international market (Europe, Russia, etc). Ski-Doo for 2016 has 8 models in their lineup including Renegade, MXZ, Summit, Freeride, Grand Touring, Expedition, Tundra and Skandic. Within each of those are numerous models available with different engine options, track lengths, features and colours. Today’s consumer wants their new snowmobile to literally be custom-built just the way they want it. To meet the customer (your) requirements, Ski-Doo’s Quality Management Process at the end of the day is to provide the customer with a product that meets their expectations every time they ride their Ski-Doo.

Design/Innovation...Quality Planning begins here

“Our core business is to identify customer needs and the market, innovate products to meet those needs and then assemble here at Valcourt,” Fournier explains.

Quality Management is integrated into the product development process, as well as to the consumer through engineering and production.

“We promote quality within the team working on a new project/product with the goal to have the product right the first time when we launch it, so we isolate the customer from any issues,” explains Fournier.

BRP uses a process called Stage-Gate for New Product Development. It’s a conceptual and operational road map for moving a new product/project from idea to launch. BRP’s quest for unique, superior products begins with a thorough understanding of our customer needs. The entire team from Design/Innovation – EngineeringProject Management – Production Marketing is involved with New Product Development.

“Understanding our customers needs and problems first hand by spending time with them on the trail or in the mountains is paramount to get their wants and needs firsthand,” Fournier stated. “After we understand the customer expectation and the quality expected by our customer, we make sure to always improve our quality system also. We need to promote quality within the team and the goal is to have the product right the first time when we launch it. We don’t like recalls. It’s much cheaper to catch the problem at the factory.

“Should a problem develop on the snow, or identified after the vehicle has left Valcourt, we need to be able to react and react well. Things can happen, the way you manage them will make a difference. The season is short, so it is an extension of our Quality System to react and provide a solution quickly to the customer. The faster they are back on the snow the happier they will be with Ski-Doo.”

Continuous Improvement is more than just improving the ride and power

The Valcourt Assembly plant manufactures just 20% of the components on each new Ski-Doo that rolls of the assembly line.

“A critical part in New Product Development is to involve our Parts Suppliers in the process right from the beginning. We want to build in the quality in the design of the component with the supplier,” stated Fournier.

“The first proto of the rMotion, for example, was in development 2-3 years before it was introduced. As soon as we have a design intention and we start to design parts, we have already selected who will be the supplier of those parts. They will join the table and make sure from the start that everything we design and try is something that they will be able to build. The parts supplier knows their process and process capability. There is no value in a design that cannot be manufactured because at the end you have cornered the supplier and you force him to manufacture it. Down the road you may get parts that don’t meet your specification or you need to redesign the part at the last minute, which creates issues. The goal is right from the beginning to get all the experts together in the NPD process including engineering, quality and the supplier.

“Designing the part together as a team has made a big difference in the last 20 years in terms of bringing new designs to the market faster and with fewer problems.” stated Langevin. “Presently, BRP has more than 200 suppliers and we work with them to allocate a portion of our business so they can allocate resources for us. Purchasing no longer requires that we go out for three quotes and go with the lowest bidder. Today we select the supplier with a committee, based on what they are good at doing and their process capability.”

“We invest a lot of our energy and people time in the early phase of development when we do the product design and development to make sure we build in the quality in the design of the parts and make sure the process has robustness,” adds Fournier.

At this stage, BRP uses the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP). This is a standardized process used in automotive for establishing confidence in the component suppliers and their production processes.

“We do an extensive manufacturing review and evaluation of the parts from the supplier to make sure conformance to every dimension and specification on our drawing is met,” says Fournier. “Then we prove the process has the capability to consistently deliver the part as designed. The final phase is when the material certificate is issued to the supplier.”

Production Assembly...Doing it Right the First Time

Once the product is cleared for production, the real fun begins. Production changes models every 2-3 hours based on volume, so it is quite common to have 23 different models on the line at any given time. While we were at the plant, the Expedition 550, Tundra 550 and Tundra Extreme with the 600 H.O. E-TEC was in production.

“In the June/July period, the plant will build a first run of every model offered,” Courtemanche explained. “These units are for the customers that purchased in the spring and also so that each dealer receives part of their order. Typically at least one model (except for certain seds, like the MXZx 600RS race sled) will be built three times during the year. The first build in June/July, the second in September/October and the 3rd in November/December. The dealer tells us when they need the unit. This production schedule works well for the dealers and customers, as well as the manufacturing plant.”

On the Assembly Line each unit passes through a number of Quality Gates. These gates are located at strategic areas identified by the Quality Assurance Dept. using a tool called PFMEA (Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis).

“PFMEA evaluates each process step to identify and evaluate potential failures in the process,” Mathieu explained. “Prior to each model year build, we look for all the new things on the sleds and how we will manage the risk. For example, say there is a new coolant hose routing. We identify what can happen with this new routing on the assembly line and issue a Risk Priority Number. That takes into account:

Severity: Assesses the impact of the failure mode (the error in the process), with 1 representing the least safety concern and 10 representing the most dangerous safety concern.

Occurrence: Assesses the chance of a failure happening, with 1 representing the lowest occurrence and 10 representing the highest occurrence. For example, a score of 1 may be assigned to a failure that happens once in every 5 years, while a score of 10 may be assigned to a failure that occurs once per hour, once per minute, etc.

Detection: Assesses the chance of a failure being detected during production, with 1 representing the highest chance of detection and 10 representing the lowest chance of detection.

RPN: Risk Priority Number = Severity x Occurrence x Detection.

“You try to think of everything that can go bad before it happens,” Fournier explains. “You try to think of everything that can go bad before it happens, and then you have a long list of everything that can go bad. You then prioritize them based on the RPN. Everything higher than a certain score you need to take a corrective action to lower it.

“For example, you could have a ball joint with a new nut on the front suspension. If we could not put the right torque on the nut during assembly and there was no detection after to check the torque setting, the consequence could be a field failure for the customer. So this is a high risk, so we need to take an action. Maybe we put a second position for a second employee to check the torque, or special equipment to record the torque on the nut. That is the way you make sure those things don’t happen. We need to take an action to lower the risk.”

What is the preventative action? “We use a computer (Programmable Logic Controller) to control the torque applied to key fasteners such as suspension bolts and clutch bolts. With a PLC, the correct torque is applied consistently and data is logged for every fastener that requires a specific torque setting. If we have an issue with tightening and a torque set point is not reached the computer data logging identifies the non-conforming snowmobile and it will be identified at a quality gate. The component that was not torqued to specification will be tightened correctly prior to going into the crate for shipping. This process is true for any defect identified on any machine during production.” says Courtemanche.

“Our entire inspection plan comes from the PFMEA. This is a powerful tool, the right process and the right experienced people. Without this combination you could miss elements,” said Fournier.

The first step in the assembly process is stamping the VIN (serial number) on the tunnel of the vehicle. There are key stations along the line where critical components (track, engine, clutches, fuel tank, suspension, etc.) are installed. Each of these components is bar coded and scanned prior to installation on the sled. Andre Fournier added, “ We use a Japanese term called Poka-yoke which means mistake proofing. A poka-yoke is a process that helps an operator on the assembly line to avoid mistakes. Its purpose is to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur.”

“Some component bar codes have specific information associated with it. Example, the fuel tank. The barcode on the tank will contain key information we requested from the supplier (mold ID, shift made, etc). Some components we don’t have to scan. But with shock absorbers we have over 200 different part numbers of shocks. We make sure with the system we put the right shock on the sled,” added Courtemanche.

The constant monitoring and quality gates that each snowmobile passes through on the assembly line is not the final stage of inspection. At the end of the line each snowmobile enters Final Inspection. This sealed room is where each sled is started and run up to full throttle. It includes a safety test on the RF D.E.S.S. key, kill switch, handlebar heaters, lights. Any issues are identified and the sled is frozen in the system until the problem is rectified. All models go through the same quality filters, whether it is the MXZ Sport or Grand Touring SE. The Quality Improvement Process on the Final Assembly process is the same for every model. These checks have evolved over 50 years of building snowmobiles.”

Improving the Quality Improvement Process

Fournier reminded us that the process is never 100%. “Two years ago we had a complaint where the instrument gauge needle would go all the way up and down while riding. It was acting like it reset and then would continue. These problems are difficult to find, as it was not happening on all machines and conditions. Based on that feedback we quickly went through the process to define the issue and find the root cause. We found it was electrostatic discharge within the gauge under some conditions. We came up with a fix. That fix was made for sleds in the field and current production. We learned from this and have implemented corrective action to mitigate this problem in the future.”

The challenge today is dealing with the increased complexities of the modern snowmobile and the customer. The customer has changed and the perception of their snowmobile has to be similar to the vehicle they drive or anything else that they purchase. We have to step up and reach that level. That is the challenge today for Ski-Doo. The BRP Quality Team looks forward to the future!