Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Year 2010

The diverse company has gained entrance into numerous markets, thanks to its innovative approach. Dan Harvey’s report describes how the Minnesota-based enterprise applied its numerous talents to practical applications.

Many successful companies bedeck their walls with large oil paintings that portray dignified images of founders or presidents. But if TEAM Industries truly wants to pay homage to its own heritage, it should hang a portrait of whoever it was the chiseled the first-ever wheel from stone. After all, the Minnesota-headquartered company impacts just about any transportation conveyance positioned upon wheels. That’s what drives its rolling momentum and led to its descriptive motto: “Driving Innovation.”

When TEAM talks about driving forward, it’s referring to modern, high-speed wheels – and the tagline is perfectly appropriate for the company’s stated purpose and extensive product line. After all, the Bagley-based company deploys its ingenuity and its employees’ engineering skills to create drive train solutions that help a variety of vehicles traverse many environments, some quite challenging. We’re talking about specific items such as ATVs, golf carts, motorcycles and snowmobiles. Further, the organization serves industrial and market sectors such as automotive, utility, agriculture, construction and turf and lawn/ garden care. An evolving organization, TEAM also has applied its ingenuity to the emerging electrical vehicle market.

With ever-unfolding capabilities, TEAM moved well beyond wheels and branched into engine components, suspensions and other products through its expansive and eclectic capability range, which takes in design engineering, rapid prototyping, manufacturing, assembly, research and development, testing and metallurgical laboratory services.

TEAM’s custom-designed solutions – which often involve design criteria that includes stringent noise limits, extreme shock loads, tight-space constraints, or extended service lives – come in many forms. In the broadest sense, these have helped forever change the way we view (and use) items such as transmissions/gear boxes, axle housings, differentials, continuously variable transmission and transaxles, among many other manifestations of vehicle componentry.

Such components keep the nation (and the world) moving. Company advancement above basic tools has also carried it into areas that include ductile iron machining, shaft machining, aluminum die casting (with squeeze casting capacity), precision gear/spline manufacturing, high-speed aluminum machining and retail-ready packaging capabilities. “All the while, we have forged important partnerships with OEM customers that include such companies as John Deere, Ford, Eaton, Polaris, Ingersoll-Rand, Textron, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha,” reveals Tony Passanante, TEAM’s senior director of strategic planning.

Today, the company – a “USA made” organization that supports just about 1,000 employees – designs and manufactures power train and chassis components at six manufacturing facilities. Five are located in Minnesota (Audubon, Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids, Bagley and Cambridge) while one is located in North Carolina (Andrews). In all, TEAM possesses more than 850,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The integration existing among all facilities serves to benefit its customers, the company reports.

“Though spread across several locations, we’re a one-stop shop,” indicates Lou Nelson, manager of TEAM’s Andrews plant.

While it’s true that the company’s seeds date back to invention of the wheel, it’s more reasonable to look at its modern genesis. And a ‘60s “flashback” helps explain how TEAM eventually accumulated its six production facilities.

Back in 1967, co-founders Don and Beatrice (Montieth) Ricke established Motek Engineering and Manufacturing. The enterprise later renamed itself TEAM Industries-Cambridge, which proved to be the first of the six facilities that TEAM would establish.

At the outset, the company established a symbiotic relationship with the snowmobile industry. This late ‘60s beginning opened the door for more opportunities. Establishing strong relationships with OEMs, the growing company developed its hallmark innovative solutions that involved drive trains, traction control systems, continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) and other vehicle components. The growing menu of technological capabilities and offerings attracted more customers to its door – or doors, one should say, as the company was rapidly expanding. Passanante provides the large perspective: “Essentially, we grew from a machine shop that concentrated on contract manufacturing and then grew into a company that not only manufactures product but also possesses the full testing and engineering resources that have enabled us to design innovative systems for vehicles,” he says.

Again, that’s where the company’s underlying driving force – or its “Driving Innovation” philosophy – comes into play. “We like to think that our core competencies involve taking power and putting it to work in the most quiet and efficient fashion,” says Passanante. “We’re the entity that can take power from an electric motor or a gas engine and transition it into a useful purpose, which benefits our customers and, ultimately, the consumers.”

What more needs to be said? Maybe the details: The company’s specific manufacturing services include nearly every type or metal machining and fabricating, aluminum die-casting and squeeze molding capabilities, precision gear/spline manufacturing, in house heat treating, high-speed aluminum machining, even retail ready packaging capabilities.

In addition, high-level robotics became ubiquitous in the production facility. Technological upgrades increased productivity and cost effectiveness, and both the company and the customer realized these benefits. When you take in the entire operational picture, you’ll see several hundred CNC machining and turning centers, and these provide flexibility in choice of equipment and scheduling to meet customers’ needs, as well as maximum productivity and cost effectiveness.

In addition, TEAM offers CNC parallel-axis and crossed-axis gear manufacturing, CNC and manual gear honers, shavers and shapers. Numerous broaches and spline rollers provide splines and other features. Manual gear hobbers, bevel gear generators and in house carburizing and induction hardening at three of its facilities round out TEAM’s gear producing abilities.

All of this helps underscore the company’s value: Not only is it technologically savvy, but it also knows how to apply its knowledge to customer needs as far as end product. “We pride ourselves on comprehending how our developed product fit into the OEM strategy, and we understand end consumer needs, as well as how we can meet that need, and how the solution would and could be applied.”

Power to the people, indeed!

As the company moves forward, it’s looking at the electrical vehicle market and other emerging vehicle options. “With our capabilities, experience and success, we feel we can find a leadership position in these new markets,” says Passanante. “Further, our ever-growing line should fit in quite well.”

He underscores his point by reminding that TEAM Industries is a leading global expert when it comes to CVT technology. “That’s an exciting and potentially strong market area,” he says. “We currently make more than 300,000 units and possess a number of new, innovative patents for these systems.”

But he’s not finished: “We also have developed a new line of electric transaxles as well as our Smartlocker traction control unit, which is a revolutionary, programmable 4WD system.”

Passanante recalls that the company began as a contract manufacturing operation, specifically in machining. “We still do a lot of that. But with the changing global market, we see that service providers face an increasing amount of competition.”

Plus, the cost of business continues to rise like an onrushing ocean tide that threatens to wipe out carefully constructed sandcastles. How to deal with the inexorable? Passanante offers some observations that relate to his company’s response to current and future circumstances. “We recognize that our future – and we’re looking at the long term – hinges on our ability to design systems and new products that meet market needs.”

But when TEAM figures out one problem, the company knows that it must proceed to the next. “We have to keep anticipating what people need and want, and then develop the appropriate design. To do that, we’ve made the proper investments – in technology and research and development – and this will help us stay ahead of the markets. That gets back to our tagline, ‘Driving Innovation.’”

In this way, TEAM Industries help us negotiate the difficult terrain, both physical and metaphorical. In the process, it not only makes our lives easier but also safer and more pleasurable.

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