There is no denying it: the Kodlin family has motorcycles in its blood. Master blacksmith Fred Kodlin gave his son Len his first motocross bike for his fifth birthday. There was never really any question about what Len would do when he grew up. Today, the father-and-son team runs the Fred Kodlin Motorcycle workshop, founded by Fred Kodlin back in 1984, in the small town of Borken in the German state of Hessen.
The company is highly specialized: together, father, son and 10 employees customize Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Up to 50 motorcycles leave their shopfloor each year, to the great excitement of their new owners. Many customers simply want to have their series-produced bikes adjusted to suit them better, or to look more individual. Other customers come to the company looking for bigger modifications, such as the installation of a big front wheel, which has a very striking effect and is popular among Harley-Davidson fans.
The most passionate bikers, however, want their bikes to be completely personalized. “These unique bikes cannot be beaten in terms of exclusivity. When it comes to design and technology, we make the virtually impossible possible,” explains junior manager Len Kodlin. In some of these models, the only thing that’s left is the engine, with its unmistakable Harley-Davidson sound: the rest of the bike is made up of components that have been developed and produced entirely by Kodlin. Customers’ budgets are the only thing limiting their imagination. Enthusiasts pay up to $130,000 for these unique cycles. And then, of course, there are also the technical approval restrictions (TÜV, for example).
When fulfilling a customer’s dream of owning a personalized motorcycle, the customizers at Kodlin Motorcycle not only adapt parts, they also manufacture many individual parts themselves. Various styles of footboards, footpegs, turn-signal trim, air filters, engine covers, hand grips and mirror brackets are manufactured individually or in very small series. Outsourcing production could be cheaper in many cases, but for Kodlin, this is not an option. Len Kodlin explains the reasoning behind the decision.
“Unique pieces are the basis of our whole company. The risk of copies appearing is simply too great. Our customers pay for something unique and that’s what we give them. This is why we do everything ourselves, from sheet-metal work and welding to milling, turning, painting and assembly,” Kodlin says.
Kodlin has an extremely large range of manufacturing capabilities to prevent imitations and rival products, thus safeguarding its competitive edge. The company invests heavily in production expertise and machinery. Kodlin even has a world manufacturer identifier. This official designation signals that Kodlin is officially a manufacturer that can build and approve motorcycles.
An Integrated Process From The Design To The Machine
Anyone who wants to survive the competition as a small, independent customizer needs top-quality CNC machines. That’s why the core of Kodlin’s production process is a PreMill VL 1000 CNC machining center from MMD Werkzeugmaschinen with a Sinumerik 828D CNC system. Len Kodlin, a trained precision mechanic himself, explains what matters to him and his father, “MMD was extremely cooperative and, with the PreMill VL 1000, gave us a machine that meets our needs perfectly. The price/performance ratio was good and with the Sinumerik 828D control—including the intuitive Sinumerik Operate graphical user interface—our core requirement, namely ease-of-operation, was met to our utmost satisfaction.”
The demands on the machine tool and control system are high and diverse. Many simple parts are programmed directly on the machine. For this type of application, it is important for the shopfloor programming to be as simple as it is reliable and efficient. Jan Rosenkranz, a mechanic on the Kodlin team, gets straight to the point, “The ShopMill menu-based navigation makes everything really quick and easy.” He also appreciates the convenient setup functions.
The production of custom parts, which often involves extremely complex contouring, is entirely different. The junior manager creates the programs for these parts separately at an external CAD/CAM workstation and then transfers them to the machine, using a USB stick. This means the machine can remain in operation while the junior manager can design parts for his spectacular creations, far away from production noise, in peace and quiet. Once the blank is in place, the entire machining process itself goes very quickly. With the help of various Sinumerik CNC cycles, the workpiece and the tool are set up quickly and machining on the PreMill VL 1000 can begin.
Len Kodlin specifically mentions the clearly organized folder structure in Sinumerik Operate, which is designed in a similar way to that found on a traditional PC. Meaningful names—such as “Handlebar1-Customer3”—with up to 28 characters can be assigned to the programs. This improves the ability to maintain an overview and products that have already been made can be clearly identified and accessed again at a later date.
In terms of production technology, the PreMill VL 1000 offers everything needed for bike parts. The machine gets extra points for its framework construction, which makes it very stable and easily accessible. The majority of the components are less than 500 mm long. However, there are exceptions, such as long fork tubes. With travel paths of X = 1020 mm, Y = 510 mm, and Z = 560 mm, plus a 1200 x 500 mm clamping table, the machine comprehensively covers the spectrum. The 10-kW milling spindle provides the power needed to quickly and precisely machine the parts, which are usually made of aluminum or steel. The changer can be equipped with up to 30 tools and the linear guides on all three axes ensure utmost precision. According to Jens Bubenheim, a sales consultant at MMD, the PreMill VL 1000 achieves a repeat accuracy of ± 3 µm and a positioning accuracy of ± 5 µm, which means that the desired quality is always guaranteed.
A special feature on the Sinumerik 828D CNC scores additional points for high quality, namely the Sinumerik MDynamics technology package with integrated Advanced Surface motion control. The program sequence can be set or adjusted at any time, ensuring that the machine generates an optimal ratio of speed, accuracy and surface quality. Take the turn signal trim, for example. In this case, production accuracy is of less significance. Corresponding settings in MDynamics and the activated Advanced Surface therefore ensure that the machine works with a focus on both surface quality and speed of production.