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Factory Tour

Inside Öhlins' Swedish Headquarters

Words AJ Barlas
Photos AJ Barlas
Date Feb 19, 2019

If you’re like me you know Öhlins is based in Sweden, but you don't know much about the company's reach. Just off the motorway about 20 minutes from downtown Stockholm, stands the expansive yet humble Öhlins headquarters. And while this is where the brand calls home, they also have facilities in Taiwan, Thailand and Japan. 

Their Swedish headquarters is 130,000 sq. ft. and still expanding. Construction of a new machine shop building has begun, as they’ve outgrown the current space. Of the 240 people employed there only 18 work on MTB products, 5 of whom are tech or business. 

In 2018, the Taiwanese facility was updated, adding a large production facility for Öhlins staff and engineers to replace contracted employees. These steps were taken to prevent some of the production problems seen in recent years and to increase efficiency by having full control of the line and the process. 

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On the stage in the staff meal room stands this impressive CCM Spitfire, dripping with Öhlins gold.


The Swedish headquarters is full of history that the others don’t have. Terje, who looks after Specialized Gravity racers Loïc Bruni, Finn Iles and until this year, Miranda Miller, was kind enough to show me around. There were still areas that media aren't allowed to see and some spots I saw, but can never speak of. What I was able to see and shoot was fascinating, providing a great look inside one of the most renowned suspension manufacturers in motorsports. 


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Öhlins' staff are fed fresh cooked meals made in the staff kitchen.

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It's not big, nor fancy, but it has all the comforts needed…

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Including their own Öhlins coffee cups. 


Staff work on rotational shifts, one from 630–1430 and a second from 1430–2230. The shifts rotate, with one week on the morning shift and the next on the evening, keeping things equal for all members. They have regular breaks and are served meals freshly cooked in the on-site kitchen. There’s a lot Öhlins has done for suspension over the years, including developing the Double Barrel shock with Cane Creek.  And with that, I’ll let the images tell the story.

History

The tour began with a look at company milestones. From the first twin tube damper and aftermarket damper cartridges ever developed to a special two-wheel drive system for motorcycles that blew my mind. There’s much to see. 


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TJ, the man that looks after team athletes including LoÏc Bruni and Finn Iles, giving us the tour. 

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Left Board: Öhlins' first motocross fork on the far left, built in 1983 for Håken Carlqvist. He used it during his campaign for the Motocross World Championship in '83 and '84. In the centre is a "conventional" fork circa 1993–97 and on the right is a modern Öhlins motocross fork leg.

Right Board: On the left is the first road racing fork Öhlins produced. It was first raced in the Austrian GP in 1988 by Marlboro Yamaha Team rider, Eddie Lawson. The centre is an example of what Öhlins believe was the benchmark in road motorcycles for 10 years leading up to the turn of the century. On the right is their latest and greatest for road motorcycles. It is sold stock on top-of-the-line Ducatti and Aprilia bikes.

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Left Board: The top shock was made by Kenth Öhlin in his father's machine shop back in 1976. It was for a KTM 250. Below is one of their first production shocks, made in 1977. It's similar to the shock that Gennady Moiseev used when he won the 1978 Motocross World Championship. The two lower shocks are the first piggyback shock and production piggyback shock from 1978/79.

Right Board: Early road bike shocks. The top is the first "Single Shock", made for Honda 500cc riders, Roger DeCoster and André Malherbe in 1980. Below is an early production single shock and at the bottom is a "modern" motocross shock. 

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Left Board: An assortment of car dampers, from Track and F1 cars to a special four-way adjustable TT40 designed for an Audi R8 in the 24hr Audi Le Mans. The shock at the bottom right was specially designed for F1 in 2002. It is made with 7075-T6 alloy and has a special surface treatment called "Tufram".

Right Board: Now this is something special. A prototype of Öhlins two-wheel drive system for motocross bikes. TJ had tried it and spoke of its strange feeling on the bike. It never went into production.

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Left Board: A range of twin tube technology shocks and aftermarket cartridges. The first TTX shock (Twin Tube Tech.) was built for Nigel Mansell in 1993 during his time racing the CART IndyCar series with Team Newman Haas. The aftermarket fork cartridges took off in 2000. Öhlins attribute the success of the cartridges in part to the decent quality consumer level chassis available but lacklustre internals.

Right Board: A series of TTX dampers for rally, touring, F1 and GT race cars. They offer varying degrees of adjustability, with two, three and four-way available. 


Manufacturing & Production

Kenth Öhlins built his first shock back in the mid-'70s while looking to improve the ride of his KTM motocross bike. He officially founded the company in 1976 and has since continued to push innovation in suspension. Wanting to limit variances in the product line, Öhlins manufactures much of what you see in their own facilities around the globe, each a copy of the Swedish setup but their Thai location is an exact copy. 

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Öhlins manufactures as much as they can within their facilities. Here, a robot takes care of flex honing tubes for shocks. 

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The honed tubes then progress down the line through "the shuttle". This area was off limits but it's said their system can move thousands of parts in minutes.

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The current Öhlins machine shop. They can make just about anything they desire here. The facility is part of the R&D department and used for prototype and race parts. 

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The stories this old lathe could tell…

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It was given to Kenth as a seventh birthday present from his father, who ran a machine shop. It was still used until Öhlins needed the space for some more CNC machines last summer (2018). It may be put back into use in the new machine shop they're constructing.

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Machines deliver parts from the shuttle to the production area. This bay of stations is where all TTX 22 M mountain bike shocks are made. The only MTB part that is made start to finish in the Swedish facility.

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Öhlins staff member, Hanna Rylander Ericson works in the production area. I was told she is very talented on a dirt bike and also tests motocross suspension for the brand. Here she begins the process of building a TTX 22 M shock. 

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Everything needed is easily accessible each step of the way. Each shock takes six minutes to build from start to finish and it takes about six months to train new staff for the assembly line. 

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Start to finish includes checking tolerances and testing each shock built is to specifications. Right of frame is the bleeder and nitro filler. Behind TJ is the dyno that every product has to pass. Left of frame is where the shocks are laser etched with a part number and individual serial number. 

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The assembly area includes everything from mountain bike coil shocks to car and motorcycles. Here, partially complete EC (Electronically Controlled) road motorcycle shocks sit on a cart ready for the next step.


Warehouse & Shipping

Manufacturing and assembly of hundreds of intricate products requires a lot of storage space. Öhlins keeps all finished parts in a holding area for 24–72 hours to ensure there are no leaks. Then they are logged and prepared to be shipped. 


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Beware of "Godstrafik". Translates to "goods transportation" or "cargo" but the Swedish word has a much more meaningful ring to it, don't you think? 

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STX (Single Tube) car shocks lay in the holding area. Once they are deemed good they are logged and prepared for shipping. 

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STX MX shocks in the holding area. 

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A rack of gold…

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A rack of STX street shocks get logged and ready to be boxed up and shipped out.

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Stack 'em high. There's something about the sheer size of warehouses…

Engineering & R&D

Before anything hits the production line, the team of engineers work tirelessly on developing the functionality they want. New products are constantly being worked on and while some won't ever see the light of day, some elements of a design may end up in a different product. The mountain bike department consists of 18 engineers, many of whom specialize in either front or rear products, or specific components to suspension, like the air spring, or damper. 

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The engineering department. Testing and working with physical products happens in this space. 

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Most of the mountain bike magic happens here. The team apologized for how "untidy" the space was, as it was filled with the new 2019 product range. It looked like a busy yet organized area with lots happening to me. No apology necessary.

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A selection of fresh TTX Air shocks ready for action.

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There's no telling what special tweaks the engineers made to these.

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The book of magic? An engineers secrets with a clear message.

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The R&D room. Motos and bikes litter the space. From here they are taken out for testing and there's space to tweak some things here too. Outside this room were lots more vehicles, many brand new, ready for testing. Note the mountain bikers and TJ looking at the motos and not the mountain bike…


Office Space & Tech Training

Öhlins also does things a little differently in the office. Much of the mountain bike industry consists of sales teams but at Öhlins, they have account managers and an order receiver/logistics team. As you may be aware, Öhlins has a history in motorsports where teams come to them and pay for their products. For others, it's typically the brand buying into a team as part of a sponsorship agreement. This appears to have trickled into how Öhlins function in the office, explaining the lack of a traditional sales team. 

They also provide personalized training to their distributors. While at the factory, I was fortunate to sit in on part of a training session with techs from all corners of the globe. With the launch of the new 36 Trail and TTX Air products, multiple sessions were planned to bring the techs up to speed with the new products, as well as how to pull apart and service them. 


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The road moto R&D and racing department. This is considered Holy Ground, even within Öhlins. I'm thankful to have been able to step foot in here, let alone snap a pic. 

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Garage tweakers take note… Öhlins take their grease seriously. 

"You would not believe the hours spent testing grease." Alex Boyle, Öhlins MTB Product Specialist

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Mr. Gravity's desk. TJ takes care of the Specialized race teams and is quite tight with the athletes (he toured Loïc, his girlfriend and I down to Stockholm for an amazing meal). It's no wonder his desk boasts a special thanks from Loïc.  

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Living legend Peter 'Pistol Pete' Wikberg walks the visiting techs through the new MTB products. Pistol Pete is an ex. WSBK (World Superbike), MotoGP and Kawi Factory MX tech.

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Pete tears down a TTX18 fork damper for the team. Here he's removing the variable clamp compression valve. 

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As the suspension is disassembled parts are sent around the group to get a closer look. During this time Pete explains benefits to the updates of the individual part. This is the main piston and shaft, seal head, and the check valves are just visible to the right.

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The visiting techs get their hands on the new damper. Up close with the variable clamp valve, all Öhlins forks use this or an adaptation of this system.

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Thanks for having us. 

Comments

rnayel
+1 Mammal
RNAYEL  - Feb. 19, 2019, 8:10 a.m.

A whole article and not a single mention of the Tenneco purchase, or how the MTB forks are manufactured by A-pro Tech Co., Ltd, of Taiwan (X-fusion) - which I find is a pretty cool partnership considering the great products that X-Fusion has been putting out of late.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Feb. 19, 2019, 11:28 a.m.

Rachid, those are good points and possible storylines, but I think it's fair to say that this was already a comprehensive article with lots of great photos that did exactly what it was supposed to do - give the reader a tour of the Öhlins HQ in Sweden.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Feb. 19, 2019, 12:07 p.m.

As Pete mentions above, this was more of a focus on the headquarters in Sweden. Perhaps some day the opportunity will arise to check out the facilities and processes in Asia. 

The Tenneco purchase was covered in November.

Reply

citonit
+1 AJ Barlas
Cit Onit  - Feb. 21, 2019, 3 p.m.

That place is beautiful. 

Now lets just hope Tenneco doesn't finish it off like Marzocchi

Reply

DanL
0
DanL  - Feb. 19, 2019, 11:55 a.m.

I used to dream about those Ohlin UD forks....and Eddie Lawson's up there? Amazing.

Reply

IslandLife
+1 AJ Barlas
IslandLife  - Feb. 19, 2019, 4:14 p.m.

Always love seeing these "behind the scenes" tours... cool stuff, thanks for this!!

Reply

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