Drive train technology specialists TEAM Industries put the pedal to the metal in the off-road market
Dynamic and intensely collaborative, the pioneers of TEAM Industries have been on the leading edge of creating drivetrain solutions for over half a century. With a focus on serving the demanding and forward-leading powersports and light vehicle sectors, this group of experts is in it to win it with superior tech solutions along with manufacturing and engineering expertise.
When Don Ricke founded Motek in 1967, the snowmobile boom was just beginning and the recreational off-road powersports market was about to emerge. “My grandfather loved to design and invent things, and he liked the engineering side of it, but he also liked living in northern Minnesota in a small town. He saw the best path to get where he wanted was to have a machine shop, but he always wanted an engineering company. That led to his vision – to build a company that created high-paying jobs in small towns,” said Micah Ricke, the third generation of the family to immerse itself in the enterprise. Today, Micah is TEAM’s Director of Product Development.
While the company is currently considered “automotive adjacent,” creating specialty products for the off-road market, the founders’ approach to the marketplace was simple: ABA. “Anything but automotive,” Micah explained.
Motek, helmed by the elder Ricke and business partner Bob Skawski, courted powersports legend Polaris by custom designing and building a machine that could make large numbers of snowmobile bogie shafts at a great price while making attractive margins. “It launched a period of important growth for Motek, and is an early example of a powerful TEAM asset—the ability and desire to innovate,” Micah said.
Ricke and Skawski saw the future of sophisticated gear manufacturing in emerging CNC machining technology years before it became commonplace, daringly mortgaging the company on that vision. It turned out to be the perfect risk, setting the company on the fast track to becoming an industry standard bearer.
“As important as innovation and investing in new technologies was to their success, it’s really only half of the equation,” Micah stressed. “Customer service was just as important to Don and Bob. When their customers ran into issues, the company would quickly mobilize the resources necessary to solve them, regardless of who caused the problem.”
While this strategy seems to be peak “Minnesota nice,” in reality it was—and is—Minnesota bold. Consider how TEAM became a part of engineering history with its work for Polaris:
“As the snowmobile market declined, Polaris wanted to pivot to the burgeoning ATV market, and they needed to move fast. Don and his son, our CEO David Ricke, helped design and launch it in less than six months. However, Polaris, concerned that we did not have the wherewithal to provide a complete transmission, awarded the work to Fuji Heavy Industries. While that may have caused some to react bitterly, Don and Dave resolved that we’d be ready should the opportunity arise again,” Micah said.
Built to Last
Through the 1980s, TEAM grew its engineering staff for both manufacturing and design, fostering strong relationships with key customers, often sharing design and engineering expertise pro bono. “In the early ’90s, Polaris offered TEAM an opportunity to compete against Fuji on the next generation of ATV driveline,” Micah recalled. “Our engineers produced a better-shifting, lower-cost product and won the work. This event was the turning point in our development from a Minnesota machine shop to a global engineering and manufacturing company.”
Several of the company’s engineers from those days are still working for TEAM. Employee retention is a particular point of pride for the Ricke family, and rightly so. “We have a lot of people that work here who've been here 20, 30, 40-plus years, which is unique nowadays. Our customers from Japan have commented on it, because it’s rare to see that kind of loyalty in American companies.”
TEAM Industries is much more than a powersports company. From their world HQ in Bagley, Minn., the company operates six cutting-edge, ISO 9001-2008-certified manufacturing facilities supplied with more than 250 CNC machining and turning centers. Roughly 70% of their work revolves around custom engineering.
TEAM designs, prototypes, tests, and manufactures a wide range of components, including engineered products such as gear sets, transmissions, wet-brake assemblies, accelerator and brake pedal groups, and axle assemblies.
Their proprietary products include primary and secondary clutches, transaxles for small electric vehicles, and other drivetrain components.
TEAM also specializes in make-to-print work, from creating individual parts — gears, spindles, and shafts — to large cast iron housings for tractors and other components for large vehicles, automotive differentials, high-precision aerospace parts, crankcases, and more.
On the Horizon
In the highly commoditized, cost-sensitive off-road market, TEAM’s flexible and highly agile approach keeps them in high demand. “We’re constantly investing in new technology and exploring new ways of doing things, and place a lot of emphasis on design for manufacturability,” Micah said. “We're always looking at new processes and methods of manufacturing to reduce costs and bring innovation into both the design and manufacturing of those components.”
The firm is also investing in the development of unique drivetrain technology for electric vehicles, as well as expanding other capabilities. Said Ricke: “We have a very good manufacturing and mechanical design engineering groups and excellent testing capabilities. We've developed a mechatronics and controls group that we’re building up with more control engineers and electronic engineers.
“We have a world class prototype shop, so we can make just about anything.” The prototype shop continues to grow with investments planned in additive manufacturing technologies and rapid prototyping of gears. TEAM is currently building its second die casting facility, due to open this summer.
Investing in assembly technology is another priority: Low-ppm capacity gives TEAM the flexibility to test for sensitivities, efficiencies, and deficiencies. “We do a lot of inline checks and then coordinate that information with the serial number so we can resolve issues quickly,” Micah said.
“We have a real culture built around the customer, built around our employees, and driving innovation. For us, driving innovation isn’t just about design, but anywhere there is a problem that needs to be solved take an innovative approach to it.” Now that’s what we call Minnesota grow—and that’s undoubtedly the future of TEAM industries.
TEAM Industries is a market leader in drive train technology that offers a complete range of services that includes everything from collaboration on product designs to manufacturing to your specifications. TEAM Industries designs and manufactures systems that take power and puts it to work quietly and efficiently.
Driving innovation with six locations throughout Minnesota and North Carolina, headquartered in Bagley, Minn., TEAM is a vertically integrated engineering and manufacturing company that has been developing performance and reliability enhancing components for original equipment manufacturers since 1967.
Our principal products include transmissions and transaxles, axles and four-wheel drive systems, continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), and electric vehicle drivetrains. TEAM also can provide make to print components and we work with nearly every type of ferrous or non-ferrous material; cast, forged, wrought, or extruded.