Last month Lowbrow Customs' Malinky brothers introduced me to Mark Borcoman, the VP of Colony Machine in Brunswick, Ohio. Lovers of shiny bits may recognize the Colony name. Mark and Colony's founder Roger Reich have been churning out American-made hardware for Harleys for over 40 years. Here's a peek inside this company's well-oiled machine.
Our tour host was Colony's VP of operations, Mr. Mark Borcoman. Tyler Malinky drove past Colony for six years before he made the connection with the famous hardware brand. Now his own company is ramping up to do business with this venerable US manufacturer
Tell me, Mark, what's your company's story?
Colony produces and distributes high-quality reproduction motorcycle parts and hardware, both Original Equipment (OEM) and decorative chrome plated. We especially enjoy manufacturing the restoration parts, and take great pride in exactly duplicating the OEM parts for old motorcycles.
What were Colony's first products, and when did you get into the motorcycle hardware business?
Originally Colony was a contract job shop machining a variety of parts for the automotive and machine tool industries. During those days we also did government contracts for military applications. Around 1969 the chopper craze was becoming very popular and it became apparent there was a demand for high-quality hardware to safely assemble these choppers. Colony did it first.
What is your top-selling motorcycle-related part today?
OEM style vintage nuts and bolts, with correct finishes.
Life for practically every piece of Colony hardware starts as a raw extrusion, usually round bar or hex stock in a wide range of sizes
Sportsters and Japanese bikes are very popular with ChopCult readers. Is this phenomenon reflected in your company's sales?
Sales for Sportster hardware are good. We have seen an increase of sales in restoration parts for Sportsters, and a decrease in the sale of acorn nuts, pike nuts and purely decorative hardware. We do not produce much for Japanese bikes, except for special production runs for some of our Japanese-oriented dealers.
Tell me about Colony's chain of supply. I ask because online retailing has become a big part of the landscape in today's home builder scene.
Colony sells to dealers and distributors. We don't sell consumer-direct because we feel it is unfair to the distribution chain that we have developed over the past 40 years. We have dealers and distributors that are online, and several retailers offer our most popular hardware sets on eBay.
Screw machines like these take the aforementioned bar stock and feed it into cutting bits, with each tool performing a different machine process: threading, tapering, boring, shortening, and facing, for instance
How many people work on the manufacturing floor at Colony? What are their responsibilities?
We have five employees setting up and running our machines, which range from 1970's to modern CNC equipment. We utilize the older equipment to achieve the original finish of parts that were manufactured many years ago with form tools. These old machines leave distinctive turning marks on the hardwware that restorers love.
The six-sided block in the center of this screw machine is called a turret. This turret is equipped with five different tool assemblies, each one responsible for a different step of the manufacturing process. This machine was spitting out what looked like a 2-inch-long x 7/8-inch diameter idle adjustment screw in under 60 seconds. The finished part was very detailed, and featured threading, knurling and deburring
Despite the level of precision most screw machines are capable of, some raw hardware requires a human touch before final finishing. This is one of three men who were monitoring the production processes on at least eight different machines during my tour
Colony uses tumbling machines and a variety of tumbling media to deburr and polish the surface finish on freshly-made hardware. With the exception of large decorative pieces like pike nuts and axle caps, tumbling is sufficient to give the hardware a smooth surface before chroming
After tumbling, the raw hardware is delivered to sub-contractors for final finishing. Surface treatments include chrome plating, Parkerizing, zinc plating, black oxide and others
This Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) behemoth is a threading machine. You didn't think these guys use taps and dies from Harbor Freight, did you?
During my visit this machine was kicking out fork caps at a rate of about two per minute. American manufacturing isn't dead, but it has been seriously automated
When plated hardware returns it is hand sorted and packaged in this department
In this work station one person subdivides hardware kits onto a single master card, then feeds the card into the shrink wrapper. After the clear plastic is heat sealed, the card is moved into a die cutter that slices the master sheet into 16 units with a single click
High-volume hardware kits are stocked in bins for speedy order processing. Slower-moving esoteric parts and hardware are produced and delivered as required based on customer demand
Colony takes quality control seriously, and maintains a dedicated work station for this purpose
In recent years Colony has seen demand for purely decorative hardware like pike nuts decline, and sales of restoration hardware for old ironheads and shovelheads grow
Colony has several hidden jewels in the dusty corners of its warehouse. This 1945 H-D mill lives behind Plexiglas panels on its original shipping crate, and has never been assembled or fired
This knucklehead is part of Colony's collection of old motorcycles, and rests comfortably beneath a half dozen vintage Schwinn bicycles hanging in the rafters of the company's well organized factory and warehouse
For more info on Colony products visit your favorite retailer or check out their website