After years of “trading up” to various types of RVs, many Baby Boomers are on the precipice of investing in a “retirement home on wheels.”
Some of these RVs are wildly expensive, but customers are willing to foot the bill in order to live in abundant style and comfort. New ideas from National RV’s brand-loyal customers were heard loud and clear, prompting National to redesign its manufacturing processes and designs to make these dreams on wheels come true.
“National RV has a strong focus on getting the right people to do the right jobs,” explains Ken Andrews, National RV’s Supervisor of Production and Fiberglass ABS. “Implementing all the management and process changes requires having experts on staff. This isn’t just about having the proper degree; it’s also about having the appropriate experience, vision, and leadership skills that will positively influence our workforce and excite them. All our employees have to believe in the benefits of these changes, too.”
The entire plant is implementing 5S and LEAN manufacturing to support the company’s focus on maximizing manufacturing efficiency. 5S stands for “Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.” LEAN manufacturing essentially defines just-in-time manufacturing to avoid overstocks and delays.
“All this is done to gain control of our processes, minimize waste, as well as improve our product flow, product quality, and our bottom line,” explains Jerry Leimel, National RV Production Manager, Fiberglass ABS.
“We’ve done a lot of work reorganizing jobs and evaluating work in process,” says Leimel. “We are setting up work stations with visual indicators to keep work flowing and keep us on top of our manufacturing schedules. We’ve eliminated a lot of work in progress already. When we contain our costs and maintain our manufacturing schedules, our customers benefit as well.”
National RV has used composites for about 20 years. The company’s application in National’s coaches has evolved along with the appropriate materials and techniques.
Before the EPA emissions control mandates arrived, National RV had already installed some emissions control equipment. Even so, Andrews says their system wasn’t providing the level of control for which they had hoped. The changes in emissions standards only made it clearer that they needed more comprehensive, reliable equipment. Today, they have upgraded to a capture-and-control system that puts them in solid compliance today with room for expansion.
“The emissions control system is something we want to perfect,” says Andrews. “We are willing to invest the money to get it right.”
Andrews adds they are implementing light RTM (resin transfer molding) to further address emissions control, and they use low VOC products wherever they can. Light RTM also reduces labor costs, provides improved part quality, and eliminates over-building and related waste.
Today, you’ll find composites used on National RV’s coaches’ front caps (bumper and front end), lower bumper, rear cap, and rear lower bumper. Luggage doors on the “basements” (the under-coach storage areas) and the four wheel wells are all FRP/GRP.
Using composites allows National’s engineers to easily and affordably change model designs from year to year. “Fiberglass by nature is design friendly,” relates Leimel. “It is relatively easy to make tooling changes on the fly.”
Additionally, composites are much lighter, more resilient, as well as faster and easier to repair than metal. They also deliver a Class A finish that is both durable and beautiful.
National uses an open mold process on all its FRP/GRP components. On exterior parts, Valspar® low VOC gel coat is put down first followed by a combination of HexionTM Specialty Chemicals’ DCPD polyester, unfilled, resin, and PPG® gun roving. An Interplastic CoREZYN® barrier gel coat seals the corner radiuses, thereby preventing air pockets from forming. Cormat® is added to high-stress areas and glassed into place.
National RV has begun using primer gel coats on exterior parts, according to Andrews. “A larger percentage of the motorhomes are painted, so we are using a darker Valspar primer gel coat so we can get the painting done without having to take apart some assemblies,” he says. “It’s a sandable gel coat that helps us get through the prep process a little bit easier.”
On the coach interiors, fiberglass showers and cast polymer countertops provide beauty and durability.
The showers are a one-piece construction. Hexion Specialty Chemicals’ DCPD, low-viscosity resin is filled with R.J. Marshall alumina trihydrate to meet fire-resistance codes. PPG chopped strand is combined in a 3:1 glass-to-resin ratio to reach the desired part thickness. Valspar gel coat provides the necessary finish properties and barrier to moisture.
Vacuum-formed parts are used to construct the dash and instrument panel, various interior covers and garnishing pieces, and the A/C ducting. SparTech extruded sheets are inexpensive and easy to form (thereby hastening the manufacturing speed), and the finished parts are cosmetically pleasing.
Back in 1963 when Wayne Mertes founded Dolphin Trailer Sales, he had no idea how his camper shell, which slid on the back of a pick-up truck, would grow into a luxurious Class A motorhome business. He stayed at the helm of the company long enough to lead it into Class C motorhomes, which are built on a truck chassis. Mertes was also the innovator of the micro-mini motorhome built on a Toyota cutaway chassis. It was small but convenient and affordable, especially for those interested in exploring RVing for the first time.
The micro-minis hooked many into a lifetime of appreciating this vacation and living style. His dreams of beautiful Class A coaches were a solid reality before he retired in the early 1990s.
Recently, all these process and design improvements manifested themselves in totally re-engineered Tradewind® and Islander® coaches. Islander and Tradewind represent National RV’s premium lines of diesel coaches, and it includes the Tropical® brand. Dolphin® and Sea Breeze® represent their gas-fueled line.
“Our owners have been clamoring to see the new Tradewind,” relates Tony Cohen, National RV Marketing Communications Manager. “They saw a preview early in 2004. Based on customer feedback, we worked the redesign even more, and now we are really happy with it. So are they.”
Changes include more living space. “We accomplished that by designing more slide rooms,” says Cohen. “Our customers wanted to put larger furniture in the coach to make it feel like a home, so we went with higher ceilings on these two coaches. To do it, we put the roof air conditioning units in the basement. That opened up the ceiling more and gives a great feeling of roominess.”
Cohen says storage was not compromised by the relocation of the AC units. The DuraFrame® chassis they use allows for plenty of storage. In fact, National’s engineers built an additional “cage” on top of the chassis to have some pass-through storage and huge bays.
“We also went with side side-hinged doors for easier access when the sliders are out,” says Cohen. “It’s another nice feature we added based on consumer input.”
The other brands were not left behind either. As National’s engineers move into 2006 designs, their gasoline-fueled Dolphin brand is first in line to have as many of its parts as possible made with light RTM. The molds for the Sea Breeze luggage doors are already changing to light RTM.
“We are moving full speed ahead. The benefits of light RTM are very attractive,” concludes Leimel. “All patterns will be made with light RTM in mind, and more changes may be made during the model year if it makes sense.”
There is a lot of enthusiasm at National RV. They’re doing things differently, and the results are very good. In the RV industry, keep an eye on this manufacturer.