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“Kid in a Candy Store”. We’ve all heard the expression, but I’ve never put a finger on the feeling as squarely as I did on our recent trip to visit the Winnebago factory in Forest City Iowa. You see, Winnebago has a test lab on site. And… oh yes… I got to play in it. Check out the video below to see just the first little bit of what I was able to get away with.
But seriously, folks…
Besides that it takes two hours in a salt spray chamber to destroy a cell phone, the real take-away is that WINNEBAGO HAS A TESTING LAB ON SITE!
You can read a little bit about their lab on this page, but seeing it working in person really drives home the point that they’re serious about building better motorhomes. While I’m goofing around killing a cell phone, you can see several metal samples in the test chamber that they were doing real corrosion testing on. Winnebago has a pretty sophisticated e-coating facility that you’ll see in our factory tour, and I’m guessing they were testing samples from there. And if you look closely, you can see that there’s an exterior grab handle in the chamber as well. When I asked how these tests really run, I was told that they typically leave samples in the salt spray for 500 hours! That’s three weeks, 24×7, a lot of moisture, and a lot of salt. So if you’ve got a Winnebago, you can feel pretty confident that your grab handle won’t come off and your frame won’t rust if you spend a week (or three) at the beach… at the equator… in a monsoon.
Salt spray testing is not the only kind of testing that they do in the Winnebago testing lab. In the coming weeks, I’ll be adding video of other kinds of testing that they perform on motorhomes and components – and of how you would use the test facilities if you think like a 15 year old boy.
See you next time!
So, long story short, when your cell phone dies it might be time to give the RV a solid cleaning? I’m with Velda. Not loaning you my cell phone!
Let’s face it… NOBODY should loan me their cell…
Great stuff, James! I have done a fair amount of environmental testing over the years, mostly Shake & Bake and 85/85, but the Salt Spray, Mechanical Shock, ESD and Hi Humidity testing can really separate the winners from the losers.
I also have to say that it’s things like this, an internal test lab, that CAN lead to awesome, robust designs for a company like Winnebago. I say “can”, because it does not guarantee across the board superior design. It’s still up to the engineers, the designers, Management and the bean counters to come up with a design, do the work, get it built and make a profit.
In any system, the devil is in the details and even a company like Winnebago blows it sometimes with ad-hoc solutions that mostly work until six months or a year down the road when they don’t. The greatest test facility in the industry can’t help if it’s not used and if the poor design goes into production!
Now, how can Winnebago move more firmly into the 21st century with a better balance of innovative designs Vs. time-tested (and weary!) solutions?
Keep up the great reporting & writing!
Hi Tom –
I agree, testing is only part of what it takes to produce a great motorhome. It’s a difficult balance that Winnebago (or any manufacturer) has to strike to produce a great motorhome – one that also sells for a profit. There are a lot of competing influences that they have to juggle, and the results from testing are just one.
Here’s an example from our factory tour that really stuck with me. On our factory tour, we spent some time talking to designers (both technical and interior). When we were talking to the lead designer for the Travato 59k, we heard how his goal was to create a coach for couples, with no compromises. However, when they showed prototypes to their dealers, the immediate feedback was that they needed to lower the lounges/beds to seating height, and put in some of those floor mounts for a dinette table pole, in spite of the tables for two up front. Ugh. So here we have a designer looking to the future and trying something different, and an established dealer network trying to haul them right back into the same wobbly-table-on-a-pole past. It’s the dealers that stock and sell the motorhomes, so they can’t completely ignore them. It’s difficult.
But sometimes, they do get to push forward. Example: the newer Travatos will be coming with the Truma Combi heat & hot water unit from Europe. We saw it working and trust me, it’s a BIG improvement from the heater and water heater units everyone has used for decades. And I’m betting that they ran the Truma unit through its paces in the test lab (though there wasn’t one on the bench on the day we were). So the progress may be slower than you (or I) would like, but it does happen. And trust me, every chance we get, we’re bending their ear on new and forward looking things to include in their designs. We actually try to influence all of the manufacturers we talk to, but the neat thing about Winnebago is… they seem to be listening.
Thanks for the comments, Tom. Appreciate the insight. I think you’ll like some of the videos we’ve got coming up.
The point you bring up about the power of the Dealers is a very good one and one I had ignored. All manufacturers like W (or nearly every other mfg. other than Born Free) is marketing and selling to two groups: End Users and Dealers. Dealers believe they know what’s best (as your example pointed out) for end users and it’s only the best mfg.’s that can do their own focus groups and market research of end users to understand what will really fly off the lot.
I look forward to your next videos!
I am NOT loaning you my iPhone!! LOL good video.