Originally Posted by The Minimalist
Do you think that Airstream is leading where others will follow or jumping on the band wagon?
I guess my guess is neither. The trend I have been seeing is toward welded aluminum frames and azdel sidewalls. The roofs are still a mixed lot, including TPO and rubber among the materials used.
While the front and roof, and sometimes the back wall, are framed in a curve, the corner connections to the sidewalls remain square. The joints are covered by a molding, generally plastic, to contain a butyl seal.
There are Computer Numerical Control machines cutting panels now, including routing grooves for wiring and plumbing. The Lance factory video is a good example of a trend I've observed over the past five years or so. Others have also been moving in similar directions, though generally more slowly.
The CNC machines allow flexibility in setting up new designs. Unfortunately, these new designs really just mean differently shaped wall panels and cabinets all assembled by the same means. The scenes of workers pulling material onto and off of the CNC machines and the large plywood looming boards where wiring harnesses are made reveal the relatively unsophisticated manufacturing processes that prevail in the industry.
Consider this in contrast to vehicle factories where so many elements of the assembly are performed by robots. U.S. vehicle sales totaled 17.55 million last year. The RV industry is on pace to produce some 472,200 units this year. The difference in sales volume is what pays for the robots and other more sophisticated elements in the auto industry.
The manner in which "conventional" travel trailer roofs and walls are built and assembled is a lot different from the link Tom posted with the Airstream shop developing fiberglass molds for the Nest. Those molds have to successfully result in trailers that sell, or a relatively large investment has to be made to retool new molds.
Molded fiberglass has remained a very small niche business since trailer production resumed following the last world war. Molded fiberglass trailers basically remain among the smallest units that you can buy for the money.
Molded fiberglass is a tiny component of the RV industry, even if you are generous and count the components used on some conventional trailers and motor homes.
I don't know that I can see manufacturers giving up making the toy haulers and large units that sell so successfully on one hand...
...and then just as dependably require replacement in a few years as they leak and molder away.
It would be like giving up printing money. The old saying is that what gets rewarded gets repeated. Ultimately, I think too many rewards are being passed out to the key decision makers to expect any substantial change. As long as they are being rewarded, I don't see them changing what doesn't appear to be broken from their perspective.