How robots build cars, but not RVs

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By Chuck Woodbury
If you have ever visited an RV manufacturing plant, you have seen an assembly line in action. But it’s a far cry from a truly automated process. On each stop of the assembly line, workers with power drills and staple guns piece together one part or section of an RV. In reality, the assembly line is merely the RV chassis being moved forward so different people can perform their individual tasks to build the “home” on top.

Considering that so many people — including those with minimal skills — touch each RV in the production process, it’s no wonder that the level of quality of the RVs they turn out is all over the place. Most of the large factories in Elkhart, Indiana, where 80 percent of all RVs are made, no longer even drug test their employees due to a severe shortage of labor. As one worker said (or is presumed to have said), “If you can fog a mirror you can get a job.”


Now, contrast that process with the fascinating scene below in a German Mercedes Benz factory, where robots perform all but the final detail work. After watching this video, watch the one below it that shows how a Jayco travel trailer is made. Keep your eyes open for any robots (hint: there are none).

The downside, of course, to the German process is a lot of workers are replaced with robots. Still, that’s the future of much of American factory production.

And now, a seven-minute video showing how a Jayco travel trailer is made. . .

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Rory R

For me the answer is simple. Cut the production schedules, so workers can take more time and care with assembly, let there be QC inspections at the end of each phase of construction, and honor the warranty. Now those simple changes will account for an increase in price, but, there will be a definite increase in quality and reduction in the many problems experienced during the break-in period. Oh forgot to mention, cut out the ‘by piece’ payment schedules and make put all construction workers on a hrly pay scale. Paying employees by the piece, also incourages rushing, speed kills quality…

Rory R

It doesn’t help that the production schedules are setup so that more RV’s can be put thru in minimal amounts of time. That too is part of the problem. Also the lack of quality control. Robots are in use in certain parts of the operation in U S auto plants, but most of the work is done by human workers with electro-mechanical assistance as the vehicles roll down the line. But there are the aforementioned Quality control inspections as each phase is completed. Something that seems to be obviously missing in Rv manufacturing plants.

Katalin Heymann

I watched my house get built from the concrete foundation to the finished roof. Not including the concrete drying time, it took 4 months to build the 4 bedroom house with walk out basement and landscaping. The only 2 problems we had was water leaking in from the plugs not sealed correctly on the concrete wall totally underground and the concrete crack in the basement floor. They came back and correctly sealed the holes and patched the floor. Both were attributed to the house settling. No other construction problems occurred in over 30 years. There was no prefab parts except for the roof framing. If it takes longer to build an RV
wouldn’t you wait knowing it was built with care and precision?

chris p hemstead

Very informative. I didn’t realize robots did THAT much of a car’s construction. Humans are good at ideas and innovation – not so much at the insanely repetitive tasks robots do.

JBC

It is no wonder why so many screw holes are crooked, stripped and faulty (interior and exterior). Appears speed, a lot of speed is more important than really looking at the work that is being accomplished. The are just doing their ‘singular’ task (very fast) with little or no sense of the end product. This process leads to inferior, inconsistent quality – guaranteed.

Gil

I am retired from the construction industry. I watched both videos and I see no problem at all with the way RV’s are constructed. Sometimes, what the industry needs is a little “human touch.” It looked like to me that toward the end of production there was plenty of “human touch” involved also.

ran

You get what you pay for! JAYCO: Junk And Your Camper Overview!

Jeff

I’ve been to several RV Manufacturing Factories. And the VAST Majority of these workers DO NOT KNOW WHICH END OF SCREWDRIVER TO USE! Hence, you get a JUNK RV!