Why is RV production more difficult?
The current products in RV are gel-coat fiberglass. Some are termed composites, some are not. It’s a gel-coat finish much like a boat. It’s highly automotive, reflective and smooth—those are difficult characteristics to meet in almost any process. It’s a combination of the produced surface and the coating that’s required to provide the end product. On a structural panel in marine applications, such as decking or structural walls, you don’t have to have an automotive mirror finish. It has to be nice, but not highly polished. We had to accomplish that difficult finish first, which we’ve done.
How did you accomplish that?
Part of it was product chemistry in our process to produce the panel. Mating that chemistry with the proper paint and clear coat finish to the proper application so that the chemistry and curing worked in a production atmosphere where production line is moving. We accomplished that at a high rate of line speed so that when the panel comes off coated and finished, it’s cured. We’re not atomizing any finish at all, which is important. From a standpoint of EPA at least, we work to keep under the air pollution requirements.
Was focusing on air quality a conscious decision or a response to business trends?
It was a focus for a number of reasons. The northwest section of Indiana is probably the worst air-polluter in the state, based on Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) measurements. As a result, the requirements have become more stringent. We could have done it a different way, but from an air quality standpoint in the facility, a number of things are important. The more you atomize, the more you spread through the ambient air. I don’t know if it’s a serious health issue or not, but it’s at the very least an annoyance to employees. We also focused on air movement by cleaning and filtering the air so we have access to some of that air movement in the facility, especially in winter.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, because of pressures from EPA and state quality boards, there’s been a rapid change in technology that allows people to produce products in different methods. The newer you are in your methods, the less likely you are to pollute. I don’t think anyone wants to pollute, but those that might be doing it more are using technology that was available when they installed their production. It’s not only expensive to update, but can require an overhaul of the manufacturing process.