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Friday, April 20, 2018

Meeting the Queen of Paint

This afternoon we went over to Belmont to tour the paint shop.  It is in Mississippi, about 8 miles from Red Bay.  This place is huge!  It has at least 12 paint booths that I saw.  There is not guided tour...the guard gave us the overall layout and turned us loose.  So we wandered around on our own.  The stations we saw were not in any order, but here goes....

This RV was in a booth getting ready for some kind of paint.  It may have been clear coating.

These ladies appeared to be doing some inspection of the paint and putting on yellow masking tape where there were problems.

These guys in space suits are doing actual painting.  We were able to see them through the window in the booth.

This RV has just finished up in the "Super Clear Coat" booth.

Here is a rig all taped up and ready to go in to get the base coat.  From what I understood, the base coat is always white.

This is another rig being inspected.

Hard to see these guys painting.  It appeared that there was a lot of spray in the air, but I think that was just on the window I was looking through.

Here some workers are applying tape for the next set of stripes to be painted.

It appeared that there was some stripes being laid out on this rig.

Here is one that is getting ready for painting a level of stripes.

We were warned by the guard that there could be a lot of fumes in the air.  But there weren't really...and I suspect the reason is these huge pipes that pull air out of the booths and send it outside.

I overheard one worker scheduling the above rig for clear coating.  Fairly intricate art work on these.

For an extra few thousand dollars, they will continue the stripes on your slide walls too!  We didn't see the need for this option.

This bay was prepped to receive a coach and as we were walking away, one drove right in and they closed the doors.

This appeared to be some kind of spray or wash area.  Didn't see much happening here.

Outside of the plant there is a large parking lot.  This is where the rigs that are ready for delivery are stored until a driver can deliver them.  They are short of drivers, so if you need a job and have always wanted to drive really expensive vehicles,  this might be the place for you!

We were very fortunate to have done this visit to the paint shop when we did.  We saw that the color white that we saw on our RV paint scheme really wasn't white - it was "Chocolate White" which to me meant light tan.  We met with Melissa, the Queen of Paint to talk about this.  She said it was a white, but not pure white.  We looked into changing just that one color and she made up some change sheets, but we would have to take them over to the main sales office for costing and approval.  Basically, we wanted to use the white from another paint scheme.  Why that would cost money since they normally use that paint, is beyond me.

We went out into the pre-delivery storage area and found our color scheme (Maroon Coral) on one rig and saw an alternative on the other (White Mahogany).  Turned out we liked the White Mahogany better.  We went over to the sales office back in Red Bay and checked a few rigs there to make double sure....then went in and changed it with the sales office.

If you are buying one of the rigs new, I strongly suggest that if at all possible, you come to the paint shop in Belmont (8 miles from Red Bay) and actually see the color scheme you have ordered.  As the Queen of Paint said, the paper version does not do it justice.  You need to see it on a rig in the sun to be sure.  I know we would have been unhappy with our original choice and if we didn't come to Belmont, we would not have had the chance to get it corrected!

Final Production Day

Today was the final production day for our new RV.  Station 7 involved putting on the compartment doors and inspections.  When we arrived at 6am, we found that all the compartment doors for one side were already installed.  During our time at this station, inspectors worked their way through the unit and all around the outside to look for things wrong.  I had thought that the production team had done a great job, but I was wrong.  There were definitely some really small things that they found that I never would have.

When they find something, they put some yellow or blue masking tape near it and note it on an inspection sheet.  There really were only about 15 items on the sheet, and I was told that it was a relatively small list.  Every door, cabinet, drawer, whatever was tested for alignment.

This is a closeup of one inspector looking at an outside compartment.  He spent about 1 minute or two at each compartment with his light and took pictures.

Here is a picture of the side where the doors were already installed and being inspected.

The other side's doors were placed and ready to install.  The first side was actually done after work yesterday.  Tiffin has a backlog of orders and they are letting the workers have overtime to keep up.

All three inside TVs were checked and working.  The outside TV will be installed after painting.

Here the front engine cover is installed.  Then we move on to station 8.

At this station, the bubble testing happens.  What they do is seal up the unit (doors & windows closed, all intentional openings to be used later are sealed with tape).  Then a worker is pushed around on this set of stairs and she squirts soapy water on all seams, joints, windows, and anywhere else needed.  

We actually had two areas of bubbles.  One was on top of the roof and I could not get pictures of it.  Apparently a seam had a leak.  They redid the seam and caulked it.  No more bubbles there.  The second set of bubbles was outside the kitchen window.  This was an easy fix - just tighten the screws!

Everything noted on the inspection report gets fixed here.  Some of the items needing fixing were:  The outlets over the sink were not powering up, one of the spyder switch control panels had no power, some cabinet doors needed fixing, etc.  I even helped the inspector and found that the ceiling fan only worked in one direction.  All these and others were fixed.

Here James, who installed our flooring back on Monday before the first production station, comes in to fix a problem.  Apparently the slide had pushed out two tiles.  He was able to easily correct the problem.

Had a chance to even test the fireplace!  It warmed up nicely!

One of the last items fixed outside was a defect in the siding.  A worker came over and fixed it and then sanded it down.  Every item on the defect list was fixed by the production team before the unit left the main production floor!

This is a picture of Kelvin, the supervisor of our production team.  He has 26 workers under him that cover 8 stations.  There are actually two lines making gas coaches.  The normal one is called the "gas line" and I believe it has 19 stations.  The stations there do less work and the workers are more specialized so the units move through the stations quicker.  In Kelvin's team, they take longer at each station and each worker can work on more than one area.  It gives him great flexibility and his troops really take their time and do a good job.  The production line is officially called the "Breeze Line", but since there were not that many Breezes to make, they make mostly gas coaches too.  We really like Kelvin and his team.

Kelvin actually responded to two items I had seen.  One was the bedroom vanity countertop which I thought should have some trim around it.  He agreed and arranged for one of the workers to take some scraps from the counter top and make a mini backsplash.  It really looks classy.  He also added some trim around a door frame to give it some class!  He takes all the time needed to answer questions or concerns.

This is Diane, the parts lady.  She is the nicest person you would ever meet (except for the rest of the team who are equally nice!).  She always has time for your questions too.  And if she can't help you directly, she knows who can and gets them involved.

Overall, I am so glad we came here to watch our unit being built.  It was a great education for me as far as how things are installed should I ever want to make changes (and I have already identified a few) and I think it helped the workers seeing who the customer is.  I actually think they did a better job just because we were there watching and interacting.  (Though I suppose they would to a great job anyway!).

Once Station 8 was complete, it was time for it to leave the production building and go be insulated underneath.  Then it is off to the paint shop which is over in Belmont, MS, about 8 miles away.  It comes out battle ship gray!

Be sure to turn up the sound.......

Soon I will be posting our visit to the paint shop and will explain how it saved us from a major problem!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Up on the roof.....

Today was an exciting day for our new RV.  When we arrived just before 6am, the RV was already moved to station 4 and workers were just getting organized.  The first big action was to put the roof on.  Amazingly enough, they actually build the entire roof on the ground.

Remember to click on a picture to enlarge it.

Here Carl is installing one of the air conditioners.  All the antennas, fans, lights etc for both the roof and the ceiling are installed while the roof is on the ground.

There are two movable catwalks, one on each side of the RV, at this station for the workers to install the roof.

This is the special jig crane used to lift the roof.  There are a bunch of suction cups hanging down on the jig.  When the jig goes to pick up the roof, the vacuum pump is turned on and the roof can be lifted.

Before the roof is lifted up, all the wires coming out must be properly placed.  The day before this build began, the wires were cut and made into large harnesses to be installed.  Each wire is identified by function and name and this information is stamped every 4 or 5 inches for the full length of the wire.  So there is no reason not to know what wire does what.

Here you can see the fans and light fixtures in the ceiling.

The above short video shows the roof being moved by the jig into position.

Now the roof is installed and secured.  It makes the inside real dark and while all this is going on, there were two workers doing stuff inside.  They had on headlamps and you could occasionally see the light beams.  Fortunately, it was dark inside for only about 5 or 10 minutes.

Because they quickly connected those wires we saw earlier and presto, we have lights!

The lights and for that matter, most other 12 volt functions (fans, heat/AC setting, etc) is done through a Spyder control system.  All these functions are controlled by panels like the one shown above and all the panels and actuating switches are on a Ethernet network in the RV.  Later, I will be able to control all these items from my cell phone!

At station 5, they made major progress on the interior.  Shown above is Carol's backsplash.  It took a custom order to get it because we didn't like the one that came with our fabric suite.  So we had to special order it and Carol went to Diane, the materials lady, to make sure we got the right one.  At first, Diane could not find the special order, but a few minutes later she had it.

Also at this station, the residential refrigerator was installed.

While all the inside work was going on, outside things were happening too.  First the front wheel well covers were installed.

Then the front end cap was put into position.  This cap comes prebuilt with all wires, lights, windshield, etc pre-installed.  So it takes about 10 minutes total to place it, secure it, and connect it.  Then we have all the normal front end vehicle lights.  The only thing missing are the windshield wipers which are put on after painting.  But the wiper motors are already there and connected.

Our outside door is installed as a unit.  There are adjusting screws inside the track to square it up.  The door install took about 5 minutes!

Also driver and passenger front windows are quickly installed.

Meanwhile work inside continues as the electric fireplace is installed.

The last major item for station 5 is to put on the rear cap.  It already has all the lights and cameras installed and they just need to be connected which takes about 1 minute.

After moving to station 6, one of the workers gets into the 110vac electrical system with a testing unit.  She checks all these circuits to make sure there are no shorts.

Carol enjoys our new sofa while workers install trim pieces at various points in the RV,

The bedroom gets the first of 4 TVs to be installed.  All TV share any of the input devices and the same remote can work any of the TVs.  The second TV to be installed was the one over the fireplace, but the bracket was bent and Diane needed to get us a new one.  Will probably have it tomorrow, so that TV is not installed yet.

Here the front TV is installed.  These TVs are huge!

Lastly, the cabinet doors and front seats are installed.  The seats are covered with protection cloths, though I wonder if I can get the driver's chair with the patterned fabric shown above?

We have two more production stations tomorrow.  The first, station 7, is where they install the outside storage cabinet doors.  And I believe the last station is mostly for catchup items.

We have found a few small items that needed to be fixed.  About 10 of our cabinet doors have front cross pieces that are not exact stain matches.  Not sure how this happened, but they may be restained tomorrow if it can be done that quick.  Otherwise, after it goes to be painted all next week, they will fix it during final inspection.

I suspect this problem would not have been caught unless you looked closely for it.  So I am really glad we came to Red Bay.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sides, Slides, and Other Fun Things

The shift officially starts at 6am, which means we had to get up at 4!  Yuk,  But we got to the factory and found our RV Fetus at about 5:50 and they had already been working since 5:15!  Tiffin now has 4 productions lines going which results in 13 new RV's coming off the line each day.  Different types of motorhomes have different numbers of stations.  The more luxury models had more stations so they take longer to make.  But not all motorhomes take the same amount of time at each station.  For us, our station 1 time was about 2.5 hours, but the smaller unit behind us only needed 1.5 hours at that station.  And you can just skip ahead, because there is another unit already at that station.

So they reallocate workers to stations as units move through the plant.  We met Diane, the materials lady early this morning.  She goes up and down the line making sure that all the components and materials are ready.  Tiffin makes most everything except the chassis, electronics, and appliances.  They own many small production companies scattered around to create the items like the dash boards, shower enclosures, etc.  Diane makes sure everything is available when needed.  She even scheduled the cabinet, slides, and roof builds.  

Remember to click on the pics to enlarge them.....

Since they started early, they had already loaded some of the cabinet items before we arrived.  Here you can see the refrigerator cabinet and some of the half-bath cabinets.

We ordered a stackable washer/dryer and here the two are bolted together and placed on a jack.  The jack then lifts these into position and they are slid in and bolted to the floor and cabinet walls.

The toilet in the full bath is waiting for installation while Manny connects up the water manifold.  The manifold should allow someone to be in the shower while water is also used elsewhere without them noticing it.  Time will tell on that one!

While Manny is connecting plumbing, the washer & dryer are lifted into position.

Here you can see one of the workers putting screws along the underside of the edge of the floor.  As the side wall is installed later, these will be tightened and will help hold the base of the wall in position.

Time for the kitchen sink & cabinet to be placed into position.  These cabinets were made in the wood shop which is in the building behind the main plant.  All the cabinets come over on a cart and are placed in the station for installation.  The drawers will be made the day before needed and installed down the line.

Meanwhile another worker is busy setting up the driver and passenger areas.  Here he is connecting up the heating and AC ducts to the various outlets along the dash.

Here he has installed the dash and begun connecting the myriad of cables, wires, connectors and whatever.

This side's cabinets are all installed.  From left to right, there is the bedroom cabinets and wardrobe, the half bath enclosure with vanity, the space for the residential refrigerator, and you can partially see the kitchen counter.

We are now able to climb up and in as we wish.  Here you can see the kitchen sink and counter.

This is the passenger side wall for our RV.  It was made at a Tiffin subsidiary company and placed along side our rig at station 2.

The sidewall is picked up by the overhead crane and the guys guide it into position and secure it.

Meanwhile the microwave/convection oven is installed.  We didn't order the propane oven because we wanted the additional storage space and we use the convection function all the time.  We will have a propane cooktop but we also have an induction burner which we use the most.

Here is a good picture of the overhead crane.  It can move in two directions - right & left, forwards and backwards.  The winch on this crane can then go up and down.  The entire unit is controlled by a hand held remote.  Most of the time we saw it used, only one person was performing the related task!  The driver side wall was also installed using the crane.

The crane is used to hoist the overhead cabinets that go above the windshield into position.

Our residential refrigerator is on a scissor lift cart and is now raised up and pushed onto the floor.  It has wheels under it and glides ever so smoothly.  It will actually be put in the cabinet for it at another station.  I think that is because the roof has to go on first but it is way easier to get the unit inside the RV now through the slide area instead of having to manhandle it through a window later.

The bedroom slide comes over on a cart and the crane is used to lift it off and then into position.  Installing the slides is a one-man job believe it or not!  And the bed and accompanying cabinetry and lights are already installed in the slide!  Earlier in the day, I had wandered over to another quadrant of the factory where the slides are made and found ours.

Here the bedroom slide is in position and being connected to the mechanism.  

Next the main slide goes in.  The cabinetry is already installed in this one before it goes in.  And the accompanying furniture is in there too.

That was three stations worth of work today.  I walked over and found the crew that was building our roof.  They make the roof with the ceiling material on the other side and make the cutouts.  They actually make all the roofs for each line the day before they are needed.  And even though our roof goes on first for our line, it was made last so that it would be sitting on the top in the storage cradle.

Here they have tilted the roof up on an angle and are installing the light sockets and other wired items.  Then a huge crane will pick this up and slide it about 100' feet or so to our station #4 where it will be installed tomorrow morning.

One thing Carol and I were talking about at we have completed the first day on the main production line and everything is connected, plumbed, and placed so that she could actually do a load of laundry.  The fresh water tank is full and the gray is empty.  All she needs is some soap!