With recreational vehicle sales at an all-time high, industry leaders should look to automation to meet demand.
The numbers are in, and to anyone in the RV industry, they should come as no surprise: sales are through the roof, and they show no signs of slowing down. According to the latest figures and projections, 2020 saw 430,412 units shipped, despite shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This represents a 6% increase over the sales figures for 2019. And 2021 looks to be even better, with estimates ranging between 565,848 and 586,281 units—roughly a 14% gain on the previous annual sales record set in 2017.
There are several reasons for the latest surge in demand. RVs have been trending for several years, aided by inspirational “van life” images on social media. But the Covid-19 pandemic has added fuel to the fire. Travel restrictions mean that many would-be tourists are taking their vacation plans to the road. Some workers are choosing to take their office on the road, while families have decided to view remote education as an opportunity to take an educational tour of the country.
No matter what the reasons are, however, RV manufacturers must now meet this increased demand—and automation may be their best path forward. In the past, implementing factory automation for recreational vehicles has had a few industry-specific challenges. However, we believe that automation has not only solved those challenges, it now has new advantages that make it even more essential. Let’s take a closer look.
Challenge: RVs are manufactured on-demand.
Unlike the automotive industry, where millions of vehicles are built and sold each year, many RVs are only built after a customer places an order. Manufacturers typically don’t keep a large fleet of vehicles on hand, meaning there’s no need for a high-volume automated solution.
Modern automation has become increasingly flexible, however, with solutions that are well-suited to low-volume applications. These include smart workstations with interchangeable tooling plates, and mobile robots that can assist with construction on a factory floor.
Challenge: RVs require customization.
One of the reasons RVs are often built on-demand is that the newest models include high levels of customization. The customer ordering an RV may work directly with the manufacturer to discuss details, and the wide number of variables means that each unit may be its own unique work order.
Given that automation is known for its repeatability, it is not immediately obvious where it might have a place in a custom build. However, the components for an RV are at times manufactured on-site, including modular construction elements, and more. Personally, what I’ve seen locally is manufacturing companies like Lippert Components which is a national leading components supplier to the recreational vehicle industry provide high volumes of components to the RV manufacturers. High-mix, low-volume automation technologies, aided by advanced robots, have the flexibility to handle numerous tasks, and adjust based on consumer customizations are ideal for automated solutions.
Challenge: RVs are a luxury good.
This may be more of a marketing concern than any other, but in some quarters, the care and customization that goes into building an RV is part of the appeal. For many consumers, “custom-built” implies “by hand,” not by machine.
However, modern RVs are also more technologically complex than ever before, in ways that warrant high-tech solutions. If modern luxury comes to be associated with sophisticated manufacturing methods, so much the better.
Advantage: Automation can fill a labor shortage.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused shortages in many unexpected places. Where skilled workers are concerned, it has only deepened a shortage that was already on the horizon. With older workers retiring from the workforce, younger workers seeking jobs in other industries, the sudden spike in demand is leaving many manufacturers without the manpower to meet production needs.
Fortunately, automation not only fills this gap, it also makes the work environment safer and more appealing to workers. By eliminating burdensome or tedious tasks, robots can reduce worker injury and improve job satisfaction, thereby helping to retain (and even recruit) new workers.
Advantage: Automation can assist with standardization.
We mentioned earlier that RV manufacturers don’t just assemble the vehicles—they also produce many of the components used in their construction. While some of these components will be custom-built, others need to be interchangeable so that if an RV needs service at a later date or in a different location, the right parts will be available. Automation can ensure the consistency of component manufacture so that standardized parts truly can be used wherever, and whenever, they are needed.
Advantage: Automation can include advanced testing capabilities.
As both vehicles and homes, RVs have a wider range of quality standards to meet than many other products. Automated testing can make it easier for manufacturers to validate their products, while also adding new ways to check for quality control. Not only that, but the use of automation in the first place cuts down on human error, making it less likely that a problem will exist in the first place.
Advantage: Automation can work alongside human operators.
Over the decades, automation has advanced from purely mechanical processes, to high-tech, AI-powered machinery. Now, the latest iteration sees robots operating alongside workers, handling heavy lifting or performing repetitive, strenuous tasks while the humans provide guidance and critical thinking skills. This arrangement harnesses the best of both worlds.
Contact Eagle to learn more about how advanced automated solutions can be applied to your business.
With automation technology continuing to advance, manufacturing leaders need an automation partner who understands their business thoroughly, and can come alongside them to think creatively about how to resolve their production challenges. At Eagle, our decades of experience within the manufacturing industry make us well-versed in many of these challenges. We would like nothing better than to help your company keep its manufacturing methods up to date with the latest technology. Contact us today to learn more.
Brandon Fuller | b.fuller@EagleTechnologies.com
Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI