A look inside the TrailLite factory

By: Cameron Officer

A look inside the TrailLite factory A look inside the TrailLite factory
A look inside the TrailLite factory A look inside the TrailLite factory
A look inside the TrailLite factory A look inside the TrailLite factory
A look inside the TrailLite factory A look inside the TrailLite factory
A look inside the TrailLite factory A look inside the TrailLite factory
A look inside the TrailLite factory A look inside the TrailLite factory

TrailLite’s motorhome manufacturing process leaves nothing to chance, ensuring its many clients can trust in the build quality of this popular New Zealand brand. We take a sneak peek behind the factory doors.

TrailLite’s Shaun Newman says that if there is one overriding goal he and his team strive for when manufacturing their popular motorhome range, it’s the idea of continual improvement.

To that end, TrailLite has adopted an all-encompassing ‘lean manufacturing’ process called Project Smart. Not only has it cemented the entire company’s ability to work towards common customer- and quality-focused goals, it has also helped this busy manufacturer virtually double production.

"Everyone who works at TrailLite is encouraged to help improve the way we work and every single aspect of our manufacturing process," says Shaun.

"Changing the way we’re working has had a very tangible effect too. It has enabled us to increase production significantly; we’re producing about 70 units a year now, whereas a couple of years ago we were building around 35 motorhomes per year."

The entire factory has evolved as a result of this sea change in the production methodology too; anyone who visited TrailLite’s Pukekohe premises during its last customer open day will notice quite a difference should they decide to visit this year.

"We’ve ensured every department’s work benches are right alongside the work station; everything is on wheels and fully portable where it can be, every tool is shadow-boarded and – where we have multiple technicians within the one department, such as where we assemble furniture – every work bench is kitted out identically.

"It’s an ongoing process too; we’ve evolved the way the wider factory is set up at least three or four times since we started this project, all to improve on the efficiency of the way we work as a whole. It all comes back to the idea of ‘continual improvement’," he says.

Aside from fibreglass formation, furniture component production and the building of the cab-chassis vehicles themselves, everything else in the TrailLite manufacturing process is completed at the Pukekohe factory.

Trail Lite4

After the cab-chassis vehicle arrives from the distributor (Shaun says around 50 percent of their models are Mercedes-Benz, with Iveco being the next most popular base), under-floor items such as gas and water lines, water tanks and lockers are all built into the rear platform immediately. Mercedes-Benz supplies cab-chassis vehicles with the cab roof and rear wall already removed so as to aid production.

The under-floor department also installs water pumps, the diesel pump for the heating system and as much cabling as possible before the panel floor goes on. The installer uses the motorhome’s floor plan to map out where gas lines and plumbing need to go, while the remainder of the cabling is on a wiring loom especially designed for TrailLite.

As you’d expect, there is plenty of wood framing here, but as Shaun explains, the wood itself isn’t actually structural. "The wood within the wall panels in particular is there more to enable the construction team to screw the walls to the chassis and act as framing for doors and windows."

The walls actually get their strength from their laminated sandwich panel construction, which includes a special composite product called Alufibre.

"Alufibre is a material from the Netherlands that features a thin fibreglass layer on the inside and a thin layer of powder-coated aluminium on the outside; it’s very tough and has a nice high-gloss finish to it.

"The internal wall lining consists of a plywood lining with a tough decorative surface to it. The layers are then vacuum sealed together inside a big plastic bag. Glue bonds the pieces together over three or four hours. The end result is a solid wall that is very stiff, rigid and durable and is very well-insulated."

Next the motorhome has its furniture assembled and installed. TrailLite has no CNC machinery on-site, so they outsource furniture construction. It then all arrives back at the factory in its component parts for the team to assemble.

An interesting aspect of the construction process is that all furniture is installed before the walls go on; this ensures that everything – appliances, cabinets, speakers, wall lighting and other items – are all within easy reach of the installers.

Trail Lite8

The next station, which features a permanent gantry over the motorhome, is where the roof panels, fibreglass trim, vents, solar panels and satellite dishes are affixed.

The attention to detail doesn’t let up as the motorhome reaches its final stages of completion either. TrailLite’s exterior department finishes all the decorative trim, aluminium extrusion features and graphics, while two supplementary finishing departments complete plumbing and bathroom preparation, install entertainment systems and other comfort features, along with upholstery, carpets and soft-furnishings.

"At each stage the motorhome goes through a comprehensive Quality Assurance process," says Shaun.

"We have a peer review process implemented where different departments get to check on aspects of the build process outside of their main focus; this works very well in highlighting small inconsistencies which need to be corrected."

The final stage of the manufacturing process has TrailLite’s groomer go through every aspect of the completed vehicle. This process can take an entire day and also includes system tests, where technicians ensure all appliances are running as expected before the finished motorhome is handed over to its new owner.

The entire process – from the arrival of the cab-chassis to customer handover – can take anywhere between six and eight weeks.

"We have a five year warranty on everything we do, so it’s vital we get everything right at a factory level," concludes Shaun.

"Our clients really like the attention to detail in TrailLite vehicles and I think our manufacturing process, which is of an international standard and is getting more streamlined and efficient all the time, really reinforces this idea for people.

"Factory tours are available for everyone. They’ll be running over our expo weekend on 31 October and 1 November, or just give us a call."

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