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Torklift Factory Tour

TCM visits Torklift International in Kent, Washington and gets hands on with a brand new Torklift product.  Brush up truck campers, it’s a sweeper!

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Several weeks before our arrival, Jessica May, Torklift’s Marketing Director, contacted us with the exciting news that Torklift was almost ready to debut an all-new product.  “What is it?” I asked Jessica.  She replied, “I can’t tell you yet, but we’ll have it ready when you arrive”.  Oh the tease.

At the time we were exploring the San Francisco area with our friends Heidi and Tom and we had great fun guessing what the creative minds at Torklift might have come up with.  Maybe magic hover jacks to levitate a camper?  Perhaps matter-to-energy turnbuckles to finally give truck campers Warp 9 capability?  Or could it be the holy grail, a fifty foot glow-in-the-dark SuperTruss?  Obviously that would be a huge hit.

When we finally arrived at Torklift about a month later, Jessica had been called to serve our country and wouldn’t be returning for another couple weeks.  While we were very thankful for Jessica’s service, we were more than ready to learn of what Torklift had in their new product lab.  You can’t just leave a magazine in suspense forever, right?

It wasn’t until we caught up with Jay Taylor, Torklift’s General Manager, that the mystery would finally be solved.  But first we had some familiar aluminum steps to build.  Oh the tease.

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We regularly hear from readers who are experiencing difficulty entering their truck campers and climbing into the overcab bedroom areas.  The message we hear from our readers is, “Help us with solutions to keep truck camping comfortably and we will buy”.  The good news is that the truck camper industry is well aware of this growing need and is hard at work on some solutions.

Last year Torklift took on the challenge of building a stronger, safer, and more comfortable scissor step solution when they debuted the Glow Step.  The Glow Step featured a robust double-hinged aluminum design, SureGrip surface on every extruded aluminum step, and aircraft grade glow elements for night time visibility.

According to Torklift, the public responded by making Glow Steps one of Torklift’s best selling products.  Pop-up manufacturer Outfitter has even made Glow Steps standard equipment for their campers.

LEFT AND CENTER:
While we were at the factory, we watched Torklift’s Glow Step team manufacture a set of GlowSteps.  Glow Step production begins when Alex Vigil punches the T6061 aluminum pieces.  These pieces connect the extruded aluminum steps together.

RIGHT: With the pieces cut, Matt Crass then places the extruded steps into a special jig designed in-house by Torklift.  On the top of the jig you can see the steps held into position with a set of clamps.  Torklift’s jig can make Glow Steps with up to six steps.

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LEFT: The next step is to build the scissor pattern that expands and contracts the completed steps.  In this photograph you can see the aluminum pieces cut by Alex in the previous photograph series.

CENTER: Here Matt has completed one aluminum scissor assembly.  Each Glow Step requires two of these assemblies, one for each side of the steps.

RIGHT: When a scissor assembly is completed, the jig lifts up ninety degrees to meet the aluminum extruded steps in the correctly aligned position.  Matt has completed and lifted one side and is now working on the second side.

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LEFT: With both sides of the scissor assembly completed, the whole jig turns on its side.  In this position, Matt checks that everything is correctly aligned and gets ready to weld the scissor assemblies to the extruded aluminum steps.

CENTER: Here Matt is welding the steps together.  Each step is individually welded for strength.  The welds are located under the extruded aluminum steps and will be invisible to the consumer during daily use.

RIGHT: When the welding is complete, the welds are dressed and the SureGrip side of the steps get their glow strips applied.  The glow strips are the same type used on aircraft to indicate emergency exits.  Once the glow strips are applied, the Glow Steps are complete and ready for shipping.

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And now for the big announcement.  During our visit, Torklift finally introduced us to their brand new product.  Drum roll please.  No seriously, a little drum roll on the nearest hard surface or cranium would really help set the mood here.  Are you drumming?  Okay, let’s end the suspense…

Introducing the all-new Torklift Glow Guide!  As a follow-up to the Glow Step’s success, Torklift has solved yet another problem with scissor steps, the lack of a hand rail.  The Torklift Glow Guide is a collapsable hand rail that compliments a set of Glow Steps.  And yes, it too glows in the dark.

LEFT: In it’s collapsed position, the Glow Guide secures to the outside wall into two cradles next to a truck camper’s entry door.  Here you can see the Glow Guide secured into the cradles on the right side of the entry door on Torklift’s demo camper.

CENTER AND RIGHT: To install the Glow Guide, the user gently pulls the Glow Guide from the cradles and extends the Glow Guide into position.  In these photographs, Casey Cotter, Product Developer, demonstrates the Glow Guide step up.  Casey also showed us how to adjust the angle of the Glow Guide to suit your preference.  Once you have the angle set, the Glow Guide tightens to stay at that angle for use.

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LEFT: Once the Glow Guide is fully extended, the bottom of the Glow Guide is inserted into another cradle at the bottom of the Glow Steps.  The end of the Glow Guide is then placed into a cup completing the installation.

CENTER: Rob Rapose, independent sales representative for Torklift, took the opportunity to step up and try the new Glow Guide.  It certainly works to give the user a comforting assistance entering and exiting a truck camper.

RIGHT: Just when we thought we had the Glow Guide figured out, Casey threw us a curve ball.  He explained that you could also attach a brush or broom head to the end of the Glow Guide and have a full-size extendable exterior camper brush or interior broom on the go.  At first we thought he was kidding.  He wasn’t.

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LEFT: Sure enough, the Glow Guide transforms into an exterior camper brush or a floor sweeping broom.  We sure would have liked to be in the Torklift meeting when this was presented.  Maybe Torklift could take out a few spots on late night cable, “But wait, there’s more!  The all-new Torklift Glow Guide is also a broom.  And if you order now we’’ll throw in…”

CENTER AND RIGHT: All kidding aside, Casey got to work demonstrating the Glow Guide exterior camper bush in action.  Not only will the Glow Guide get you in and out of your camper safer, but it will also help to remove those annoying bugs under and on your overcab nose.  We’re not sure if this is genius or just Torklift’s creativity gone wild, but we like it.

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After being swept away by the Glow Step, it was time to get back into the factory and watch the Torklift team produce some Fastguns, SuperHitches, and SuperTrusses.  Enough aluminum already, give us the heavy metal.

LEFT: To cut the various steel plate components that go into making Fastguns, SuperHitches, and SuperTrusses, Torklift has two CNC plasma tables.  Here Jacob Asbill pulls up an AutoCAD program for the CNC plasma table.

CENTER AND RIGHT: Once the program is entered, the plasma table is ready to run it’s course.  With the push of a button, the plasma table exploded to life, burned through the steel plate, and rained sparks all over the floor.  Clearly CNC plasma tables know how to put on a show.  They also know how to cut steel pieces with precision.

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It’s truly impressive how much Torklift produces in what is essentially a small factory.  One way Torklift has been able to achieve a high level of productivity per square foot is by studying the physical motion each production team member performs during fabrication and assembly.  When there’s an opportunity to reduce the amount of physical motion required for a specific fabrication or assembly task, Torklift makes the change.

These motion reduction changes can be as simple as elevating or moving a work surface and as complex as building a custom jig.  A great example of the latter is the Glow Step jig we described earlier.  Torklift studied the required production steps to manufacture the Glow Step system and fabricated a special jig to make the process as efficient as possible.

As we walked through the factory, Joel Crawford explained that all of the materials, machinery, and stations have also been moved to improve productivity.  The cumulative result of all of these changes is not only higher production, but also happier and less physically stressed team members.

In the above three photographs, Jose Valencia is deburring and bending stamped steel destined to become a Torklift SuperHitch.  Note the height of the table and the relatively limited motion Jose needs to complete each step.  It’s still a workout with the steel plates, but the process is as efficient as possible.

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It’s a constant challenge to avert your eyes from the intense blue white flashes that pop on and off from the Torklift welding stations.  The welding guns buzz, crackle, and spit bursts of molten orange metal from seemingly every corner and station.  When the welding guns finally pause, the steel is literally so hot it smokes (see right photo).  This is one factory where you have to watch where you walk, watch what you touch, and even watch what you watch.

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Off to one side of Torklift’s action packed production floor is an area where Fastgun turnbuckles are produced by the thousands.  The final steps in the production of a Torklift Fastgun turnbuckle are done by one team member who hand assembles and quality controls the process.  Again the production area and process has been optimized for efficiency.

We watched Adan Flores as he crimped the rivets on Fastgun turnbuckles on a machine immediately behind him and then turned around to finish the assembly.  The completed Fastguns were then hung on a line just behind his left shoulder.  This whole process took less than two minutes per Fastgun.  Of course the Fastguns had been plasma cut, deburred, bent, welded, dressed, and powder coated before reaching Adan’s station.

It’s a good thing every company doesn’t tease us about new products like Torklift does.  We would have to rename our rig the Mystery Machine and change Harley’s name to Scooby Cat.  Rut-roe!  All cartoon references aside, we must admit that it was fun guessing what Torklift’s product could have been.  Sign us up for the fifty-foot glow-in-the-dark SuperTruss.  We’re in.

Speaking of new products, there’s yet another exciting new product in development at Torklift.  All we can do today is tease you again, but rest assured we will debut the new product here in Truck Camper Magazine in the near future.

We left Torklift talking about their company-wide focus, determination, and team spirit.  From senior management to the shipping department, everyone at Torklift impressed us with their focus on Torklift’s success and their team spirit to see the company through whatever challenge could be thrown their way.  Let there be no doubt that Torklift is still a company to watch.

For more information about Torklift International, visit their website at www.torklift.com.

 

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