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TCM EXCLUSIVE: SumoSprings Airless Air Bags

After many months of product development and testing, SuperSprings is ready to debut their brand new SumoSprings Airless Airbags.

SumoSprings Airless Airbags

In our efforts to achieve ultimate safety and ride comfort, most of us use a combination of aftermarket suspension enhancement products.  On our own truck camper, we use 19.5 wheels and tires, Rancho 9000 shocks, and a set of SuperSprings.  Before we installed our SuperSprings, we experienced an uncomfortable amount of sway in turns.  Once installed, the SuperSprings took care of that.  We love them.

Today, SuperSprings is debuting a new product at SEMA called SumoSprings (SEMA booth #34110).  SumoSprings are airless air bags that are sure to shake up the traditional go-to air bag truck camper solution.  To learn more about SumoSprings, we talked to Gerry Lamberti, SuperSprings CEO, just before he left for the big introduction at SEMA.

SuperSprings SumoSprings in action SuperSprings SumoSprings on truck SuperSprings SumoSprings

TCM: Tell us the back story on SumoSprings Airless Airbags.

Gerry: Air bags have been around for about sixty years and have had a tremendous impact on the truck suspension industry.  In fact, air bags have been a default suspension product solution for anyone with a heavy load in their truck for many years.

SuperSprings have been around for thirteen years.  From the beginning, we came up against the air bag argument and have always had a good counter argument for our products.  As a result, our “Fit it and Forget it” vision has done even better in the suspension marketplace then we ever expected.

But there are certain areas of the RV marketplace where air bags have had a captured market.  The established perception within the RV marketplace is, if you want suspension enhancement, you need air bags.  We have lived with this fact for some time.

The problem with air bags is that they can fail if they are under or over inflated or if there is any kinking in the frame.  If you don’t have an on-board compressor, you have to go to a service station to maintain the correct air pressure.  In other words, air bags require a lot of maintenance.

Then, about two years ago, we were working on our successful SuperSway Stop product and thought, “What if we could come up with an airless air bag which would work without compressed air?”  An airless air bag would not suffer from the problems inherent with airbags.  Now, after many months of product development and testing, we are finally announcing our airless airbag product, the SumoSpring.  Best of all, the SumoSpring does not compete, but rather compliments our SuperSprings product giving customers additional choices unavailable previously.

TCM: How are SumoSprings Airless Airbags made?

Gerry: They are made in a hot proprietary mold system where steam is used to facilitate the closed cell foam.  For three weeks, the SumoSprings product go through oven curing where they are taken to extreme temperature ranges.  This ensures the product meets its high performance characteristics for durability and strength.  Furthermore, this heat curing allows it to perform in a temperature range of minus 40 degrees to 200 degrees which more than adequately covers all driving conditions in North America.  It is an elaborate manufacturing cycle.

TCM: Wow.  That really is an involved manufacturing cycle.  Where does this technology come from?

Gerry: The technology originated in Germany with BASF.  The SumoSprings are manufactured in Washington, Pennsylvania by a company called Pleiger Plastics.  They specialize in closed cell polyurethane material which is what the SumoSprings is made of.

TCM: Can you explain why a closed call system is preferable?

Gerry: When the SumoSpring is compressed under a heavy load, the closed cell system does not expel air.  There is a lot of lateral expansion in an air bag, whereas with the SumoSprings there is no lateral expansion because it compresses in on itself and then rebounds under full memory.  The SumoSprings Airless Airbags allows us to work in confined spaces, whereas the airbag is limited because of the lateral expansion.

TCM: Once you had your prototype SumoSprings developed, how did you test the product?

Gerry: One of our larger SuperSprings users is a US government fleet with several thousand of our systems installed.  All these vehicles operate in extremely rugged terrain and we were able to utilize these trucks and this environment to conduct testing far more rigorous than our customers are ever likely to encounter.

TCM: Did you have setbacks and breakthroughs during research and development?

Gerry: Yes.  We worked initially to optimize the correct urethane then produced numerous prototypes to hone in on the correct dimensioning and density to achieve the desired engineering result.  In particular we wanted to maximize amplitude because this is what ensures driving comfort.  This polyurethane foam allows us compression of 70% and stretching of 30% which is well in excess of what a traditional air-bag can do.  After extensive laboratory and field testing we achieved the desired results.  During the process, we filed our patent application with the US Patent authority.

TCM:
What are the key benefits of SumoSprings for truck campers?

Gerry: The biggest benefit of SumoSprings is that they’re a “fit it and forget it” solution.  There is zero maintenance.  There’s also no drilling of the truck frame for installation.  The Sumo Springs arrive in a box fully assembled and don’t require airlines or compressors.  They really are a product that most customers could bolt on themselves.

Owners are going to get a far more comfortable ride with SumoSprings.  We recently put Sumo Springs on a F350 with a 4,500 pound truck camper.  The loaded truck only set one inch and it drove very comfortably.

TCM: Why should someone with an existing air bag system consider replacing them with SumoSprings?

Gerry: The SumoSprings have been engineered to fit existing Firestone or Airlift brackets.  The foam units can be purchased on their own eliminating maintenance and leaks.

A lot of truck camper people use our products, Bob Livingston, Publisher of Trailer Life and Motorhome Magazines, being one of them.  We’ve had a lot of people calling us who have read his comments about SuperSprings’ products in Trailer Life.  Now you can have SuperSprings and SumoSprings and get the best of both worlds.  You get additional support muscle from the SuperSprings and you can add the Sumo for an increased comfort level, especially when carrying a larger camper.

TCM: You recently hired Paul Gibson to your team.  Tell us about about Paul.

Gerry: We met Paul last year.  He had been with Firestone and Airlift for forty years and had recently retired from Firestone as Product Development Manager.

We started talking with Paul about what we were doing and his response was, “Wow, what you are doing is what I had planned to do years ago, but couldn’t convince Firestone or Airlift that it was the way to go.”  With his extensive experience he has been an incredible resource and asset throughout this project.  In addition, living in Indianapolis, he is our Midwest Regional Sales manager.

TCM: Tell us about the SumoSprings unveiling this week at the SEMA Show (Specialty Equipment Market Association).

Gerry: We’re very excited about it.  Word has gotten out and national distributors are already putting the SumoSprings into their 2010 catalogs.

TCM: Tell us about the cost and the warranty for SumoSprings.

Gerry: The MSRP for the SumoSpring Kit with brackets is $589.  Without brackets, the SumoSpring Kit is $289.  SumoSprings come with a three year warranty.

TCM: How has SuperSprings the company weathered our current economy?

Gerry: We’ve done exceptionally well this year.  We are fortunate to have a foot in both the RV and commercial truck markets including private and government truck fleets.  The commercial truck market has been up, while the RV market has been down.  We anticipated that and put a greater emphasis on the commercial truck market.  Now we’re hoping the RV market begins to pick back up.

TCM: Has your strategy changed moving forward?

Gerry: We’re just looking at needs within the suspension industry.  If we find a need, we fill it.  We’re out there looking at the industry at large and seeing where there have been issues.  For example, people love air bags, but they dislike the maintenance issues.  So, we imagined coming up with an air system that doesn’t require maintenance.  Looking forward, our continued vision is to keep finding niche markets in the suspension industry.

TCM: Is there anything we didn’t ask you that you want included with your interview?

Gerry: To improve the engineering of our SumoSprings Airless Airbags we incorporated video cameras under the chassis frame to film the product in action.  While viewing hours of film footage one of my colleagues Mark Jutson commented that our new springs looked like giant Sumo wrestlers in action.  Hence the name.

To learn more about SuperSprings and their products, go to www.supersprings.com.

Truck Camper Information
American RV Dealership Grand Rapids, Michigan

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