TCM visits Roadmaster in Vancouver, Washington and watches steel and aluminum become tow bars, sway bars, hitches, and supplemental braking systems. Is that a 20,000 watt laser cutter?
After visiting Roadmaster for a couple days, we drove a half-hour to visit our friends, Alice and Gary. We had met Alice and Gary at the 2007 NATCOA rally in British Columbia at Fintry Provincial Park and were looking forward to hearing about their latest adventures with their 2004 Arctic Fox 990.
When we pulled into their driveway and got out of our truck, we stopped in our tracks at the sight of a Roadmaster StowMaster 5000 in their garage. Just an hour earlier we had seen this exact product at Roadmaster and wondered how many truck camper owners were using them. That’s when Gary pointed out his latest toy, a red Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. With the StowMaster 5000 towing their new Jeep, Alice and Gary are taking, “Go Anywhere” that much further.
During our travels this spring and summer, we’ve seen more and more truck camper owners towing Jeeps and other vehicles down the road. Naturally truck camper owners enjoy the ability to tow just about anything and why not tow a Jeep or a car? This is a free country. Tow what you like.
Roadmaster is one company who certainly understands our passion for towing. They build an extensive line of tow bars, hitches, and supplemental braking systems to make sure we can tow a vehicle safely and with confidence. Roadmaster also manufactures a line of sway bars to improve a rig’s stability and cornering control.
LEFT AND CENTER: Roadmaster operates from two main buildings in Vancouver, Washington. The building in the right photograph holds their main offices, supplemental brake system production line, electronics testing lab, and a large warehouse. The building in the center photograph holds Roadmaster’s main fabrication areas and production lines.
RIGHT: Inside the main production building is a well laid out production floor with more machines and manufacturing processes than we’ve ever seen, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We met Mike Cannon, Roadmaster’s Product Development Manager, and the inventor of the Even Brake and 9700, in Roadmaster’s electronics testing lab. There Mike showed us some of the extreme measures Roadmaster takes to ensure a safe and high quality product. For example, every circuit board, circuit board component, and connecting wire for the Even Brake and 9700 portable proportional braking systems is tested in their lab. They don’t just test one out of every batch, they test every single piece.
Roadmaster’s thermal imaging system can reveal the heat and exact temperature of a circuit board under load. If one component of the circuit board raises to a temperature outside of Roadmaster’s specifications, the board is rejected. When you’re dealing with a product as critical as a supplemental braking system, there’s no room for failure.
LEFT: Once the electronic components for the Even Brake and 9700 systems have been tested, they are brought to a U-shaped production line. There the Roadmaster assembly team assembles and tests the brake systems at every step of production.
CENTER AND RIGHT: We observed the production line as they assembled a run of Even Brake systems. In these photos you see Leonid Gloub at one of the early stages of production and Tatyana Buze operating one of many tests Roadmaster supplemental brake systems go through during assembly.
At the end of the production line, Mike showed us an articulating test table that simulates real-world operating conditions for the brake systems. We watched as three Even Brakes on the test table were jolted back and forth and run through an extreme situation scenario. During the test, three Even Brake units engaged and disengaged their brake systems in unison. No Even Brake or 9700 brake system leaves the Roadmaster factory until it’s passed through Mike’s articulating table test.
LEFT: There’s a very tall flight of steps next to the supplemental brake system production line that gives you a great view of the production line and the large warehouse behind it. Jerry Edwards, Roadmaster’s Founder and President, explained to us that it’s more efficient to build a warehouse up rather than out and he had designed this building accordingly. Looking at the massive storage shelving, it’s amazing that a specialized forklift can safely reach the top shelves.
CENTER: At the top of the stairs are some offices, Mike’s electronics testing lab, and another production area. This production area is where Roadmaster assembles its Hy-Power diodes that allow a towed vehicle’s brake lights and turn signals to work properly while towing. In this photograph, Nadia Lomanova packages products for Wheelmaster products (background) and Katia Domalevskaya labels Hy-Power diodes (foreground).
RIGHT: Also in this assembly area is where Roadmaster marine grade vinyl covers are sewn and given their weatherproof labels. Here you see Nadezhda Izotova and Aliona Bolgar sewing covers for the Roadmaster Tow Defender, a towing rock deflection screen.
Jerry Edwards has a strong belief system that he uses to steer Roadmaster forward. One facet of this belief system is doing as much as possible in-house. This allows Roadmaster to completely control the quality of their products and find opportunities to further improve efficiency. It also means Roadmaster keeps their manufacturing in the United States.
The results of Jerry’s in-house focus are everywhere at Roadmaster. One of the more important examples is Roadmaster’s in-house team of full-time die makers. Just off the main production floor, the die maker team maintains existing dies to keep them within Roadmaster’s quality control tolerances and manufactures new dies for new products. In these photographs you can see the die maker shop and team members Chad Malecha, David Kuczinski (center), and John Woolen (right).
LEFT: Raw materials are stored at the very rear of Roadmaster’s main production floor. There the steel and aluminum bars and plates are stacked and shelved floor to ceiling.
CENTER AND RIGHT: In front of the raw material inventory area is a battery of CNC aluminum and steel cutting saws. The CNC saw team precisely measures and cuts the solid and tubular steel bars for production. In these photographs, long time Roadmaster team member Andrei Tigu cuts a solid steel bar on a CNC saw. The saw uses fluid to cool and lubricate the blade and material as it cuts.