Truck Camper Magazine visits Cube Series in Redmond, Oregon and discovers state-of-the-art technology and manufacturing processes throughout; Autodesk CAD to fiberglass infusion, laser welded cabinetry to 3D printed parts, and beyond. Way beyond.
When we first toured truck camper factories in 2007, the technology on display was primitive by today’s standards. The offices all had computers, but most of the equipment on the factory floors were traditional tools and machines.
Back then, design teams were using basic CAD, but CNC routers and equipment were still a rarity, and robots and automation were practically unheard of. With few exceptions, the entire truck camper manufacturing process was done by hand by skilled craftsmen and workers. This wasn’t old school back then. It was just school.
When we toured the camper factories again in 2010, CAD and CNC were having an outsized impact on camper design and manufacturing. On the manufacturing floors, CNC routers were taking over the cutting of entire camper walls and window cutouts. For the more established and larger volume camper companies, dramatic leaps in speed and precision through technology were all the rage; the new school.
That doesn’t mean every company went all-in on tech. Many notable companies made a conscious decision to keep their time-tested and proven build approaches. They didn’t sit still on quality, but they opted to do it in ways that didn’t involve expensive equipment investments that altered their process. Even today, some companies have stayed the old-school course, while others have pushed further and further into CAD, CNC, automation, and advanced materials.
New camper companies often start with manual tools and labor, and then bring CAD, CNC, and automation in bit by bit as demand picks up. In fact, we expect to see small facilities, minimal teams, and scant technology on display when we walk into a new camper manufacturer.
That’s not what happened the first time we set foot at Cube Series; not by a light year. In the truck camper marketplace, Cube Series was founded with both feet in the future.
The Technology of Cube Series
Cube Series is headquartered in a modern building that’s nearly devoid of old-school manufacturing processes. On the contrary, we saw more advanced technology per square foot at Cube Series than any camper company prior to that point. In some instances, Cube Series showed us technology we weren’t aware existed, at least within the RV manufacturing space.
All of this was a bit more than this tech nerd could handle. I may collect vinyl LPs and vacuum tubes, but I also love learning how new technology can impact camper design and manufacturing. For two full days, I had the Cube Series and Composite Approach teams explain and demonstrate exactly what this technology was, how it worked, and the results it produced. Someone call a nerd alert. I’m going in.
Autodesk Fusion 360 CAD
The first technology we saw the greater truck camper industry adopt was computer-aided design. This makes sense with how complex truck camper layout can be, not to mention how floor plans routinely need to be adapted to model year truck changes. It’s amazing how camper companies designed everything it on paper for so many decades. Then again, everything didn’t change so fast back in the day.
Cube Series campers might have started on a napkin sketch, but they quickly migrated to Autodesk Fusion 360 CAD. Fusion 360 is not only a leader for technical design projects and 3D modeling, but it’s also cloud based allowing for project sharing with fellow designers in the next room, or across an ocean, or two. Fusion 360 also has features that allow a designer to take designed elements and assemble them into increasingly complex 3D digital models. As you’re about to see, that’s a key attribute for Cube Series.
During our visit, the Cube Series team explained that every element of a Cube Series truck camper was rendered in Fusion 360 including the fiberglass tub, walls, components, and the final camper assembly. Then they told us that Fusion 360 allowed them to design and test Cube Series’ forthcoming (at that time) straight lift mechanisms; all in the digital domain. Not too long after we left, that same design worked perfectly in the real world.
Vacuum Infused Fiberglass
As our 2024 Ultimate Truck Camper Survey showed, fiberglass truck campers are exceptionally popular in both the hard side and pop-up camper categories. That includes clamshell fiberglass models seen predominantly in the hard side market, and vacuum-infused fiberglass that’s becoming a trend in the pop-up market. For a large number of truck camper enthusiasts, fiberglass is the way to go.
Cube Series launched on the concept of vacuum-infused fiberglass. In fact, the company partnered with Composite Approach for the development of the Cube Series truck camper and is headquartered in the same building. A visitor to Cube Series might be unaware that the two companies are separate. All that physically separates the two businesses is an indoor bay door.
During our visit with Cube Series, we spent about half our time at Composite Approach observing the vacuum infusion process.
The process starts with fiberglass molds that form the individual fiberglass body parts. These molds are very similar in construction and appearance to the fiberglass molds used at the clamshell fiberglass companies.
The first step of the process is also very similar. The molds are gel-coated in a fully enclosed and vented spray booth by a team member wearing a respirator. We were very careful when photographing this process as it would be easy to get a lens coated in tiny dots of white or gray gel coat. I actually killed a Nikon DSLR lens this way back in 2007. That was an expensive lesson.
From this point, the technique of creating the physical fiberglass parts is almost completely different.
The gel-coated mold is brought out of the spray booth where a team hand lays dry woven fiberglass, closed-cell thermoplastic polymer foam panels, and reinforcement materials into the mold.
Once the layers are completed, a plastic bag is placed overtop of the mold and sealed air-tight with a vacuum.
It’s critical that the mold seal is airtight or the parts will be defective and destroyed. From my conversation with the team, that’s an unusual occurrence, but it can happen.
With a proper vacuum, the resin is then sucked through plastic tubing into the layered lamination. This is fascinating to watch as you can see air bubbles being sucked out of the materials as the resin fills and saturates the materials.
The team watched the resin and air bubbles like hawks to make sure the process was properly taking hold.
After the resin has fully infused into the laminate, the fiberglass form is allowed to cure overnight. The next morning the vacuum bag is removed, the part is separated from the mold, and then the part is sanded and finished for the camper production line. The mold itself is then cleaned and prepped for gel coating.
A huge benefit of vacuum infusion is that it removes excess resin creating a fiberglass-to-resin ratio that’s more consistent and lighter weight than traditional chop gun techniques. It also doesn’t require a dedicated spray booth.
Bodor Laser Cutter
Back in the Cube Series half of the building, an imposing Bodor fiber laser metal sheet cutting machine occupies a sizable section of the Cube Series production floor. This thing looks like a modern interpretation of the WOPR computer from War Games.
Brace yourself for some serious geek speak. The Bodor is a 10kW laser cutting machine for fast carbon steel oxygen cutting, low-pressure stainless steel nitrogen cutting, and carbon steel air cutting. The Bodor CNC laser cutter itself features vision-sensing anti-collision functionality. Put simply, the laser head has sensors that “see” anything potentially in its path in three-dimensions, articulate around the obstacle, and continue on its programmed task. There are times I lack this technology myself.
If a 10kW laser sounds like something that could poke your eye out, you’d be right. This machine has an enclosure that protects mere mortals from harm during operation. No sane individual would ever enter this machine.
Never mind. Prior to firing up the unit, the operator crawled into the Bodor to check the alignment of the metal about to be cut. Even with all the advanced robotics and sensors this product has, getting the metal and laser head aligned can be a bit tricky. Once he exited the machine, he had it run a calibration that physically traced the metal material to make sure the metal was squared up and in the right position.
Then the laser cutting began. Through a green window designed to protect human eyes, we watched the CNC laser trace out a set of aluminum cabinets for a Cube Series camper.
The entire metal sheet took only a few minutes to cut.
The completed sheet was then automatically rolled out of the back of the laser cutter. The cuts were so fine that it was literally tough to see what had been cut.
With gloves on, the operator pulled items from the sheet. The precision and tolerances on display were beyond anything we had seen before.
Above: More Bodor Laser Cut Components
LonDio Laser Welder
With a 2,000-watt laser operating at a 1070nm laser wavelength, the hand-held LonDio 3-in1 laser machine is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a camper factory.
First, the laser head is something out of Buck Rogers and offers T-shape welding, flat-plate welding, and arc welding; all from the same gun. For different cutting functions, you just attach different cutting nozzles.
For a welding application, there’s a wire feeder. The resulting bead looks insanely clean and precise. You can even remove the nozzles for a wide laser cleaning function that instantly cleans a weld seam or removes paint from metal surfaces.
This functionality freaks me out as it’s basically a laser gun. Seriously, look this up on YouTube. Cube Series is basically building its cabinetry with a tethered laser gun.
Beyond the obvious wow factor, laser welding is up to 10 times faster than traditional welding, and creates a cleaner weld with zero blackening. We saw the results when examining Cube Series laser welded cabinetry. Not only are the cabinets laser cut to levels of precision we can’t imagine surpassing, but the laser welding is simply gorgeous.
Creality 3D Printer
Upstairs in the main office area, Cube Series has a Creality Ender-series large-scale 3D printer. This is where a 3D part model straight out of Autodesk Fusion 360 CAD can literally be printed into the real world; one layer at a time.
3D printers work through additive manufacturing. Once fed with a 3D model design and a plastic material, a 3D printer ‘prints’ that 3D model layer, by layer, by layer until the three-dimensional object takes shape. It’s truly magical to watch, but it’s not fast. 3D-printed parts can take hours to complete.
3D printing is perfect for small moderately complex parts needed in small quantities. In other words, all kinds of truck camper items. Cube Series has a rack full of completed 3D printed items ready for the assembly line. Some of them even incorporate their logo because, why not?
Imagine a 3D printer the size of the Bodor laser cutter making not just parts, but the entire truck camper. That’s way out there, but the technology is possible. The basic concepts are already in daily operation at Cube Series.
On the far end of the Composite Approach side of the building, we spotted what looked like model boats suspended from metal racks. While this had nothing to do with Cube Series, we couldn’t help but ask about these intriguing forms.
It turns out these are vacuum-infused fiberglass forms used to create unmanned marine vehicles for Liquid Robotics. The boats are part of the Wave Glider autonomous system designed to collect data 24/7 on the open ocean for up to a year without fuel, emissions, or a crew.
Wave Glider drones have industrial, environmental, and military applications, and have chalked over 2.7 million miles at sea and survived 25 hurricanes. If this article isn’t scratching your tech nerd itch by now, you’re reading the wrong magazine. And yes, I want one of these Wave Gliders for Christmas.
We had an absolute blast at Cube Series and Composite Approach and were thrilled to see the companies’ technology-focused design and manufacturing in full swing.
If anyone thinks truck camper design and manufacturing has fallen behind, Cube Series is not where you should be pointing. Cube Series, with their partners at Composite Approach, are truly building campers of the future.
To see the Cube Series truck campers built with all this advanced technology, check out our article, “Introducing Cube Series”.
For more information on Cube Series, visit their website at cubeseries.com. Click here to request more information about the Cube Series Campers.