Four Wheel Campers is not only announcing a new one-piece aluminum roof, but they’re also announcing a big move to a new factory.
Four Wheel Campers is on the move, literally. Not only are they making some important changes to their time-tested truck camper roof design, but they’re also picking up everything and moving to a much bigger factory. Did we mention this new factory is big? It’s big!
Talking with Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers, we could hear his excitement. Of course he wouldn’t tell us about the big move until everything was signed and done for fear of “jinxing the deal”. Tom would just say, “I have some really big news, but I can’t tell you yet”. If you want to know how to keep the Publisher and Editor of Truck Camper Magazine in suspense, that’s how. Even Harley was on the edge of his tail.
There’s another even bigger story here. As we talk to our industry leaders, they’re all very excited about 2011. More importantly, they are aggressively buying new equipment, stocking materials, and hiring, hiring, hiring to meet the increasing demand. It’s clear that not everyone is enjoying a recovery yet, but are we getting back on our feet? You’re darn right we are.
TCM: What brought you to develop a one-piece aluminum roof?
Tom: It was time. With our old two-piece roof, the screws can potentially loosen up if the owner doesn’t reseal. Another challenge with the old two-piece roof is that our aluminum supplier had difficulty getting the roof skin to lay flat. Those two issues were big motivators to go to a one-piece roof. Now we don’t have to worry about the roof being flat or the screws potentially backing out. And the fit of the skin on the roof is significantly better for structural integrity.
TCM: For anyone with an older Four Wheel Camper that features a two-piece roof, how can they prevent the screws from potentially backing out?
Tom: Four Wheel Camper owners with two-piece roofs should periodically do a visual inspection to see if any of the roof screws have started to back out. If they have, tighten the screws and put a dab of silicone over the screw to reseal it. This does not happen often, but it does happen. With the seamless roof, there are no screws to potentially become a problem.
TCM: Tell us about the research and development process for the new one-piece roof.
Tom: Locating an aluminum roll that was 100 inches wide was difficult. Most aluminum rolls are 48 inches wide. Eventually, our supplier was able to find a special source for 100 inch aluminum rolls.
The aluminum roll weighs 4,000 to 6,000 pounds and presented it’s own set of challenges. As a solution, we came up with a special roller mechanism using trailer axles and tires together with a rack to accommodate the weight of the roll. The roller mechanism and rack prevents the aluminum from deforming or buckling during production.
The next problem, how to attach the new aluminum skin to our roof frame, was even more difficult. During our research, we reached out to 3M and they recommended their VHB Tape. 3M VHB Tape is a urethane type sealant in tape form. It’s designed to bond two surfaces together and is common in the trucking industry. If you see a tractor trailer with no rivets along the side it’s likely to be using 3M VHB Tape.
The aluminum roof frame construction is the same as it was before. We have added some improvements with the wiring and we changed our insulation to a better R factor styrofoam about three years ago.
TCM: Why aluminum for the skin? Why not use a composite like fiberglass or carbon fiber?
Tom: Aluminum is a tried and true medium. It’s been around forever and it’s light and durable. While we’ve certainly looked at composite materials, our jury is still out as to how well they would work with Four Wheel Campers.
TCM: Does the new aluminum one-piece roof weigh less than the old roof?
Tom: The weight difference is insignificant. The new one-piece roof is essentially the same weight as the original two-piece roof.
TCM: How has the aluminum roof changed the camper manufacturing process?
Tom: We had to change our manufacturing sequence slightly, specifically when we lay the skin onto the aluminum roof frame. Overall, it’s been a minor change. Now we have it down to a science and the new one-piece aluminum roof skin is completed in about the same time that the two-piece roof was.