Around-Oz: Living the Dream!


Winnebago Construction Methods

Winnebago is justifiably proud of the construction methods they use on their 100% Australian made motorhomes and unlike many RV manufacturers they will show potential purchasers exactly how they are made. They have organised tours of their ultra modern factory at Emu Plains most Fridays commencing at 1:30PM. You do need to book in advance as the tours are very popular - (02) 4735 8116. On construction methods Winnebago have made up some excellent models and these are currently on display in their Spare Parts Division and also at Queensland RV on the Sunshine Coast in sunny Queensland. The model is for the Alpine range, however everything seems to be exactly the same on the ever popular Leisure Seeker range with the exception of the roof covering and the roof camber. Winnebago released a video in 2003, a rather wonderful idea that makes selecting the right RV just that little bit easier. Simply ask your dealer or ring Winnebago direct.



Timber Finish

This is known as vinyl wrap and it allows speedy production as Winnebago have the facilities for making it in-house. The advantages are very smooth finish, easy to radius edges to avoid cut hands and a nicely uniform finish throughout the motorhome. The process simply encases a piece of timber in a wrapping of plastic vinyl. The wood can then be machined in the normal way.

Frame

Winnebago brochures are very good in this vital area and lots of information is provided. Essentially the walls and roof are made from 25 X 25 mm aluminium extrusion which is welded together to form a rigid panel. More detail on this below. Most models now have a "double" floor. This is a brilliant European idea and apart from the wonderful new storage possibilities like bins than go right across the vehicle there is a hidden advantage. All tanks are located INSIDE the vehicle. This completely eliminates the age old problem of damaging tanks and losing all your water. Another not so obvious massive advantage is that your plumbing never freezes as all pipes are enclosed as well due to the quality insulation Winnebago use in all floors - around 1 5/8" thick. As usual Winnebago grossly UNDERSTATE their excellent products and none of this is explained in any brochure. On a trip to Tassie the temperature dropped to minus 3. We found that we had no drinking water! Simple answer - it came from a separate tank we installed under the vehicle in the accepted normal way. On turning on the bathroom tap it worked perfectly as the supply came from inside the vehicle. Other manufacturers in Australia haven't worked out yet just how far ahead Winnebago are with design detail.

Walls

The wall panels are assembled individually. Now the model doesn't show you exactly how this happens but it is a rather fascinating process. First up the frame is welded up including frames for windows, vents etc. Next the internal plywood is bonded to the frame using a hot glue process. Next the foam is cut and inserted. The material currently being used is slightly different than the pictures in that it now has grooves to improve the hot melt adhesive flow - it is also blue. We liked the attention to detail around the windows. The Hehr windows used actually clamp in to give maximum sealing strength. All window corners have a plastic corner insert so that clamping is even with no chance of ripples. We particularly liked the pieces of 16 gauge galvanised iron used where cupboards will be attached and in particular where the awning attaches. This explains all the weird readings you get when you run a stud detector over a Winnebago. A sheet of exterior ply is then bonded as well as a sheet of fibreglass The fibreglass is actually quite thin and comes on continuous huge rolls. The photos below show the construction methods used for overhead locker floors. It consists of two sheets of 3 mm ply separated by 20 mm pine spacers/stiffeners. As the section is hollow the electrics are conveniently hidden inside the carcass. Note how the 12 volt wires are kept well away from the 240 volt supply.



Model Differences - Furniture

This causes lots of confusion for buyers as the brochures are a little on the hard side to follow. Leisure Seekers, Free Spirit and Freeways share exactly the same construction methods. The upmarket models such as the Alpine range use vinyl wrap on furniture carcasses and solid timber drawer fronts. The photos below show a couple of examples from an Alpine. Every draw on ANY Winnebago slides on metal rollers. All cupboard catches have safety locks. Most overhead cupboards use spring struts. All models use an ingenious jointing method on all cupboard fronts. This is called "pocket screwing". What happens is the complete cupboard front ready for assembly is placed on a huge ground steel plate and clamped. Holes are then drilled at a 15 degree angle from the rear. Special square drive screws are then inserted giving just about the strongest possible joint. You can't actually see any of this, but if you feel behind the joints you can get a good idea of how it all works. Mitred joints are used on cupboard door using the well proven biscuit method.



Floor

The floor is very well made and fully insulated - a big bonus! The floor frame is made from RHS steel of varying sizes depending on the load. Once again it is the very strong sandwich construction used on the roof and walls. A huge plus is the sheet of galvanised iron which covers the entire underside. On some models the main plywood floor is laid in overlapping levels. This gives incredible strength. The top surface is plywood which is then covered in lino or carpet depending on the model.



Assembling the Motorhome

Winnebago are rather unique in their approach. As soon as the floor is attached to the chassis the furniture is installed BEFORE the walls go up. This simplifies and speeds up the fitting of plumbing and electrics as technicians do not need to lay on the ground and work in confined spaces. The factory has several bays with over the roof gantries. This really speeds up construction and minimises any possible weight damage to a roof component.



Roof

Construction methods used on the roof vary within the model ranges. The Freeway and Leisure Seekers all use a completely flat roof covered with a seamless sheet of rubber made by Dicor in the USA (EPDM). Dicor have an excellent Website with lots of detail information on care and maintenance. The Alpine and Classic range use a curved roof. This is achieved using sheet foam. The upmarket models starting with the popular Alpine series cleverly use the same foam to create air-conditioning ducts. The actual vents start life as "donuts" of timber. The air-conditioning vent in the photo below shows exactly how this works. Curved roof models can also have a thin sheet of continuous fibreglass as the roof covering. Both methods cleverly cover the most important edge of any RV where leaking is most likely to occur - where the walls meet the roof. This method addresses this problem and works well.



Windows

All Winnebagos use the imported Hehr windows. These are mostly four bladed louvre type and all have easily removable screen gauzes. Rear windows are usually a flat type with no gauze and they are there as an escape hatch. All windows use safety glass with a hint of tint. All frames are earthed to comply with Australian Standards - usually a single screw inside the top of the frame.

Furniture

All Winnebago furniture is made from plywood and solid timber. This is all screwed together. It is kept nice and square by drilling and screwing on a flat metal table using a semi automated process. Tiny staples are used to hold the plywood covers in place. Most furniture is screwed into the frame making it easier to remove if required further down the track. Door catches are the press to lock type and work very well. All drawers run on steel runners and all have excellent corner reinforcing. They are also made entirely from plywood with zero MDF. In our view this would have to be one of the main reasons for buying a Winnebago as you would be very hard pressed to find zero MDF in any other manufacturers product.



Summing Up

This article is only meant as an overview only and as manufacturing methods change it is a good move to check everything out for yourself. As things stand you can see that Winnebagos are built to last using the most modern materials currently available. Special thanks to Winnebago Sales Manager, Grahame Wakeling. Grahame used to run the Friday tours.


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Last updated: March 30, 2006
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