Jandelsbrunn in Bavaria: a small municipality with nearly 3,300 inhabitants surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. The forests of a national park can be found just a few kilometers away. An ideal setting for the headquarters of KnausTabbert. The company’s recreational vehicles are developed and manufactured here, an apt location for their purpose amidst a picturesque vacation landscape.
KnausTabbert has been in the business of manufacturing recreational vehicles for many years now: Alfred Tabbert founded his namesake brand at the beginning of the 1950s. Decades later, his company merged with the company of Helmut Knaus, the inventor of the “swallow’s nest”, a rustic, egg-shaped travel trailer that was extremely popular among travelers during the period of the economic miracle. Today, KnausTabbert GmbH has around 2,200 employees on its payroll, working at the Bavarian headquarters, in Hessian Mottgers and in the Hungarian city of Nagyoroszi. Fully-assembled vehicles roll off the production line at all three locations, with the promise of freedom above all else – after all, the idea of caravaning has not changed over the decades. Whoever purchases a travel trailer or a camper always has a home while on the go and is flexible enough to set out in search of nice weather or give in to their wanderlust whenever the mood strikes. Wherever the road takes you: Your bed and kitchen are already there.
RECORD AND SUPERHEROES
This level of independence is more sought after than ever – the caravaning industry is booming. Last year in Germany alone, roughly 63,000 travel trailers and campers were registered – more than ever before. KnausTabbert is among the front runners with its sales figures, offering recreational vehicles for all tastes under its four name brands: KNAUS, TABBERT, WEINSBERG and T@B. There are 16 models available just for the travel trailers, with around 130 different layouts. The portfolio ranges from the price-conscious bestseller WEINSBERG CaraOne to the TABBERT Cellini, a luxury camper with leather seats, teak-accented furniture and extendable walls to enlarge the interior. “We listen closely to our customers and react quickly to the latest trends and demands on the market,” says CEO Wolfgang Speck.
An example of this is the compact T@B camper. With its tear-shaped exterior, it has been a cult object for years and is reminiscent of the Ur caravan TABBERT Ideal from 1955. The teardrop camper offers space for two occupants and is geared towards people who prefer flexible and uncomplicated travel. The T@B has developed a real cult following. Fittingly, KnausTabbert advertises using brochures in the style of superhero comics.
WHY WOULD WE NEED A WAREHOUSE?
KnausTabbert GmbH has been working to satisfy the high demand on the market, producing approximately 21,000 vehicles in 2017 alone. In Jandelsbrunn, both travel trailers and campers are produced. This requires a great deal of manual labor: screwing, gluing, wiring and drilling. The teams along the assembly lines on the large factory floors work like a pit crew in Formula 1, albeit at a less hectic pace as their work is much more complicated.
The chassis of the recreational vehicles consists of a galvanized sheet-metal frame and the wheels. The chassis is delivered in individual components and assembled. “We build everything else on top of it,” says production manager Herbert Krinninger. KnausTabbert manufactures the furniture for the interior in-house, from the bed to the closet and kitchenette.
A recreational vehicle is assembled from the inside out. It is not until the very end that the side panels are fastened and the roof is placed on top of the caravan – a roofing ceremony so to say in the mobile home. Having the right tool is imperative for this process. “My employees often have to cope with the confined spaces inside the vehicles,” explains Krinninger. “This is one of the reasons why we use Würth’s cordless screwdrivers. They are compact and have a convenient light integrated onto the front.”
But not just the cordless screwdrivers are from Würth. Each year, roughly 80 million parts are delivered from Künzelsau to KnausTabbert GmbH’s three locations – from cable ties to caulk guns and screws. “A KnausTabbert vehicle contains about 2,000 of our parts,” estimates Würth sales representative Alfons Friedl. He has been attending to KnausTabbert for twelve years and visits the headquarters in Jandelsbrunn twice a week. He has earned the reputation of “Würth minister” there, a nickname that reflects their trusting partnership.
“Würth is a valuable partner for us, delivering everything from a single source – directly onto the assembly line,” says Krinninger. He means this quite literally as there is no screw warehouse in Jandelsbrunn. The production line managers order the material themselves, after which Würth delivers their orders within 24 hours. Alfons Friedl even sends an employee to his customer, who refills the shelves in the production lines, and sometimes lends a hand himself. “This service saves us a load of work,” praises Krinninger.
WOOD PROVIDES STABILITY
A travel trailer or camper often remains in use for decades. During this time, it has to withstand the elements, while being light enough for the customer to save gas on the road. Wood plays an important role for the more cost-effective vehicle models because it satisfies these requirements. The natural material is used for laminated floor panels, for example. Even in vehicles that are made primarily out of plastic, wood is employed as a stabilizer, providing support for the window frames, for instance. Alfons Friedl knows that, “Wherever wood is involved at KnausTabbert, you can usually find ASSY® screws from Würth, too.” The screws exert very low splitting forces and are therefore ideal for screw connections on the edges, where the wood must not split under any circumstances.
New ideas for the lightweight design are being cooked up in KnausTabbert’s research and develop center in Jandelsbrunn. That is where the “frame technology” was developed: a self-supporting frame structure for building travel trailers. As a result, the side panels and furniture in the recreational vehicles no longer have to fulfill a load-bearing function and can be manufactured using lighter materials.
A further innovative concept lies in the furniture: In collaboration with Würth, KnausTabbert has integrated COLDMELT® technology into the caravan construction method. The development is based on the protected WoodWelding® technology of WW WoodWelding GmbH from Switzerland. It makes it possible to use lightweight sandwich composites in furniture construction, binding them together reliably without adhesives or long application times.
The namesake component is a type of plastic anchor, which is inserted into a drill hole and melted using ultrasonic vibrations. This causes the two outer sides of the plastic anchor to bind with the substrate material, cooling down in a matter of seconds. Afterwards, it is possible to insert a screw to fasten fixtures or to connect the lightweight panels to one another. CEO Wolfgang Speck sums up the advantages by saying, “The resulting connection is extremely stable and durable, while at the same time being very light.”
This partnership went even one step further: Würth and KnausTabbert developed a screw that is compatible with the anchor, specially designed for the purposes of caravan construction to hold together the innermost parts of a travel trailer. Thus, a pinch of innovative spirit always leaves Jandelsbrunn and Künzelsau along with the recreational vehicles as they embark on their journeys across the globe.