We talk to Brian Ward, Owner of Outfitter Manufacturing, about Outfitter's new fiberglass roof and learn about a few model changes on the horizon. ... ... ...
Outfitter Manufacturing’s new fiberglass roof is a great example of a material being applied to improve quality. Naturally fiberglass pop-up roofs don’t fall from the sky so we talked to Brian Ward, Owner of Outfitter Manufacturing, to get the inside scoop on how the new Outfitter fiberglass roof came to be.
TCM: What brought you to develop a fiberglass roof?
Brian: The most overlooked maintenance procedure we find customers neglecting is resealing the seal on their roof. Every RV, whether it is a motor home, travel trailer, or an Outfitter pop-up truck camper, has at least one seal on the roof that needs to be maintained.
About seven years ago, we started using an inside aluminum extrusion that locked together with the outside aluminum trim over the rubber to eliminate part of that seal. That extrusion lengthened the time between reseal on a roof (from one year to one and a half to two years). Still though, customers were just not maintaining the seal. The easiest way to eliminate the warranty calls on something like that is to just do away with the rubber and aluminum rail and go with a fully molded piece. With our new fiberglass roof there is no seal to maintain.
TCM: Tell us about the research and development of the roof.
Brian: In the late spring, my dad and I hand laid a fiberglass top together from a mold we built. We installed it on an Apex 8 here at the shop. After some serious abuse from our employees jumping up and down on it (with a spare tire and an air conditioner on it) we realized that the fiberglass roof was going to be significantly stronger and certainly more resilient in the long run than our previous vacuum bonded roof.
The most obvious advantage to our new fiberglass roof is that it is totally maintenance free for the first five years or so. After that, the gel coat will probably need an occasional polish depending on how much time the camper has been in the sun.
TCM: Does the new fiberglass roof weigh less than the old vacuum bonded roof?
Brian: It weighs about the same as our old roof. For example, the new fiberglass roof for the Apex 8 is 190 pounds versus about 195 pounds for the vacuum bonded roof. Of course the new roof is significantly stronger. And as an added benefit, fiberglass won’t puncture like rubber can in extreme cases.
TCM: Is the new fiberglass roof a full walk-on roof?
Brian: You can fully access and walk on the roof in the down position, just like the older Outfitter models. But like the rubber roof, you need to be very careful when you are up there as it is very slick!
TCM: How has the fiberglass roof changed the manufacturing process?
Brian: Larry, our welder, had about six hours of his time in a single roof. Our finish guys usually have six to ten additional hours on a roof depending on the size and options. This doesn’t even include the prep time before vacuum bonding or the eight hours the urethane needs to cure in the vacuum press. Now, we literally just pick up the roof from the fiberglass company and it’s completed in three hours. Although the fiberglass roof costs a bit more even after you figure our shop time, it saves on space and the opportunity cost associated with that shop time.
TCM: So the new fiberglass roofs are not vacuum bonded?
Brian: No. There are no secondary processes like vacuum bonding taking place with the fiberglass roof. The piece has a hand laid outer edge for strength and a chopped fiberglass top and bottom. Foam that is both structural and insulating is added after the top coat is applied as well as the wiring, backing for cabinets, and the lift system. It pretty much comes to us as a relatively complete unit. Since the foam is the structure, it would double its weight and defeat the purpose of having a fiberglass roof if we vacuum bonded a frame to it.
TCM: Does the fiberglass roof allow for options like solar panels and rack systems?
Brian: Yes, it has been designed in a way that allows the same flexibility with options that we have become known for. All of the current options we have will work with the new fiberglass roof as well as the top secret ones we have done for customers in the past.
TCM: Can people who own older Outfitter’s come in to get the new roof or is this only something available on new Outfitter camper orders?
Brian: We built the mold to move. Meaning we can vary the length of the mold, making a part to fit any pop-up whether it is an Outfitter or not, as long as it is the same width as an Outfitter. The cost to retro fit the new fiberglass roof to an older Outfitter is $4,300 including labor.
TCM: Has the fiberglass roof changed the price of the camper?
Brian: Right now we are offering this as a “mandatory option” for $995 extra. All orders placed after January 1st will have it included in the price that is reflected in TCM’s 2011 Buyer’s Guide.
TCM: Have you changed the Outfitter Warranty to reflect the change to the fiberglass roof?
Brian: The camper will still have the lifetime aluminum structural warranty but the roof will now have a five year warranty. If the roof seal was not maintained on our old vacuum bonded roof, water eventually caused serious damage after only a few years. The aluminum frame structure stayed intact but de-lamination followed. The new fiberglass roof will totally eliminate that from ever happening again.
TCM: How are things going at Outfitter? Any changes other than the fiberglass roof?
Brian: We are currently sold out through the end of the year and are now taking orders for January and February deliveries. Orders placed before the end of the year will have the old pricing.
The only other changes we have is a floor plan change to the Juno 8.5. We are making the Juno 8.5 with a side dinette like an Apex 8 and still keeping the side door.
TCM: Please send us photos of the new Juno 8.5 layout sometime. Are there any new models planed for 2011?
Brian: Yes. For 2011, we will formally offer the Juno 10 as well as the Apex 10. There are Juno 10 and Apex 10 campers out in the world, but we have never promoted it until now.
TCM: Thanks Brian. And good luck with the new fiberglass roof.
Brian: You’re welcome.
To learn more about Outfitter Manufacturing, visit their website at www.outfittermfg.com.
We have been testing our prototype roof on Brian's new Apex (Bob sold his Juno!) over the summer and now have inventory coming off the mold from the manufacturer. This TRUE composite roof is a foam core piece without any seams, has a gel coat exterior, and no paint. Our new roof has a rigid structural foam core that absorbs resin for an increase in strength as well as provide excellent insulation properties. An Apex 8 roof like the one in the pictures below, weighs only 190lbs. finished. This is not a shell that fits over an existing frame. We are proud to be the only manufacturer to offer a true fiberglass composite roof.
Here are some "construction" pictures. This is new to the RV world but commonplace in sailboats. This is not top secret. Not a sham. No need to hide the construction.
The part is made upside down. So the pictures are showing the inside and are shot from the rear of the roof mold.
Not much to see yet. We're just giddy from all the resin on a Saturday and OUR NEW COMPOSITE ROOF!!!
Initial glass and gel-coat down; before foam, roof circuit wire, and top coat is added:
Bob helping with some trimming of the foam core:
Foam and roof circuit wire installed with cabinet backing in place.
Top layer of resin being applied before final fiberglass coat:
Top coat of fiberglass: