Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Tiffin Factory Paint Tour

When we were on the Tiffin Motor Home tour, they mentioned that the paint shop was also open for anyone to see.  It didn't take us long to make our way over to the small town of Belmont, about ten miles from here, where all the new coaches are painted.  Instead of having a tour guide, they give you a name tag and a stylish (not!!!) pair of safety glasses. Then they turn you lose to wander as you would like. We love the way that the Tiffin company makes visitors feel welcome, and has nothing to hide. So we ushered ourselves into the huge paint facility and tried to make sense of each stage of the painting process.

The new coaches are driven from Red Bay straight off the assembly line--looking like ugly gray boxes going down the highway. But it will be transformed here into a thing of beauty. It starts with the prep team that will clean and smooth the outside, and carefully cover all the windows, lights, and mirrors.
We watched as they drove the gray box into the first paint booth, where it will be coated with its base coat.

There are big garage-size doors on both ends of each of these paint booths that close before the painting begins. The only instructions we were given when we got our visitor badges was not to open any doors. But there were windows so we could still watch the process as they were painting. So now the ugly gray box has turned into a big white box. The first coat is a plain-colored base coat.  We saw coaches with base coats of silver, tan, cream, etc. It all depended on the paint scheme the buyer had chosen.

The paint must dry quickly, because the next step begins just a short roll ahead.  It's here the pre-mask is applied over the base coat. That fancy yellow swirl on the rear is simply a sticker that is applied to keep the next color of paint off the base coat color. The women on the left side of the picture are applying a 40-foot mask onto the side of the bus.  The mask is on a piece of paper to make it easier to work with.

Once they get it where they want it on the coach, and thoroughly rub it down, they peel the paper off. That leaves the mask adhered to the side of the coach.

We stood there, mesmerized as they applied the second level of the mask to the side of the coach. Now they had to make sure that every swirl and curved line matched up on the entire 40 foot length.

This is a different, completely masked coach.  The yellow stickers indicate where the silver paint will show after the other colors are painted. Green tape is added in areas where the mask might have gaps, to prevent any other color of the paint from bleeding into the silver stripes and swirls.

We watched through the foggy window as a motor home moved on to the next paint booth for stripe color application.

This is where we got completely confused trying to figure out how these guys in the "astronaut suits" knew where to paint what colors. We had to think backwards, knowing that the yellow would actually be silver when the mask was peeled off, and the silver that was showing would actually be covered by some other color.

The next step is stripe audit, and this is where Denisa wants to work. These people got to peel off the mask to reveal the finished paint job beneath.  A little like unwrapping a Christmas present, this coach has been half-unwrapped as we snapped this picture.

In stripe audit, they not only reveal the finished swirls, but they are also applying protective tape in areas where touch-ups are necessary.

This coach will have a few spots "audited," but it is another important step away from completion. Right now the paint is a dull flat finish that won't glisten in the sun.

That's because it hasn't yet rolled into the clearcoat booth. This team of four painters will encircle the coach.  There are two on the floor, and another two riding those fancy elevators up and around. It looked like it could be fun if there wasn't all that smelly clear coat in the air.

Now shiny, it is rolled into the curing booth. Here it will be enclosed in a giant oven where it will literally bake at 165 degrees. After a good curing, there was another stop in "final paint repair" to look for any imperfections.  Those blue pieces of tape are indicators that a flaw has been spotted.

So the coach is covered, with only the touch up spots left open.

There is a long line of final prepping and buffing as the coaches finally work their way out of the building. After walking through this paint facility, we will never look at those swirls on the side of motor homes in the same way ever again. 

We could tell that we had been hanging out in a paint facility because the inside of our noses felt curiously sticky. But it was a great tour! We liked the Tiffin attitude, as they know that going home is their employees' favorite part of the day.

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