Recreational vehicle on the road

Let’s Hit the Road: Enhancing Touch Points in RVs

Oct. 14, 2021
The need to accommodate living spaces on recreational vehicles that can also support the remote worker is presenting a new set of challenges to RV designers.

At a Glance:

  • COVID-19 work-from-home guidelines has encouraged more people to work on the road.
  • Outfitting different types of furnishings into one space is trending in RV interior design, and hinges are critical to that.
  • As RVs become less recreational and more full-time residences, a significant quality consideration widely used in the automotive industry will become increasingly important in RV interiors: The buzz, squeak and rattle (BSR) factor.

The recreational vehicle (RV) market is experiencing one of its fastest and most dramatic growth surges. According to the RV Industry Association’s June 2021 report, the RV industry has now set a new record for RV shipments in each of the last four quarters, with the second quarter (April-June 2021) setting a new all-time high.

Several factors are leading to this unprecedented growth, including the impact of COVID-19 on personal  travel and vacation plans, combined with a new interest by many to make motor homes, vans and towable trailers their permanent residence—or, at the very least, home-away-from-home for significant portions of the year.

As much of the workforce has shifted from physical offices to work-from-anywhere over the past year, many are opting for a life on the road. RV manufacturers now have an opportunity to use a range of well-designed manufactured devices to ensure these vehicles can act as an office on the road as well.

Since many more users will now be spending extended periods of time in their trailers or motor homes (rather than a few weekends or two-week vacations), RV manufacturers will benefit by paying closer attention to the touch point experiences supplied by high-quality devices like articulating hinges, monitor mounts and concealed latches.

If the touchpoint—the first thing the owner touches—is noisy and awkward, the perception of the vehicle’s quality suffers. If, when opening or closing a panel or folded piece of furniture, the motion has a quiet, tight and good feel, it can improve the passenger’s overall perception of quality. This increased quality in interior panels is often achieved with friction hinges that secure the panel throughout the motion or in bistable hinging that holds the panel open or pulls it closed.

These simple yet sophisticated mechanisms provide a range of technology options to provide safety, ease of use and comfort—elements that add up to a superior touch point experience that can enhance the value and customer appeal of recreational vehicles.

Adding Workspace Flexibility to RVs

Today’s RVs are large-scale, 30-ft-or-longer motor homes and towable trailers that truly are homes on wheels. They have complete kitchens, multiple bedrooms and full baths, with comfortable sitting and dining areas. Many of the popular models can easily sleep up to seven people.

Because of these amenities, it’s possible to take the family and the trailer to the mountains or the beach, enjoy the weekend and then work from the trailer, since most of the trailers being sold now have complete living facilities that mirror rooms at resort condos.

Two-week (or even longer) family vacations that span multiple states and scenic destinations are much more possible and appealing with a full-scale RV. Remote workers can take the family to these locations, put in a certain amount of work, take a break for a hike or other recreational activity, then return to the RV home office to wrap up the day’s work.

The appeal of the work-from-anywhere-anytime model has been accelerated by the willingness of many businesses to support remote working setups. The need to accommodate and furnish well-designed workspaces that can support the remote worker is, however, presenting a new set of challenges to RV interior designers.

They must expand where and how they can fit support for workspaces among the other kinds of spaces—bedrooms, kitchen and dining areas, family spaces—already accommodated in their vehicles. “Flex spaces” is a relatively new term, meaning outfitting different types of furnishings into one space. For example, some RV manufacturers have created workspaces by incorporating fold-out desks into beds that swing up into wall panels when not being used. Other workspace designs include highly modular and adaptable tables that can be unfolded and changed to serve as a dining table as well as an office desk.

A key element that makes these flexible spaces both workable and appealing is the right hinge technology. Hinges are designed to add functionality to doors and panels, offering high-quality feel and performance that lasts over the lifetime of the application. There are a variety of hinges that can be used in flexible RV spaces, depending on the type of panel, door or furnishing that is being moved.

Detachable hinges can allow easy removal of doors or tables to provide easy access or additional space. Friction hinges and torque hinges can allow a heavy door or table to be held open, lifted or moved into one or many positions. Depending on where and how the hinges are used, they can also be designed to be hidden by being installed flush with flat surfaces for added aesthetic appeal.

Friction and torque hinges make it possible to design multifunctional furnishings, such as tables with leaves that open outward to create a larger work or dining surface. A bifold constant-torque hinge allows easy opening of two table leaves to double the size of a table in a trailer or motor home. The friction hinge holds both table leaves in position when fully open. The same hinge can allow one or both leaves to be tilted up so that a tablet computer or flatscreen can be inserted into a notch, converting the flat leaf into a monitor mount. By using concealed-style bistable hinges, the hinge fits cleanly into the table, taking up minimal space.

Buzz, Squeak, Rattle: Engineering Touch Point Quality

As RVs become less “recreational” and treated more as full-time residences, a well-known and significant quality consideration widely used in the automotive industry will become increasingly important in RV interiors: the BSR factor: “buzz, squeak and rattle.”

RVs, like cars, are on the move and experience plenty of vibration from the road and movement of the vehicle. If doors and panels are making BSR noises, it detracts from the interior experience and can imply that doors are not securely closed or that parts are wearing out.

To counteract this, it’s essential for RV manufacturers to become more selective in the quality and value of hinges and latching mechanisms used in their interiors—key aspects to the overall touch point impression of their vehicles.

Monitor mounts are an important example. Many trailers and motor homes now have multiple flatscreen displays in use in their vehicles, both for entertainment and work purposes. Monitor mounts are now available that support intuitive and ergonomic positioning of displays with a range of options, from simple tilt devices to mount arms that allow the display to be easily manipulated into multiple axes. RV manufacturers should carefully assess which mounts they select. Some of the best mounts incorporate advanced engineering and design considerations to retain their functionality and not become loosened when exposed to regular vibration over time.

In addition to monitor mounts, latching mechanisms should also be selected with BSR considerations. There is a wide variety of latch security and styles now available. Push-to-close and pull-to-open latches, such as a magnet catch, detent cabinet latch or ball catch latch, supply a lower level of security suitable for smaller panels and cabinet doors in RV interior applications.

For larger panels or fixtures with increased weight that need higher security or force requirements, there are touch point and functional benefits from using push-to-close latches that have a required motion to unlatch, such as slide-to-open latches, knob latches, paddle latches, and concealed or remote latches.

For very large doors, such as those found on storage trailers or toy haulers, electronic rotary compression latches provide motorized assistance to create a tighter seal on doors. These doors can be difficult to fully seal just using mechanical latches. When a door outfitted with an electronic compression system is closed, the latch engages and then compresses the door and gasket to ensure that a complete seal is achieved.

Enhancing the RV Touch Point Experience

As RV manufacturers respond to changing customer preferences for using their trailers and motor homes as places where they live and work almost full-time, the importance of selecting mechanisms such as hinges and latches to provide a high-quality touch point experience is apparent.

Although they are simple and relatively low-cost compared to many other vehicle components, these devices are ones that people interact with and experience all day long. Picking the right device—especially as RV interior designers try to fit comfortable, ergonomic workspaces into their existing vehicle designs—can be challenging.

However, leading manufacturers and suppliers of high-quality latches, hinges and positioning technology can help make these decisions easier. They can assess how a new piece of fold-up furnishing or new pop-out feature like a complete outdoor kitchen will operate, or how to best utilize the interior to accommodate a remote work setup. Additionally, these manufacturers can provide expert suggestions on the right devices to choose to ensure smooth, reliable operation over the long term to help maximize the RV touch point experience.

Mike Kiefer is business development manager, transportation, Southco, Inc.

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