Airstream Inc. recently launched the Airstream Innovation and Research (AIR) Lab, an expanded research and development center at its manufacturing plant in Jackson Center, Ohio.
According to a press release, the 22,000-square-foot facility is the “latest manifestation of Airstream’s historic commitment to innovation established by founder Wally Byam in the 1930s and still embraced by every segment of the Airstream community: from corporate management to factory craftsmen to Airstream owners.”
“Airstream has been committed to being on the cutting edge since Wally realized that the curves, aluminum and rivets used in making the sleekest aircraft were the answer to building an aerodynamic, durable travel trailer,” said Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler. “We are humble stewards of that tradition.”
AIR Lab doubles the previous space used for testing and development, and includes numerous work bays. The R&D staff has also grown to triple its previous level. That team includes engineers, designers and former production workers with deep knowledge of the product.
Customers also play a key role on the Airstream innovation team as the company has a strong bond with owners of its products who are encouraged to offer feedback and suggestions based on their widely varied travel experiences. The company often prioritizes its efforts based on owner input, designing to the customer experience and focusing on how to improve it, the release stated.
One example is climate control as the R&D team developed a nearly silent air conditioning system with Quietstream.
“We think of talking to our customers as a vital part of the R&D process,” says Wheeler.
Airstream associates are also empowered by the company’s culture to offer ideas and insight to improve both the product and the business.
“Everyone is encouraged to contribute ideas,” says VP of Product Development and Engineering McKay Featherstone. “We have a lot of passionate people here. Folks who work the [production] line will say, ‘Hey, give us a new concept for window closeout. It’s got to be beautiful, lightweight, and functional.’ But those people are also going to play around and come up with something on their own. They innovate.”
In addition to steadily improving existing core systems, Airstream innovators to integrate the latest technologies into products. Among the results of these efforts is the next generation of smaller Airstreams that employ composite materials and inspired design to create trailers, such as Nest and Basecamp, that can be towed by small SUVs. New manufacturing techniques have also been developed to further boost Airstream’s durability, quality and strength.