March 11, 2021 | Bill Esler
Elkhart Lake, WI – Architectural millwork firm ConceptWorks, Inc. specializes in turnkey manufacturing and installation of commercial interiors, trade show exhibits, and retail displays for brands such as Kohler, Jeep, and Pennzoil. But with travel and trade shows on hold, and retailing curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, new projects in these categories have been scarce.
However, the engineering design and millwork skills ConceptWorks applies to its business clients are proving highly applicable to a new and thriving market: building and installing interior cabinetry and furnishings for companies converting vans into RVs. One of the biggest trends in travel, the “camper van” is a compact RV designed for comfortable travel, but without the intimidating size of a large motor coach.
ConceptWorks CEO Adam Schneider formed a new business operation last year, CWUpfits, to enter this market as he worked with the 650-employee Van Horn Automotive Group, on the release of its new series of Class B motorhomes. ProCamp by Van Horn is built on a RAM ProMaster 3500 chassis featuring smooth driving and easy parking.
It is “upfitted” (the term used for such vehicle add-ons) with amenities like an adjustable bed, convertible bench seat, galley kitchen, and creative storage. Its versatile design works for short adventures or trips that last days or weeks, says Adam Gaedke, vice president of dealership operations, Van Horn Automotive Group, one of the largest RAM ProMaster dealers in the Midwest.
Camera crews from a local news channel filmed ConceptWorks’ van upfitting process.
“We were selling a lot of ProMaster vans to people who were customizing the interior for living on the road,” says Gaedke. “After seeing a few designs and considering our resources, I had the idea that we could do this ourselves.” He also happened to be a childhood friend of Schneider, whose team worked on the design in detail.
ConceptWorks mechanical engineers routinely provide value engineering for millwork clients. Members of the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI), ConceptWorks projects aim for maximum utility, structural integrity, and optimal material yield, using SolidWorks and Autodesk 3ds Max software to provide 3D views to show clients every detail prior to prototyping and/or production. These capabilities were ideal for planning the features incorporated into the ProMaster van project, such as:
• Plywood wall framing contoured to the van’s geometry
• Electrical wiring in conduit with PVC electrical switch/outlet boxes
• Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) flooring
• Durable, wear-resistant High Pressure Laminated (HPL) walls and ceiling.
• Natural maple interior finish cabinetry
• Stylish satin finish push-to-close door latches
• Nonporous, hygienic, sustainable solid surface countertops
• Linear recessed mounted LED lighting with dimming controls
• 15-inch stainless steel bar sink with 4-inch gooseneck faucet
“I saw the ProCamp as a great showcase opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities,” says Schneider. “We took a utilitarian approach to the build. Everything was designed with intention and foresight.” The new millwork business, CW Upfits, LLC will focus on the functional design and development of custom upfits for cargo vans. It has a manufacturing agreement with ConceptWorks, Inc. for the tangible execution of the upfit projects.
“If you look inside the vehicle there are very few spots where you can see any part of the inside of the van. Adam and ConceptWorks did a great job of making sure that we made use of all the space of the vehicle,” Gaedke says.
Two rear captain chairs provide additional seating and a small table offers beverage holders, added storage, GFCI outlets and USB charging. Roof-mounted solar panels feed an 1800W inverter for off-grid power. An RV queen-sized bed frame can be adjusted up or down with linear actuators, while the bench below also convert to a bed with 4-inch foam cushions.
“We looked at the chassis geometry, took tracings, and took it to a CNC router, so that everything is tailor fit right to that van itself,” says Schneider.
Most van conversions feature the bed running side to side, which doesn’t allow the space underneath the bed to be used for anything more than storage. “Adam [Schneider] came up with a great concept of having the bed drop down from the ceiling so when the bed’s up you’ve got all the space utilized,” Gaedke says.
“This van looks like a high-end home when you enter,” says Gaedke. “You could live in it if you wanted to, or just spend a weekend. It’s completely versatile for whatever your lifestyle demands.”
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