18 September 2023
18 September 2023, Comments Comments Off on Focus on Carthago/Malibu Plants
Focus on Carthago/Malibu Plants

German head, Slovenian heart

With the inauguration of the Ormož plant dedicated to the production of Malibu campervans, the Carthago Group has completely reorganised its production in Slovenia, to best face the challenges of sustainable growth

Words and photo Paolo Galvani

Production and logistics are two aspects that have a decisive impact on the results and development of companies that produce recreational vehicles. The Ormož facility integrates the total vehicle manufacture, including furniture, doors and walls. This helps to insulate production against ‘external’ elements, such as the difficulties encountered in recent months in the supply chain or in the supply of chassis, and the gradual shift of the market towards campervans.
A group like Carthago, which also manages the Malibu Van and Malibu Reisemobile brands, therefore had not only to find a suitable production solution for the challenges posed by the Premium segment, but also continue to invest to be able to increase its production capacity and adapt it to the latest market demands. The last ten years have been a formative journey with the company concluding a production reorganisation which today sees three plants between Germany and Slovenia.
The culmination of this journey was the inauguration, which took place in April, of the new Slovenian plant in Ormož, where the production of Malibu Vans is concentrated. Here, on a site of approximately 100,000 square metres, an ultra-modern factory was born, dedicated to campervans. With 22,000 metres occupied by the production lines, the potential is for 5,300 campervans a year, although the initial goal is to reach 3,000 vehicles a year.
The opening of Ormož made it possible to free up production space in the Odranci plant, about 30 kilometres away. Now this whole site, inaugurated in 2008, has been entirely dedicated to semi-integrated and integrated motorhomes. Born with 5,000 square metres for production, Odranci now boasts around 30,000 square metres, with a capacity of around 4,000 vehicles a year.

From Carthago City to Ormož
Carthago group’s investments in Slovenia parallel those in the company’s headquarters in Aulendorf, in southern Germany, between Ravensburg and Ulm. Inaugurated in 2013, the facility combines production with the administrative and customer support. Called Carthago City, the complex is truly impressive. Built on 100,000 square metres of land, it houses all the functions dedicated to design, production, administration, sales, and customer contact. In 2021, with a further investment, Carthago built a new administrative office building, which now occupies around 5,400 square metres.
Carthago City is close to the historic places where Karl-Heinz Schuler founded the company, namely Ravensburg and neighbouring Schmalegg, just over 20 kilometres away. There the company was founded in 1979.
With the latest factory in Ormož, the Carthago group has now three different plants, with the one in Carthago City focused on the production of the chic e-line, chic s-plus, and liner-for-two models. Also, from Carthago City all the numerically controlled machines in action in the Slovenian plants are programmed.

Resume growing
Immediately after the launch of campervan production in Ormož and the reorganisation of Odranci, the press were invited to visit the two Slovenian plants. The purpose was to experience first-hand how Carthago and Malibu quality is achieved and to understand the organisational complexity of a company which, after the jolts caused by the pandemic and by the shortage of components and chassis, now needs to resume its growth with impetus.
“We have planned an investment-based strategy,” Carthago CEO Markus Kern said during the welcome press conference. “We have expanded the Aulendorf site and the Odranci plant has been brought to the state of the art by completely changing its organisation. To these was added Ormož. We built it within a year, and we have been in production with the Malibu vans for a few weeks. We are also investing in IT systems to make production and administration work better. We are convinced that these measures can provide a solid basis for our sustainable growth”.
Despite production drops of between 50 and 60 per cent in the last year, mainly caused by the lack of Stellantis chassis, to which Carthago has responded by focusing more on higher value vehicles, the vision for the near future is good.
“As a Carthago group we think that the development will be positive in the medium term,” confirmed Bernd Wuschack, Managing Director responsible for sales, marketing, and customer service. “We are very popular with customers, despite everything. While on the one hand consumption is held back by a little uncertainty, on the other we are confident. Shopping habits have changed, and we cannot respond to these changes as we did in the past. Neither Carthago nor Malibu have been able to exploit the market potential of the past four years, as they were unable to meet the sharp increase in vehicle demand. Greater digitization will allow us to reach new customers. This year we will work on the CRM and by the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf we will make a new configurator available to end customers.”

A built-to-order organisation
In the Odranci plant, starting from the chassis cowl or cab, the Carthago vehicles (c-tourer and chic c-line semi-integrated and integrated) and Malibu Reisemobile (all models) are produced from scratch. Around 3,800 vehicles are expected to be produced here this year – an all-time high. One of the starting points is the preparation of the walls. The sandwich is made of aluminium, both inside and out, with RTM-X insulation. The latter is an evolution of Styrofoam which guarantees high insulation without humidity penetration, thanks to the great density of the material, which reduces porosity to levels impenetrable by water. Roofs and floors are covered in fibreglass.
In the milling area the walls, roof, rear wall, and flaps are cut. Doors and locker closures are obtained from the same cut of wall to which they will be fitted, avoiding any inconsistency in colour or excesses of tolerance between the parts. The RTM insulation used here each year would cover an area equal to 20 football pitches. In the same period of time, 280 tons of aluminium are processed. Pop-up roofs for the campervans produced in Ormož are also built in this department.
Vehicles enter the assembly line after spending 24 hours inside for temperature stabilisation. Assembly takes place in modules: starting from the floor to which the pre-assembled upper part with the fresh and grey water tanks is added. Next comes installations including electrical pre-wiring.
Each vehicle is made according to the order of the end customer, requiring maximum flexibility of the production chain at all times. In fact, semi-integrated and integrated Carthago and Malibu branded motorhomes of any model arrive indiscriminately at the various stations. Advanced computerisation makes it possible to plan the delivery of the parts needed for each production phase within the set times, eliminating the need to keep stocks of materials near the station.

The art of fabricating with wood
As vehicles proceed along the line, another area of the plant fabricates the pieces necessary for creating the furniture. These are also pre-assembled in modules before being mounted on the vehicle. Every single piece of wood is labelled with a Code which allows both traceability and combination with the vehicle for which it is intended. The labels are then removed during assembly. This procedure has made it possible to eliminate the many paper tracking systems previously employed.
In this sector, a humidification system keeps the moisture level of the wood constant. In total, around 120 different types of panel are produced here. The carpentry section includes an area dedicated to the processing of the edges, which are made by machine for straight furniture and manually for those with more elaborate shapes. Each piece is then finished and cleaned by hand.
Carpentry products are delivered partly to the assembly lines and partly to the warehouse where, in an area called the ‘supermarket’, operators can autonomously retrieve any necessary components. The warehouse occupies an internal area of 3,400 square metres and is flanked by an external area of another 2,100 metres, covered by awnings.
This is the department from which almost all the materials for production depart (some, such as the cushions, are delivered directly to the line). Here the average inventory is around seven million euros and every day it is replenished by 30 to 40 trucks that arrive to deliver goods of all kinds, from seats to refrigerators, from heating systems to windows. For smaller components, six automated ‘vertical warehouses’ are used which can hold up to 700 pieces each.
The components that are to be integrated into the furniture modules leave the warehouse for the pre-assembly area. Hobs, refrigerators, coffee machines, and whatever else is needed to make the modules for vehicle assembly, then converge. There are thirty different modules that can be crafted, and five design options are available for each. Again, everything is individually produced to fit a specific order. Once the modules are ready, they move to installation.

The final assembly
The walls and roof, coming from the milling, arrive completed with doors, windows, hatches, accessories and graphics. Right and left walls proceed in parallel, to guarantee the greatest possible uniformity of processing. When it comes to where the vehicle meets the walls, the side walls are installed first, followed by the rear wall and lastly, the roof. In the final phase the top fairing is mounted on semi-integrated models, whereas this becomes the entire front part in the case of integrated models.
At this point the assembly line splits into two for finishing touches to be applied and for final quality control. The latter follows checks already carried out directly on the assembly line. The technical systems, for example, have already been tested when the vehicles arrive in this area. Finally, the vehicles are tested for water resistance before being cleaned and weighed individually, ready to be sent to the dealer.

The ‘simplicity’ of the van
At the Ormož plant, things are slightly simpler to understand, at least because only panel vans enter. Here, the two departments from which operations start are the carpentry (which is organised in a similar way to what happens in Odranci), and the warehouse. One difference is in the presence of an area with narrow corridors accessible only by automatic machines. This has 1,500 spaces that can be occupied. The pieces needed are recalled via a scanner and an induction forklift procures the parts for delivery to the production station.
On the assembly line they start with the cutting of the sheet metal and the removal of the seats, which are entrusted to an external company to make the upholstery. The removed plastics are stored in specific leather niches to avoid damage during processing. The floor is also made in this phase. From the point of view of thermal and acoustic insulation, a 20-millimetre-thick RTM core is used for the roof and floor, while the side walls and uprights are completely covered with polyurethane panels to avoid thermal bridges.
For the internal layout, conversion starts from the dinette area and moves back gradually, creating the washroom, kitchen, and bedroom. Except for the washroom, which is mounted directly inside the van, all the other pieces of furniture enter as modules from the rear. It should be noted that, to further improve the insulation of the vehicle, an additional band of insulating material is mounted on the back of the wall units.
Once the furniture and windows have been assembled, only the assembly of the pop-up roof or the front panoramic fairing remains before the final checks (waterproofing, installations, finishes) are performed.
With the opening of the Ormož plant and the reorganisation of Odranci, Carthago and Malibu are thus ready not only to face short-term challenges, but also to react promptly to medium- and long-term market developments.