We visit Thetford and Learn all About RV Toilets
RV toilets, we’re happy and don’t even think about them when they work; but when they don’t, they can definitely flush out the worst in us, if you know what I mean. This week, we pay a visit to Thetford, one of the leading manufacturers of RV, marine, and portable toilets, and see what goes into building them.
The company has three different production lines that turn out, would you believe, 32 different models? Like anything else, toilets come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and, of course, prices. I must say we do take a lot for granted when it comes to RV toilets. Think about it. They get bounced around. They’re in weather ranging from 10 below 0 to 140 degrees. And just think how much weight a toilet may have to hold. In other words, we expect them to work, no matter what.
At Thetford, along with continuous online inspections, they also have an extensive testing laboratory. During our visit, we saw a few tests being performed, including a shaking and bouncing test. Now, this test simulates a new toilet and what it can go through just to get delivered. They also have an oven that duplicates extreme heat conditions. And on the other side of the room, a line of toilets were going through a flush mechanism test. Keep in mind these tests are simulating years of use. And another test, the machine is duplicating the weight of a 400-pound person. So, you see, the toilets we take for granted, Thetford doesn’t.
As I mentioned earlier, Thetford has three different production lines, and we had a chance to see two of them. On the first line, plastic toilets are produced. The first step is installing a flush cable in the upper bowl assembly. Then the upper bowl and base unit are matched up for the next operation. Now the flush mechanism is installed. And if you notice, the operator actually initials each unit he works on. This is part of Thetford’s quality control procedure. In the next operation, a bonding agent is put on the bowl and base unit, then they’re secured together in a state-of-the-art heat bonding machine. Another worker installs the flush pedal, and then the whole unit is thoroughly inspected. At another station, water valves are assembled and pressure tested to the same pressure toilets will receive over a lifetime. Once the valves pass the pressure test, they go into a bin where another inspector checks each unit for correct parts. Remember, Thetford makes 32 different toilets, so there are a lot of parts around. Now the seats and covers are installed, and the finished toilet heads to the packing department. Toilets going to retailers are packed in boxes, and toilets going to the RV manufacturers are stacked onto reusable trays.
On the next line, they’re assembling more expensive porcelain toilets. Some of these steps are the same as we saw on the first line. We pick up here with the assembly of the plastic water line unit. Then each assembly goes through a pressure test to make sure there are no leaks. Once they pass a test, another worker attaches the hose and fittings, then dates each assembly. Next, the flush ball and pedal assembly are added. At this station, the porcelain bowls are brought over, and the bowl is bolted to the base. Then a flush nozzle is attached in place. With all that done, the last step is attaching the seat cover, and we’re off to the packing area. Like the other line we saw, some toilets get boxed for retail; but with porcelain
being so delicate, a special foam packaging is placed around the bowl, and through a chemical reaction, expands securely around the toilet. The porcelain toilets headed to the RV manufacturers are also placed on reusable plastic trays, then banded together, and they’re ready for shipping. When you look at this huge warehouse area, you get a good idea of just how many toilets Thetford makes each week.
By the way, Thetford is another company that’s proud to say, “Made in America.” Now, next time you use that RV toilet, you can appreciate exactly what went into building it.