The Production of An Aluminum Case

Text: Ramona Eichhorn • Photography: Ramona Eichhorn

How starting out small with just one valid idea became a big success story.

Herbert Schwarz is one of those lucky people who have managed to turn their hobby into a job. An electronic engineer by profession, this passionate motorcyclist and freelance photojournalist has traveled the world extensively over the last 29 years on several BMW bikes. In the early days of his touring, Herbert gathered plenty of new ideas for motorcycle accessories that would make a motorcycle traveler's life on the road much easier. Frustrated over the poor quality and survivability of the standard cases sold on the market then (not a single pair of the many different ones he tried ever made it back from any of his long off-road trips), he simply turned his living room table into a workbench. Sometime in the '80s, he began to fiddle around with other ideas too. After he produced a bicycle speedometer suitable for a motorbike in 1987, he developed a small computer for a motorcycle. Soon what had originally been a small enterprise for satisfying his own riding needs grew into something else when others in the long-distance traveler scene heard about Herbert's innovative gadgets.

In order to be able to meet increasing demand and to sell his new tripmaster, the IMO200T, Herbert founded a company called Touratech Motorradausrüstung in 1990. One of the first people to buy said tripmaster was the technician Jochen Schanz. Just another happy customer at first, Jochen became Herbert's travel companion and then his business partner. Following a motorcycle trip to Africa, the two developed the "Zega" aluminum case in 1992, which they named after a small town in the Congo. Four years later, the team decided to get into the motorcycle accessory business fulltime and employed Touratech's first staff. To date, the number of employees has steadily risen to 180 people, and most of them are dedicated motorcyclists.

Now a creative hotbed on the fringes of the Black Forest in southern Germany, Touratech also manufactures aluminum cases for BMW, among many other products. After BMW's less than successful debut of panniers designed for the R 1150 Adventure, the Bavarian motorcycle producer was more than happy to entrust Touratech with the development and the production of a completely new case for the replacement model R 1200 GS Adventure. It was the first system ever approved by BMW to be ridden fully loaded at speeds of up to 112mph. Before, the limit was 80mph. Altogether, this is a good example of how the motorcycle community can benefit from the know-how and experience of an enthusiastic motorcycle traveler who once had a great idea and put it into practice. It is a lesson that any inventive hobbyist can take to heart. Herbert certainly did, and he still enjoys going on tour once a year to test his self-made gear under extreme conditions.

Step 1

A truck delivers pallets stacked with aluminum and stainless steel sheets from the supplier to the factory in Niedereschach.

Step 2

Then, a crane with suction cups puts one aluminum sheet after another (dimensions: 5 by 10 feet and 0.06 inches thick) onto the laser cutter where the individual parts for the lid, the shell and the bottom are made.

Step 3

Meanwhile, another machine cuts the frames for reinforcement, lockable catches, loops and fitting rails from stainless steel sheets of varying thickness.

Step 4

The cut pieces, like this bottom plate, are carefully stacked with a layer of paper in between to prevent any scratch marks on the aluminum.

Step 5

At the NC press brake (plate bending machine) the individual parts (lids, shells and several small parts) undergo the process of folding.

Step 6

Thereafter, special trolleys roll them to the next station - the welding robot.

Step 7

The welding robot joins the components together. And voilá - the shell of the case is finished.

Step 8

Another welding robot finishes the lid.

Step 9

Final assembly of the case: By numeric control, special glue is injected into the sealing frame made of glass-fiber reinforced plastic. There are two types of sealing frames: "male" and "female". While the male is glued onto the upper part of the shell, the female, with a specially formed silicon gasket, sits on the lower part of the lid. The male fits perfectly into the female. This guarantees absolute impermeability of the pannier.

Step 10

While the lockable catches are screwed onto the finished case, the fitting rails are riveted onto it and the catch-rope (retaining cable) is attached on a pivot mounting in the lid.

Step 11

The fitting accuracy is tested with a dial gauge and every case is checked for impermeability.

Step 12

With the lid put on, the finished aluminum case is carefully packed for safe transport to the customer.