TAMPA (FOX 13) - Almost all of us have dealt with damaged luggage at some point. Ever wonder what it takes to make a suitcase last? FOX 13 Consumer Reporter Sorboni Banerjee got inside access to the company that invented the rolling suitcase to find out.
TravelPro took us inside their quality control lab, full of machines designed to push their luggage to the limit. Call it a boot camp for bags. It is a constant whir of suitcases being abused.
Two giant machines that look like medieval torture devices jerk and yank bags to simulate the way handlers at an airport put strain on luggage over time, as they toss and lift it.
“We have to make sure we test above normal usage to make sure the consumer doesn't have any issues,” said Quality Control Director of TravelPro products Christian Arenos.
Roll-aboards and spinners do some “distance training,” getting hauled along a treadmill covered in metal speed bumps for two full days, covering 70 miles.
Then it’s seeing how much the handles can handle. A machine tugs repeatedly, checking to see whether a handle snaps if someone picks up the bag when it is left fully extended.
They also check whether the suitcases can withstand weather, including cold air at mile high. They pull bags out of a deep freezer, so cold frost forms on the edges. The director drops them repeatedly on each corner to see how they hold up.
“You're looking for failures in the material, any cracks,” he explained.
We find one in the stack next to the freezer with a big hole in one corner.
“That’s one of the big things of the cold crack test. In this case, one of the wheels broke,” Arenos said.
That means it’s back to the design team to try again.
Testers aim for the material they use to last for 15 years of normal use. They cut a small piece of sample fabric and put it into a machine that rolls a wheel constantly over it for two hundred cycles and then they hold it up against the light. They’re making sure the threads don’t wear through.
TravelPro deliberately brings the bags to their breaking point. And that includes one of the most easily strained parts - the zipper.
We hit start on what looks almost like a sewing machine in the corner. It begins zipping and unzipping a zipper. They will do it 7,500 times.
“It simulates when your bag is really, really full and it's actually pulling,” the director says.
TravelPro wants their fabric to stretch to accommodate at least 60 pounds. So think about those days you stuff your clothes, shoes, gifts, electronics, toiletries and more in a bag and it looks like it’s about to pop. Well, they push it to find out when that pop will happen. They stretch and stretch a piece of cloth.
“Everything is pulling the two ends of your bag,” he says, letting it continue. The cloth finally snaps. “So 72 pounds; we're good!”
TravelPro was founded by Robert Plath, who invented rolling luggage and is a pilot for Northwest Airlines. He changed the orientation of luggage from horizontal to vertical, added wheels and an extension handle and invented the roll aboard.
Crew members saw the invention and wanted one of their own. He founded TravelPro and began providing roll aboard luggage to airline flight crews and pilots across the country. The idea was so successful with the airlines, TravelPro launched the product commercially through retail outlets in the mid-90s.
In 1994, Travelpro was ranked as one of the fastest growing private companies by "Inc. Magazine," as more passengers opted to fly with only carry-on luggage. Plath sold his business in 1999, and semi-retired. TravelPro has continued to grow and expand to become one of the leading luggage brands.
So with all that rigorous testing they , what’s their rate of return on products? It's 1-percent. They test samples from each batch of luggage before it’s sent to production, and then, every six months, after it’s on the market.
They continue to beat up bags, in an attempt to beat the competition.