Touchstone Climbing began its partnership with Walltopia in 2012 with the construction of Dogpatch Boulders. Since then, we’ve worked together to expand Mission Cliffs, build our first bouldering gym in Southern California, and expand Sacramento Pipeworks… and we have a feeling that’s still just the beginning! In May, Touchstone’s Jeffery Bowling visited Walltopia headquarters in Bulgaria to see the operational side of the company and talk about future projects. He submitted this report to the Touchstone Blog.
What a trip! My visit took me to Walltopia headquarters in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It’s a city with natural beauty juxtaposed with remnants of its USSR past. Abandoned buildings, piles of rubble, and neglected roads are surrounded green mountains and breathtaking scenery.
Of my four days in Bulgaria, I spent one sighting around Sofia with Toma, who has been our lead designer on all our projects. He was a great host! On Monday, I went out to the Walltopia factory which is about 2 hours outside of Sofia. The country side was nothing but sunflowers and the the factory is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Between 250-300 people work in their wall manufacturing facility, and they also run the largest hold manufacturing factory in the world that employes another 50 people.
The wall building factory is pretty incredible to see. I knew from seeing their product and installation at our various gyms that they run a tight ship, but seeing it in person was quite impressive. Here is the run down of the process:
They start with plywood that is sourced from Russia. The plywood goes into this incredibly impressive machine. Basically they load autoCad files and the machine then cuts, drills, and shapes the plywood to exactly the dimensions that are need. The same machine is used to carve foam that is then used to make the fiberglass 3d walls. When I visited they were carving foam. Right now this machine is run 24 hours a day because that is how busy they are!
Once all necessary pieces are cut, they are counted and and covered in a glue. Sand is applied by hand to add the texture. This is done twice and then let to dry. Next the sheets are painted, and put out to dry. Finally they are laid out t-nuts are installed. Seems pretty strait forward right? What was REALLY impressive was seeing how the 3-D curves are made. The 3-D cures are the make up the ‘bulge’ features in Dogpatch Boulders and LA Boulders. They lend themselves to really fun ‘top out’ features.
By far the biggest part of the factory is the fiberglass section of the shop. There must have been 70-80 people working in a space about 30 sq ft. The fiberglass walls start with the giant blocks of foam being shaped by the machine. Next they use a computer to create a very complex grid support system and then use thin plywood and the foam models to form a wood mold of the curved walls.
Then inside the mold, they lay down the fiberglass structure. Frames are build into the fiberglass walls. They try and do the whole wall as one unit. They can do up to 60 feet tall and 100 feet wide. Anything larger they have to do them in pieces.
They can do all sorts of stuff out of fiberglass. There was even a dinosaur head for a kids area. It’s 50 foot long fiberglass climbing cave that is being attached to the mouth of a dinosaur that kids can climb through… Yeah. Don’t worry I took notes.
The other part of the factory is the welding shop. They have all kinds of metal cutting & welding machines. The Bulgarian steel is shaped, cut, and then the team of about 15 welders put all the steel together.
It was incredibly impressive to see the process from start to finish. When the boxes of walls and steel arrive at our doorstep, it’s hard to imagine what it looked like in Bulgaria. Getting a chance to meet everyone who is a part of the process was super rewarding.
After the trip to the factory I spent the next couple days eating, drinking and working at Walltopia Headquarters. The main office in Sofia has about 50 people working there and I even able to get a little work in, when we weren’t watching US soccer games and taking tours of the city.
They are a very close group of people with a very open and friendly structure. The owner and most senior people are very approachable to employees in all levels of the company. In fact, the culture in the office reminded me a lot of Touchstone!
Everyone I talked to was really excited to meet me and they went out of their way to say hello. One of the things that everyone said about Touchstone was that we had a really cool team. It made me really proud of the staff we have and the reputation we have been able to earn with our partners. I’m so excited to be able to work with a company that shares our corporate culture and is able to turn out such an amazing product! Thanks for the great trip Walltopia!