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Sitting pretty: modern comfort and compact equipment


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April 1, 2014 by JIM BARNES

Changing demographics are fuelling demand for roomier and more comfortable cabs with better amenities in compact equipment. Older workers—who may have stiff joints, bad eye sight, a few extra pounds or other ailments, may be reluctant to cram themselves into tiny, claustrophobic cabs anymore. Meanwhile, younger workers expect machines to be comfortable and offer fea-tures such as connections for their portable devices.

Equipment designers have been working hard to meet these demands. “Over the years, cab comfort has been a challenge for manufacturers,” notes Ray St. Antoine, marketing specialist, Construction Equipment, Kubota Canada Ltd. “It is certainly more in the forefront these days…It is one area where manufacturers can distinguish themselves.”

SIZE MATTERS

“It may seem counterintuitive, since the primary goal of compact equipment is to get smaller. However, cab room is actually growing in most lines of compact equipment,” says Warren Anderson, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment. For example, the cab on Case’s F Series compact wheel loaders has gotten larger, even though the machine itself is shorter in length than its predecessors.

On the firm’s skid steers and compact track loaders, the loader arms have been pushed outwards as far as possible to accommodate a wider cab without expanding the machine’s overall width. “We’ve also built in a cab-forward design, which allows us more overall space, as well as better visibility down to the bucket and attachments,” says Anderson. With the firm’s compact wheel loaders, cab room has been expanded by setting it lower in the machine’s frame.

Another example of the trend toward larger cabs is Bobcat’s M-Series, which has up to 20 per cent more interior space than some other brands, according to Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat product specialist. “Getting in and out of the machine is easier too, thanks to the large front opening.”

Yet another is JLG. “JLG pays particular attention to the operator’s experience in designing its telehandlers, from how easy it is to enter and exit the cabin to how easy it is to see around the machine without craning your neck,” says Brian Boeckman, global product director, Telehandlers, JLG Industries, Inc.

Caterpillar, too, is addressing cab comfort. Its one-piece Cab-One modular design offers better sealing, since there is no floor pan or footwell to seal, according to Kevin Coleman, Caterpillar’s senior marketing engineer for skid steers and compact track loaders.

BLOWING HOT AND COLD

“Skid steer comfort has evolved tremendously in the last 10 to 15 years,” says Coleman. “It wasn’t that long ago that skid steers didn’t even offer an air conditioning option.” Customer expectations have ramped up considerably since then 

“We’re getting some pretty hot weather in parts of this country,” notes St. Antoine. “Air-conditioning is something that we’re improving, with extra vents and new positions for the vents in the cab.”

Bobcat enhanced its loader heating and cooling systems to have a larger capacity for better performance, especially in extreme temperatures, says Fitzgerald.

In the Caterpillar D series, the ventilation systems flow 20 per cent more air than in previous models.

Pressurization is another benefit of the enclosed cab. “This assists in keeping the cab at comfortable temperatures while also keeping the elements out—dirt and dust particles can’t work their way into the cab,” says Anderson.

This was a focus for the cab and climate system on Caterpillar’s D Series, which offers nearly twice as much pressurization as previous models.

Noise is another comfort issue that has been better managed with sealed and pressurized cabs.

“Customers do ask for the noise spec in decibels inside the cab when making a purchasing decision,” says St. Antoine. “For some tenders, you have to supply the dBA numbers inside your cab.”

However, he cautions noise specs are sometimes inconsistent. Not everybody measures noise the same way. “Sometimes, it is engine at idle. Sometimes engine full throttle,” he explains.

BE SEATED

While air ride seats are popular, standard seats have made great progress. “If you are going to be sitting in this machine for six to eight hours a day, you are going to want something that’s comfortable,” notes St. Antoine. “These days, even the regular seats have full suspension and you can adjust the stiffness of that suspension. A lot of seats now are high back. They’re more comfortable and some even recline a bit.” 

“The ability to position the seat to the operator’s size weight and position is a key feature in one’s office,” says Jamie Wright, product manager, Terex Construction Americas. That should apply to construction equipment, too. “Mechanical suspension seats are always an option in Terex compact equipment, and in many of our compact equipment units it is a standard feature.”

Bobcat offers a super deluxe seat for the E63 and E85 excavators that provides suspension, lumbar support and adaptability for every operator. “Adjustable arm rests and fold-up pedals give operators, especially bigger guys, flexibility and room for comfortable operation,” says Fitzgerald.

Caterpillar seat options include a high-back, heated, air-suspension seat that incorporates integral seat-mounted joystick controls. The seat provides additional comfort via recline and lumbar adjust-ments, according to a company spokesperson. All air suspension seats feature independent arm bar/joystick control adjustments to allow the machine to be configured for different size operators and for different applications. D Series models also feature a high-back, air ride seat with heat, lumbar adjustment and recline features, according to Coleman.

CONTROL OPTIONS

As contractors try to accommodate the next generation of operators, we are seeing more diversity in control options in loader fleets, according to Wright.

Many manufacturers are moving from pedals to joysticks. Joysticks seem to be the easiest for people to understand if they have limited operating experience, says Wright. “If an operator has bad ankles, hips or knees, foot pedals are not the right choice,” he adds. “It takes very little energy or effort to operate a joystick-controlled loader. At the end of a long work day, an operator won’t feel as fatigued.” 

Fitzgerald notes that Bobcat can meet a variety of operator preferences for its skid steers and compact track loaders, including standard controls (levers and pedals), Advanced Control System (optional hand and foot controls), Selectable Joystick Controls (optional hand controls) and standard controls with Power Assist for the S580 and T870 models.

Instrumentation is another area of rapid development. O
ne goal is simplicity. “Simple-to-use controls and interfaces are preferred as you want to make that machine as easy to dial in as possible,” says Anderson. Case has updated its controls in skid steers and compact track loaders with an EZ EH (electrohydrau-lic) setup menu that offers nine preset speed and control settings that can be adjusted on the fly. This allows the operator to match controls to their preference for comfort and greater productivity.

Caterpillar’s Advanced Display control monitor expands the number of security (operator) codes to 50 and can store and recall the operating preferences of 50 operators.

A CLEAR VIEW

One critical measure of comfort for an operator is to have an unimpeded view of what’s going on outside the machine. Many compact machines have been redesigned recently to improve sight lines.

“In most cases, enclosed cabs do not hinder visibility…Manufacturers have done a good job of working glass into the existing framework of the ROPS, so no new structures obstruct the view,” says Anderson.

The Bobcat loader cab was moved further forward to position operators closer to the work area and giving them better sight lines. As well, the windows are bigger, notes Fitzgerald.

Kubota’s track loaders have a 360-degree field of vision from the seat, says St. Antoine. “You can see behind you, whereas on some other machines you can’t really see anything way back, but only up closer to the machine.”

“The skid steer basic design limits vision,” noted a Caterpillar spokesperson. In response, the lift arm on the D Series machine was redesigned for improved sight lines and a standard rear-view camera and display was included to enhance safety in tight applications.

A lot of different variables have to come into play to keep operators happy in their cabs. Most types of compact equipment are benefitting from this trend. “The smallest machine in the JLG telehandler line is the G5-18A, which features a comparatively large cabin, a suspension seat, a built-in arm rest, and a single joystick that controls the lift, telescope and fork-tilt functions,” says Boeckman. Other options help make operators comfortable, including tilt steering, air conditioning and a radio-ready kit that lets individuals fit their own radio into the machine. “These features help operators remain productive for many hours,” says Boeckman.

“The more items you can offer that are in demand—without the machine being cramped or taking away from productivity— is a selling advantage,” says St. Antoine.

Ultimately, the success of these design efforts will be a visceral reaction. Find a dealer and try one on for size.

Jim Barnes is a contributing editor to On-Site. Send comments to editor@on-sitemag.com 


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