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A new way

Pending reforms in the area of ergonomics coming from south of the border - coupled with the ever-present need to improve driver retention - are already leading original equipment manufacturers toward...

Pending reforms in the area of ergonomics coming from south of the border – coupled with the ever-present need to improve driver retention – are already leading original equipment manufacturers towards improved workspace designs for truckers.

According to Freightliner’s Bill Gouse, when you think of a driver’s workspace, it is really the entire truck. “Not just the area surrounding the driver’s seat,” he says, “but any portion of the truck the driver comes in contact with over the course of time.”

In the past, manufacturers only had state and federal regulations to work towards when designing a truck, Gouse explains. This led to some very uncomfortable places to spend 10-hour stretches earning one’s living.

“Flooring for example: the regulation reads that, yes you have to have a floor, it has to be structurally sound and sufficiently not slippery,” says Gouse. “There’s not a single quantitative element to it.”

He says that the regulations, in many cases, are mere guidelines rather than hard and fast rules and are rife with problems.

For example,trucks are limited to a width of 102 inches, he explains.

“A caveat to that rule says that safety devices, such as mirrors, hand holds and safety lamps, are not included within that limit,” says Gouse.

At the same time side steps, which are covered by most safety regulations, are not considered safety equipment and so are governed by the 102-inch limit.

“If you’re trying to apply logic to some of the federal regulations, you might as well give up,” complains Gouse.

He says that a number of the sections of the Code of Federal Regulations, which is intended to give qualitative guidance to truck makers, are completely out of date.

“Under (one sub-section), for example, wood and charcoal heaters are still permitted on heavy-duty trucks,” he says, adding that the provisions of the rule are even more laughable.

“The fire has to be contained in a metal barrel and the driver has to be able to control the airflow by way of the flue,” he concludes.

Thankfully, manufacturers have recognized the apparent lag between government standards as compared to customer needs and have been moving towards more ergonomically engineered trucks.

In Europe, truck maker Scania has been using modular component designs since the ’70s.

Mats Johansson, of Scania’s vehicle ergonomics and design styling team, says modular design works on the same principle as the popular Lego toys.

“It’s a product based on base modules and feature modules,” he says. “These parts make it possible to build a large range of designs using different combinations of the same parts.”

Dash units are customized for the individual driver’s preferences.

“Because we sell to a large variety of populations around the world,” says Johansson, “our trucks needed to suit many different body types.”

As well, differences in operating climates and cultural treatment of trucks – and the amenities afforded drivers – the units can be customized depending on the owner’s preference.

Among the other numerous advantages, new componentry can be designed in less time since it will incorporate the same base module design. Repairs can be made in less time and component quality is bolstered since designs perfected in one component can be incorporated into many others.

“The upgradable nature also keeps the value of the truck up – not only for the first owner, but even on to the third or fourth,” adds Johansson.

Josef Loczi, a key player in Freightliner’s ergonomics program, says the fast-changing demographics of North American truck drivers have lead the company in many new design directions.

“When we talk about ergonomics we talk about fitting the task and the work environment to the human,” he says. “So we’re looking to please most of the people, most of the time. Today we need to address spatial and comfort needs for more diverse driver populations.”

He points to Freightliner’s SmartShift, a steering column-mounted shifting system for use with automated transmissions, as a primary example of this new approach to truck designs that places the drivers above all else. The company looked at drivers’ needs and realized it would need to satisfy many areas of concern: the ability to shift with finger tips to keep both hands on the wheel, minimized finger reach, maximum hand clearance, as well as optimal actuation. He says the same thinking model was used to develop the company’s adjustable pedal system, which was first announced last year and originally only available on Thomas Built Buses. Enhanced recruitment efforts on the part of fleets have lead to drivers of all shapes and sizes, Loczi explains.

“Our adjustable pedal system accommodates drivers with minimal pedal reach or those who require a little more belly room,” he says. “Truckers work long hours,” Loczi concludes. “The way they work is greatly dependent on the cab design.” n

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