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Bob Straka, Business Development Manager, Transportation, Southco

New trends in operator awareness and visibility in off-highway equipment design

Taking a cue from the automotive industry, off-highway equipment design is evolving to accommodate the needs and preferences of the operator. The desire for increased ergonomics and streamlined, aerodynamic equipment designs are leading factors influencing the future of off-highway design.

At the same time, connected devices such as smartphones and tablets are bridging the gap between personal and professional use, offering operators and equipment owners more options for staying connected. In response, designers are focusing new equipment development efforts on enhancing operator visibility and increasing operator awareness.

Operator visibility

As safety continues to be a top priority in off-highway equipment, engineers are incorporating more glass in the overall cab design to maximize operator visibility and prevent accidents on the job site. As a result, traditional body shapes are becoming sleeker, with curved designs to accommodate an increase in operator visibility around the outside of the equipment. Non-planar cab shapes, however, present numerous design challenges when it comes to selecting the appropriate hinging mechanism for the door assembly.

Different door styles, such as scissor and gull wing doors in particular, do not open at a 90° angle. Constant-torque hinges, which use engineered friction systems to provide continuous resistance against motion, are ideal for applications where it is necessary to easily open and position non-planar door styles.

Articulating hinges for example, take up minimal space and offer friction, detents, and dampening of doors and panels. These hinges are designed to hold up heavy doors and can also be used on access panels to allow fast maintenance of operating equipment housed within.

More glass in the cab also translates to the opportunity for more glare for the operator, especially when considering the increase in backlit display systems in cab interiors. Engineers can meet this challenge by integrating enhanced display positioning solutions into their designs.

Display mounts designed with constant-torque technology, for instance, enable effortless single-handed display positioning and infinite angle options. This positioning technology offers many benefits to the end user, allowing the screen to be tilted in different directions to suit the height differences or seat positions of multiple operators who may use the same vehicle.

For heavier displays, locking options may also need to be considered for operator safety while the equipment is being transported.

Operator awareness

With technology constantly evolving, there is potential for off-highway equipment diagnostics and operating systems to be more readily accessible via personal devices. The desire to connect both personal and professional activities to the digital world is influencing designers to make traditional onboard diagnostics less stationary and more mobile and accessible, increasing operator awareness.

Smart device-enabled access, such as Bluetooth and other wireless-integrated technologies for instance, can be easily networked to onboard operating systems. Equipment operation status can be tracked and monitored remotely via cloud-based apps. Using a smartphone or tablet, owners of off-highway equipment will then have the ability to monitor and observe productivity of a piece of equipment in real time, from anywhere in the world.

This same technology has the ability to be networked into off-highway equipment access points through the integration of electronic access solutions. Intelligent electronic locks and latches, for example, connect remote monitoring and access control, providing a live view that gives the owner or site manager a complete picture of equipment access. When connected via a wireless application or networked to an existing security system, electronic locking devices can provide a record of which user gained access, when, and for how long.

With an electronic access system in place, and when combined with Bluetooth technology, electronic credentials may also be easily granted or revoked, allowing an equipment owner to grant operators access to specific machines remotely. This technology offers new opportunities for tracking and controlling access to physical equipment while remaining connected to the digital world.

Bob Straka, Business Development Manager, Transportation, Southco, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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