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Cabin Comforts


Thursday, 21 Jul 2005 ( #218 )
Special Feature
Operator comfort is essential

Western Australia-based Midland Brick, the largest single-site clay brick manufacturer in the world, employs 23 forklift operators to load its 200 trucks with bricks each day.

Midland’s forklift supervisor Steve Darch said one of the most critical issues for the company was their forklift drivers’ comfort and safety.

"Fatigue is a very serious safety concern when operating forklifts so I measured the number of movements a driver does with his legs and arms. I calculated that an operator on a typical day would go through 2,000 movements," Darch said.

Roberts Wool, an Australian wool distributor, is also concerned about forklift operator comfort. Administration manager Martin O’Byrne says of his company’s drivers: "Our guys are on the forklifts for a minimum of eight hours a day, so the comfort and ergonomics of a forklift is critical. Our experience shows that a fatigued driver is less productive and vulnerable to mistakes, and mistakes on a forklift are dangerous to a driver and everyone around him."

A Hyster brochure on its "superior ergonomics" cites research that says the average annual cost of operator fatigue in the US is USD6,862 per operator. Costs related to fatigue resulted directly from absenteeism, staff turnover, forklift and property damage, workers’ compensation and lost productivity/sales.

There are many features in forklifts that can add comfort and ease for operators and subsequently increase operator productivity. Forkliftaction.com News reporter Christine Liew reports.

Standard vs Optional

Hyster’s Monotrol® Pedal, an optional, dual-directional accelerator pedal.
What is standard and what is optional in forklift cabs depend on the type of forklift purchased. Take Hyster Company’s line of big lifts (17,000lbs and above lift capacity) as an example. Seats, windows, heating and cooling systems, completely sealed cabs, arm rests and windshield wipers are standard "creature comfort" features.

While Hyster offers vinyl or cloth seat coverings and seat suspension systems, its air-ride suspension system is optional. All cab windows are glass supported by a steel frame, and are engineered to increase driver visibility. In the heating and cooling system, heating and defrosters (front and rear) are standard, while air conditioning and sunshades on the roof and back window are optional. Sunshades help decrease cabin heat without compromising visibility.

Standard cabs are completely sealed. Hyster Company sales director Geoff Beale said the cabs had been tested in some of the world’s harshest applications.

"(They have been tested in) wheat harvesting in which large amounts of excess material and dust are yielded. The benefits include reduced sound, down to 75 decibels, and filtered air induction," Beale said.

Other standard features for Hyster’s big lift cabs include individually adjustable left and right arm rests and front, back and roof windshield wipers.

For Toyota electric forklifts, an operator total care (OTC) package is standard. OTC consists of an operator restraint system (ORS) seat, electro-hydraulic proportional mini-levers and accel-off brakes.

"The ORS seat improves comfort as it is adjustable to suit an individual driver’s requirements. It also features a lumbar support system, side wings and a retractable seatbelt," Benoit Meunier, Toyota Industrial Equipment Europe (TIEE) product manager, said.

In Toyota generation 7 electric forklifts, the driver position is improved by an armrest incorporating electro-hydraulic proportional mini-levers that bring key operating controls to the driver’s fingertips. That allows much smaller arm movements, reducing the effort for smooth, precise load control.

The accel-off brakes also significantly reduce operator fatigue.

"They allow the driver to control the forklift with only one foot on one pedal. This eliminates constant movement from the accelerator pedal to the brake. An anti-roll back facility is also included, which reduces the number of braking actions required," Meunier said.

To meet different drivers’ needs, Toyota has different types of cabins. The basic cabin features a front windshield that protects from rain or boxes that may break open when damaged; a cabin with canvas doors gives additional protection from wind and rain. A steel cabin gives more protection from challenging weather conditions and a deluxe cabin ensures the greatest protection and comfort.

Meunier said the deluxe cabin was fully suspended for a smooth driving experience.

"The seats also have a higher suspension to provide additional protection against vibration and help absorb impact. The deluxe cabin is designed to cope with extreme weather. It also incorporates a wide range of features, including a heater, optional air conditioning, a CD player, an open glass sunroof, a sunshade, a 12-volt power supply to charge a mobile phone, a paper tray and a cup holder," he said.

Essentials vs Luxuries

Linde AG’s Heike Oder said the question of which cabin features constituted essentials and which ones were luxuries was "very hard to answer".

"It depends on the individual application. But surely a radio is not a must and ergonomic pedals and control levers and a compact steering wheel for effortless and responsive manoeuvering are essential for productivity of the operator," Oder said.

Hyster’s Geoff Beale agreed. "The difference between essentials and luxuries depends on whom you ask. Forklift drivers may have a different opinion from purchasing managers.

"Air conditioning may be considered a luxury to some but it can improve the bottomline for a company by increasing driver comfort and lessening fatigue, resulting in enhanced productivity," Beale said.

Meunier from TIEE said the choice of essentials or luxuries depended on the forklift operator’s working environment.

"For some forklift purchasers, a standard cabin will be sufficient for ensuring driver comfort but, for others, a greater range of features is required. In the Nordic region, for example, weather conditions are extreme so features such as heaters and air conditioning will be essential. A sunshade is also important as the sun is low in the sky, which can affect a driver’s sight. For a market like this, our deluxe cabin will be most appropriate," he said.

Toyota overhead compartment.
Toyota’s online forklift accessories brochure lists some add-ons that forklift purchasers can choose as essentials or luxuries.

A vinyl cabin cover and vinyl front windshield protects operators from wind and rain. According to the brochure, they are an "important safety item" that requires minimal assembly.

A forklift roof shelters operators from rain, snow or storm and is "tough enough to protect from falling objects". It is attached to any forklift using ordinary nuts and bolts.

Rotary lamps help warn other workers that a forklift is nearby. Some include a warning sound.

Halogen work lamps improve operator visibility during night-time operations and light up a wider area than a standard lamp.

For improved workplace safety, a wide rear view mirror provides a wider visual range for the operator.

To store documents, sheets, a towel, and pens and pencils, operators can select an overhead compartment, which can be easily attached to the overhead guard. Alternatively, a side box is useful for storing work-related items close by. If a pen is needed within easy reach, there is a pen stand attachable to the headguard pillar.

Reverse driving

In Germany, costs arising from loss of output through inability to work due to injuries of the muscular/skeletal system and the connective tissue amount to around EUR10.6 billion a year. Calculated across all branches of industry and commerce, almost every fourth workday lost can be attributed to those injuries.

Forklift operators, who drive in reverse whenever they carry loads that obstruct their forward view, are in danger of sustaining severe stress on their spinal column. When driving in reverse, operators must twist their heads, spines and hips around to properly see where they are going. Frequent adoption of that posture and for long runs can cause strain and fatigue.

The swivel seat on Linde's 39X generation forklift.
Linde Material Handling has addressed the problem by designing a swivel seat on the 2,000kg to 3,500kg diesel and LPG forklifts of the 39X generation (Forkliftaction.com News #56). The optional swivel seat has a release lever integrated into the armrest on the operator’s right. When needed, the operator pulls the release lever and swings the seat 17 degrees to the right, where it automatically locks at reverse driving position. That gives operators a larger field of view to the rear while sparing them physical strain.

This year another German forklift manufacturer, Jungheinrich, launched the world’s first cabin rotating forklift, the EFG D30, to address the same problem. If an operator’s forward view is obstructed, he/she can rotate the cabin up to 180 degrees and guide the forklift to its destination with the load at his/her back. Once the load has been picked up, the driver can drive off straight away and at the same time rotate the cabin up to 90 degrees (Forkliftaction.com News #195).

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