How cabins reflect evolution of working environment

Working environment has always been there. Driver cabins have become part of it, as an essential part of working environment.

One might say that the cabin is the working environment of the driver. Yes, it is, but one should also see it in a larger context. Working environment consists of several factors influencing not only the driver itself, but everything around the working process as well. A safe working environment must be facilitated for all around the process.

A short world history of the cabins starts from the machine, which needed to have some place for the operator – a seat. When one was working outdoors, a shelter was nice to have. To keep the operator alive, an overhead guard or a roll bar was found to be good. Today, the most sophisticated cabins fulfill much more requirements than the basic needs.

"The first cabins just matched the user's basic needs. They were just protecting drivers from rain. Later, the roll bars came and made a giant leap in driver's safety", says Juha Juvonen, Technical Manager at Fortaco.

The new innovations and added features did not penetrate the entire market simultaneously. There are remarkable differences in the needs and timing, when it comes to cabins and their features in the different market sectors and user preferences.

According to Mr. Juvonen, all the latest developments are being implemented within a longer period of time, because there are a lot of different parameters. The influencing factors, which are depending on the working environment, are for example different daily routines, extreme weather conditions or uneven terrain, just a few to be mentioned.

Today the cabin is an extension of user's arm. Many automatic features are installed in as standards, like rain sensors for wipers, operating/driving mode selector systems, automatic working lights, interactive control systems or automatic work cycle functions. It is easy to see that the autonomous procedures and features are being first tested on the roads in passenger cars and truck technology, and they come inevitably available for off-road vehicles as well.

The evolution of the cabin, with some automated features and processes, will never stop. When adding Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the processes, and an instrumentation of the cabin, the machine can take some role in the decision-making process, and learn about the options and selections. The machine is becoming more or less an autonomous entity.

In Fortaco, we constantly invest in the technological know-how and service to support our customers’ businesses, not just according to the latest needs, but also according to the coming needs. The well-designed cabins are benefitting our customers with increased productivity, low maintenance cost, additional safety, serviceability and superb ergonomics.

Well-designed cabin is an interface between driver and machine

Cabin design has advanced a long way since cabins were only to protect users during the bad weather and to provide just a functional working station. Today, an emphasis is also on the other criteria, like safety and working ergonomics, which means a pleasant working environment. Also, the needs of users have changed and become more specific and individual.

“Users are supposed to be healthier and their endurance level in their own working environment is higher than earlier. This is what the working ergonomics is aiming at. On the other hand, the operational comfort and less stress factors are also very important drivers in the cabin design process”, lists Mr. Juha Juvonen, Technical Manager of Fortaco.

Mr. Juvonen sees that the following approaches are providing a good foundation to design a well-functioning cabin:

- Visibility is good and feel of a roomy cabin.
- Instrumentation installed is easy to use and reach.
- Vibration and noise levels are low and indoor air good.

When designing a cabin, instrumentation can be pre-planned in a way that the individual adjustments are very easy to do. Furthermore, even a small cabin can provide a sufficient space and compartments to store lunchbox, drinks and working clothes etc.

“Fortaco is carefully listening the feedback from end-users. All comments and requests are greatly valued when the cabin environment is being designed”, says Mr. Juvonen.

The Fortaco engineers along with the customers are discussing about the different design approaches directly with the end-users in order to manufacture even better cabins in the future. The cabin must be well-designed by using advanced computer simulations, which are based on the recent results of user studies. The modular design can be modified accordingly. This kind of project flow assists an engineer to analyze, compare and improve design to better address requirements of today.

“We have performed several user experience studies, focusing on the cabin we have manufactured for the machine”, says Mr. Juvonen.

According to Mr. Juvonen, R&D is steadily advancing, and that is why the future cabins are already being designed by Fortaco. The new milestones in R&D are remote and virtual management, for example the benefits of camera technology, big data and tracking systems.

Vehicle Cabin Assembly Line in Fortaco Kurikka Business Site

Benefits of purchasing complete plug and play operator cabin

Quality, cost efficiency and less complexity
A competent and trusted supplier can take care of the entire supply chain for a customer, starting from the understanding of customer needs to the delivery of a serial product. Cabin design, engineering, manufacturing and logistics are the core competencies of a supplier. Processes are optimized to provide the highest quality and to reduce costs and complexity. When purchasing a cabin as a complete plug and play unit cost-effectiveness is even further increased and customer’s own resources are released to core business.

The benefits of outsourcing are not only limited to the cost of material and manufacturing. A service provider is often also responsible for the planning, resourcing and operation of the full supply chain. Several value-adding activities can be provided during the cabin project, these are bundled up into the competitive service package delivered to the customer.

The following activities are examples of what a cabin supplier can provide to an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer):

- Industrial design and cabin concept
- Cabin specification and BOM development
- Cabin technology R&D
- Integration of the cabin into the OEM equipment, e.g. electrics, software etc.
- Cabin documentation for production and maintenance
- Continuous improvements and maintenance
- Sourcing of materials and components including development of supply chain
- Maintaining quality standards and documentation
- Production planning and management
- Warehousing and logistics solutions
- Aftermarket services

A cabin supplier can provide extensive know-how and expertise to the customer by offering long-term perspective and a wide spectrum of services that positively reflect to the quality and cost-level of a product and remove the complexity from the OEM to handle.

A competent supplier continuously improves products and processes, leading to a higher quality and reducing Total Cost of Ownership.

“Our key target is to make our customers’ life easier by finding quick solutions when problems occur. While at the same time, we are constantly developing general ideas for product improvements to avoid future quality issues. We are flexible and capable to implement changes in all details in a short period of time, while actively working with customers to improve the quality level or our products. Customers expect our continuous support to improve their products, reduce cost and smoothen the supply chain”, underlines Juha Juvonen, Technical Manager at Fortaco.

Boosting of manufacturing and product management
Efficiency in manufacturing and related processes is one of the greatest advantages a cabin supplier can provide to its’ customers. Manufacturing automatization provided by a supplier improves quality, adds value in efficiency, offers cost-reduction potential while reducing production time and increasing flexibility to customer demands. “We aim to automatize production with modern welding robots and assembly tools. A large investment offers us long-term benefits, while for many of our customers it’s not a sustainable solution due to low production volume and utilization rate”, summarizes Tomi Metsä-Ketelä, Fortaco Sales Manager.

A cabin may include up to 1.000 – 1.500 different parts and a sourcing work requires constant supplier management, quality reviews, logistics documentation, tracking and handling of material. Outsourcing of such a work to a specialized cabin supplier provides an OEM customer with a reliable level of delivery accuracy and quality for a competitive product. “The complexity of material procurement can be seen when we manage material purchasing, storage, documentation and quality inspection on behalf of our customer. This way the customer can order a fully assembled and ready-made cabin with a single line item”, Tomi Metsä-Ketelä explains.

Supplier's logistic competence is a guarantee of continuous production
For the customer's production flow the deliveries just-in-time or just-in-sequence are crucial. Supplier flexibility releases inventory and storage space at the customer end. Logistical arrangements, such as VMI (Vendor Managed Inventory) are getting more in the focus.

“By using Lean methodologies and shortened production times we assure quick and continuous cabin deliveries, but when needed, we can also provide VMI arrangements through a third party service providers. VMI is a solution we are using for long distance deliveries, for example to the US or even in Europe, to compensate long transport times”, says Juha Juvonen.

Commonality brings clear savings for customers
“We are continuously aiming to standardize components used in cabins we manufacture to increase their usage more widely and to benefit from the scale effect. We have also centralized our procurement channels, implemented common sourcing categories and supplier management processes to improve our competitiveness further. By offering common and proven technical solutions at a competitive price we can mutually benefit with our customers”, Tomi Metsä-Ketelä explains.

Key benefits when outsourcing cabin production
- Enable customers to focus on their core business.
- Turn fixed costs to variable costs and reduce capital employed.
- Increase operational flexibility.
- Improve efficiency of core in-house manufacturing processes by reducing complexity.

Previewing Vehicle Cabin Design in Virtual Reality

This is how virtual technology (VR) is revolutionizing cabin design

Designing of cabins has changed radically during the recent years, as the opportunities offered by the virtual technology have been adopted. By designing virtually, customer’s user experience can already be revealed with regard to the cabin and the machine in the first stages of design. Already when a product is at the stage of being a 3D model. It is worth noting that no prototype has been made yet, nor money has been spent at this stage outside the design department. It is a case of significant cost savings, which has revolutionized the cabin product design and the product development process.

“With the aid of virtual technology, we look at construction machine cabins in a virtual environment. This way we can improve the ergonomics and usability of a cabin. This means that the completion time of the product design project is reduced considerably. At the same time, we get customer’s and preferably end-user’s feelings and feedback about the product before anything concrete has been done. This affects the whole project, as time and money is saved,” says Aki Komulainen, Director responsible for the technology of cabins at Fortaco.

Virtual design brings customer's needs into the focus of cabin development. In the Virtual Reality laboratory, a customer gets to test out the functionality of the cabin, that fits into his daily operating environment. A decisive difference when using VR technology (virtual reality) is that the customer or the end-user can test out the solutions, which they want into the cabin themselves - virtually. All possible functional shortcomings can already be corrected at this stage, before any hardware is created.

“With the aid of VR, we can hit customer’s needs on the spot and leave out the construction of a physical model, so-called mock-up. Together with the driver we can study the reach of the driver, ergonomics of a cabin, design, safety and other required features,” says Fortaco’s Technical Manager, Juha Juvonen.

Indeed, VR technology makes user-centered design possible. Cabins have already been designed by computer modelling, but now this data model is taken into the virtual environment where the customer can see the choices made and functionality. The conversion of 3D data models into the virtual environment has become lot easier with the modern technology and can be done in hours.

“We have carried out several projects like these with our customers, including earth-moving and forestry machines, material handling machines, port cranes and mining industry machines. Generally, the VR work starts once the initial 3D design has been done. We run a workshop with the customer in the VR laboratory by testing a defined range of topics, like visibility and instrument layout, to receive feedback on subjective impressions. When the customer is giving own, valuable, additional information into the project, they also benefit from that their own people are committed to the project, already before the physical testing stage of the product,” Juvonen continues.

Fortaco has started ground-breaking cooperation with Tampere University of Technology already in 2006. The aim was to develop the tools of using virtual technology. In connection with the cabin product development project, a model of cabin was transferred into the virtual laboratory. One of the first drivable and movable models for a material-handling crane was created.

“Back then, the technology was not so advanced yet and it took us a lot of time and investment. Interfaces did not talk to the design software and virtual environments. We got it to work and experiences have been good. Now we are programing 3D models together with customers in virtual laboratories,” Komulainen summarizes with regard to the stages of the adoption of virtual technology.