Operators are the focus of attention when it comes to cab design, explain Dave and Iain MacIntyre
Driver comfort has become an important factor in ports and terminals, as unions demand better working comfort and port employers seek to maximise productivity by providing optimal working conditions.
Industrial ergonomics aim to reduce and prevent stress, injuries, and musculoskeletal disorders. Here, research and analysis is vital in order to develop a greater understanding of how best to incorporate workplace behaviour and performance into design and operations.
University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering associate professor Mansour Rahimi brings an external viewpoint to the discussion about ergonomics in port operations.
“I teach a course in ergonomics and human factors and we know that long-duration driving poses ergonomic risk factors such as muscle fatigue, cumulative stress, etc.
“Ports that care (for example, Port of Los Angeles, Port of Long Beach) are proactive in environmental health and safety (EHS) issues. Unions are a huge force in moving ports toward a better EHS conditions for their workforce.”
Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) national secretary Joe Fleetwood says while his union has some concerns as to the overall commitment of his local port sector to maximising ergonomics for its workers, some port companies have involved MUNZ in checking new equipment.
“Obviously it is preferable to have input from the workers who will be using the equipment. Some smaller ports have ageing equipment which is not ideal. Over the years MUNZ has continued to highlight issues to improve the machine from an operator’s viewpoint, such as improved lighting.”
Mr Fleetwood notes feedback from members that the quality of equipment has increased over the last ten years “with a lot of thought being put in by the manufacturer to the ease of operation and the comfort of the operator”.
In response, manufacturers are continually looking to introduce innovations to stay ahead of the field and technical analysts such as Milwaukee-based Metria Innovation specialise in measuring ergonomic performance using 3D motion tracking software to improve the developments in industrial ergonomics.
Finnish giant Kalmar says ergonomics is a top priority when it designs new equipment such as the world’s first hybrid straddle and shuttle carriers, which it introduced to the market last year with a new front cabin. The design of the hybrid followed work with customers to create improved operator experience and to maximise visibility, ergonomics, safety and comfort.
Kalmar says all are important considerations and it is a matter of finding the right balance between the different considerations. For example, the operators are not necessarily the same height or size. “A key factor is stable and user orientated IT support. For example, our new generations of machines are equipped with highly-developed command, control and diagnostic systems,” says a Kalmar spokesperson.
As to the main areas of research, for future developments, Kalmar says new technologies and digitalisation give endless possibilities for further enhancing the driver environment.
“Currently we are getting many requests concerning safety. As we move forward, we think that the safety level of our machines will move closer to the standards that are in use in the car industry. Safety systems that indicate people in the close surroundings of the machine already exist, but they can be fine-tuned and linked to remote monitoring systems, for example.
“Also, linking the machines to remote monitoring systems gives possibilities e.g. to limit the speed in certain busy areas where there are a lot of people working.”
Another major manufacturer, the US-based Hyster Company, concurs that operator comfort is a primary area of focus when it comes to ergonomics technology.
A company spokesperson says that Hyster products are designed with the help of ergonomic experts who continuously monitor areas such as operator ingress and egress, foot space and body position to achieve comfort and safety even in tough environments and demanding operations.
“In all Hyster big trucks, operator controls are conveniently placed within a spacious cab for maximum comfort to increase operator productivity. Mini-levers or joysticks and switches are integrated into the armrest for smooth controlled actuation of mast and attachment functions. The armrest moves with the seat to maintain the driver's control when driving over uneven surfaces.”
In 2005, Hyster became the first manufacturer to feature the rear-mounted ComfortCab II on a laden container handler, a design that made it easier for the driver to stack laden containers in the first row.
The driver is able to maintain a complete 40ft container in his/her line of sight, during the entire handling operation, with minimal head movement. This cab position had been used before on Hyster's empty container-handling trucks as it offers excellent visibility when stacking empty containers up to eight high.
The Hyster reachstacker also features an optional powered, sliding version of the ComfortCab II, which along with widely-spaced rear boom supports and a sloping rear counterweight, delivers optimum visibility.
The cab can be moved to various positions while driving and/or lifting by a switch inside the cab. The feature accommodates operator preference and provides optimum visibility in a variety of operating conditions. The partial forward (3ft. maximum) cab position offers an unobstructed view of 40ft and 45ft containers in low and high boom positions.
The ability to reposition the cab is essential for intermodal Hyster reachstacker models when handling swap-bodies or trailers, so that the driver can see the grapple feet at ground level. Some drivers prefer the fully forward position for low height container handling.
From the viewpoint of port management, Matt Ball, head of communications for New Zealand’s Ports of Auckland (PoAL) believes his firm is being very proactive in improvements to ergonomic design: “Seat design is an important element of this, and for future crane purchases, remote operations are the most significant way of reducing ergonomic fatigue and safety-related issues so we will investigate this as an option.”
Mr Ball credits manufacturers for bringing their own initiatives to the evolution of cargo-handling equipment, but also emphasises that ports themselves have a key leadership role to play: “There is always an element of vendor development, but we have a strong relationship with our vendors which means we are able to give feedback on improvements and influence that development.
“We use a combination of driver feedback, tutor and trainer expertise, health and safety analysis and also information from trade events and through our relationship with partner ports. We have undertaken a number of exercises internally and used peer ports reviews as well. Health and safety teams are in constant contact with third parties to evaluate alternative solutions.”
He believes there are definitely tangible business benefits to ports from improving equipment ergonomics for their workforce.
“Productivity is driven through the perspective of health and safety. Only when we can achieve reductions in risk to people will we change the way we operate.”
Although, in clear reference to the investigations PoAL is pursing into deploying 15-metre-tall automated straddle carriers to “deliver capacity, cost and environmental benefits”, Mr Ball adds that there are “limits to what can be achieved with drivers still in cabs”.
“Crane drivers still have to look down for long periods of time and straddle operators have to look in both directions, neither of which is ideal. In future, technology and operating the equipment remotely will mean that this work can be done much more ergonomically.”
MAKING WAVES IN CAB DESIGN
Both Kalmar and Hyster have introduced major breakthroughs in ergonomic design.
Kalmar has recently brought through the EGO Cabin in which it involved experts from Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, in the early phase of the development work. The goal was to optimise the sensory environment of the EGO Cabin and match it with the built-in IT support so that the operator could use it to its full extent.
Kalmar has used feedback from operators when developing the EGO Cabin.
“Both our own and our customers’ operators signed up as test pilots in the various phases of development and contributed with their subjective experiences of the EGO. This rooting in reality has been a top priority for us from start to finish,” says a company spokesperson.
Hyster says its operator compartment, used across the Hyster big truck range, is an industry-leading design. The convex, curved design of the front screen means that the front corner pillars of the cab are positioned relatively far back, ensuring maximum visibility of the load and operating area. The doors also feature upper and lower glass panels enhancing sideways visibility.
The large windows are fitted with tinted safety glass and the curved front window prevents glare, ensuring a clear view at all times. A “wave pattern” overhead guard design provides a panoramic upward view.
The steering column is adjustable for both height and angle and the soft-grip steering wheel features a spinner knob for finger-light operation. Power-assisted steering and lever controls, push-button parking brake, fully-hydraulic brakes and an automotive-style pedal layout further contribute to driver confidence and comfort.
Other major features include the cab being mounted on anti-vibration isolators, and a series of options, including an operator presence feature, where the engine is shut down when the seat is not occupied (to help reduce fuel consumption), and a preset travel-speed reduction function..
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