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February 28, 2017 11:20 PM, EST

Truck Cabs Are Home to Drivers and Sea of Information

Wade Long by Joseph Terry/Transport Topics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Expectations of improvements in comfort, safety and convenience underpin truck cab design, but a surge in digital information also must be accommodated in a driver’s home away from home, experts said.

Representatives of three truck manufacturers addressed cab design as part of the Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting here Feb. 28. TMC is a division of American Trucking Associations.

The truck cab “must be adjustable to the driver … so they don’t adjust to it to operate their vehicle,” said Ivan Neblett, manager of international markets and product strategy at Daimler Trucks North America. DTNA is the parent company of the heavy-duty brands Freightliner and Western Star.

For example, the seat is a critical element in the cab because that’s where a driver spends most of his or her time, he said.

“Air seats have come a long way and today are almost the norm, but there will be further advancements,” Neblett said, such as with the heating and ventilation of the seat, cushion designs and how the headrests interact with the seat belts.

At the same time, cab design means modeling the entire vehicle for improved aerodynamics, said Wade Long, director of product marketing at Volvo Trucks North America.

“Cab design is based on what is behind it. … We are driving the air to where we want it to be … aerodynamic mirrors help reduce noise and make it more comfortable driving,” Long said.

Gauges are other key elements in the cab.

In theory, the more gauges you’ve got, the more information a driver can read, said Darren Gosbee, vice president of powertrain and engineering at Navistar Inc., the parent company of the International brand of trucks.

“But we can’t just keep adding gauges. We have run out of space,” Gosbee said.

One consideration would be to locate a screen in front of the driver to display virtual gauges, or to assist in driver coaching using graphics that illustrate the truck’s position on the road, or show real-time fuel economy or information relayed from the back office to the cab, he said.

Darren Gosbee by Joseph Terry/Transport Topics

The possibilities of what to display are endless since so much information and connectivity is available, Gosbee said. “But this could backfire because of driver distraction.”

Voice activation will become more of a factor in managing the cab environment, he said.

VTNA’s Long said, “You have heard about the Internet of Things, a truck is one of those things.”

Meanwhile, truck makers use aluminum, steel and high-strength steel to form the shape of their cabs and apply adhesives to join the pieces together, which can present an issue when it comes to repairing the cabs, said one attendee who was an owner of a heavy-duty repair shop.

For instance, when taking a roof off, then reinstalling it — what kind of glue is needed, what is the procedure “to do that in a repair-friendly cab, if there is one?” he said.

One suggestion from the panel was to look at repair manuals from the truck makers, through the local dealer.

“We’ve asked [for manuals],” the repair shop owner said. “We are asking for help here to get some repairs done … everything rolls in the door.”

“Sometimes we don’t come up with the exact right answer in this forum,” moderator John Adami, a principal with Northwest Heavy Duty Inc., a manufacturer's rep agency, said.

Adami suggested he could help arrange a conversation with technical support contacts at the truck makers who might provide more help. “That is one of the great values of TMC, that relationship-building opportunity,” he said.

Adami said he understood it is frustrating to lack information in a world where we expect now to be able to repair things with internet videos. “But you suggest a scenario where that does not yet exist.”

Another questioner from a motor carrier said fleets “struggle more and more” with the layout in new trucks to find a place — that won’t obscure the driver’s vision — to mount an electronic logging device, which for most will soon be mandatory.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ELD rule takes effect Dec. 17, and will shift almost all drivers to electronic logging and away from paper reports.

VTNA’s Gosbee suggested as the industry moves forward, an app for ELDs could be available.