Cab capability: stepping into the future of low entry

Low entry cabs are an increasingly popular choice on RCVs as health and safety becomes a priority for drivers and crews. Mike Gerber looks at developments in this field

Aching joints and weary workers will always be a part of manual work but when it cuts into productivity, waste authorities take notice. Huntingdon District Council did a study that quantified the working hours lost due to slippages and injuries caused by climbing in and out of high floor cabs.

They calculated it had cost them £75,000 a year. So they decided to invest in Dennis Eagle low entry cabs, but with the launch last year of Scania's low entry vehicle into the UK, and other manufacturers also unveiling variations on the theme, there is now increasing competition for Dennis and its main low entry rival, Mercedes-Benz.

Low entry cabs for the municipal refuse trade began in the UK and even today it remains the largest market in the world. Although low entry cabs have been round since the early 90s, their gradual evolution comes from the demands of competitive tendering with smaller crews and the driver helping. Ease of entry became vital.

The design of low entry cabs has also focused on visibility. According to a Health & Safety Executive report published in 2004, being struck by a RCV or a car is the most common workplace transport accident. In March this year a woman died in Brighton following an accident with a reversing dustcart. In April a man died after being knocked down in nearby Penwortham, as did a cyclist who fell under the wheels of a waste truck in Oxford's city centre. In May a woman in Rishton, Lancashire was killed by a reversing council bin lorry.

Vision steers visibility
Dennis Eagle's Elite 2 low entry chassis cab was first released in 2003. It features a wide windscreen area that promotes better visibility for the driver. Dennis' technical sales & training engineer Andy Graves says: "The windscreen has a viewing area of 78cm high by 198cm wide - with the lowest point at 155cm from ground level. For comparison a DAF CF75 on site has a viewing area of 71cm high by 215cm wide - with the lowest point at 191cm from ground level."

Norman Thoday, Dennis' managing director of commercial operations, adds: "The low entry cab design of Elite 2 also enables the windscreen area to be maximised. This not only delivers better visibility, it means that pedestrians are more visible should they stand in front of the vehicle. It is here that accidents are almost as likely to occur as behind an RCV."

Cab design and innovation is never static, maintains Graves: "We're giving the cab a facelift at the top end which should be ready by October." Dennis Eagle also has plans for extra side view cameras and there are discussions about the seating - changing the single bench seat to individual seats.

The Elite 2 is set to become a familiar sight on the streets of Stockport following the acquisition of a new fleet of RCVs by Solutions SK, Stockport Council's wholly-owned refuse and recycling company. The new fleet of 21 vehicles includes 11 open backs to support the weekly collection of domestic waste in black sacks, five additional 26-tonne mid steers and four to collect garden waste on a fortnightly basis using 240-litre green wheeled bins, with one spare. All of the RCVs have been specified with Elite 2 cabs.

A platform for Isuzu
Meanwhile, Isuzu Trucks promote its cabs as low platform rather than low entry, the chassis height being 80cm. The visibility is achieved with deep cut side windows to reduce blind spots so a deep windscreen is not needed. Martin Bragg, Isuzu's municipal sales manager, cites the Euro 4 NQR 7.5 as its most popular model for refuse work.

The NQR features easy shift - a clutch-less engine with an automated manual gearbox that frees up the drivers feet and arms. The vehicles are compact and were initially designed for the Japanese market in narrower format than the European models. Cab width is 2m whereas European ones are 2.3m - this gives them extra edge in both rural and city centres.

Scania's low entry cab was unveiled in the UK last year and entry and exit requires just two steps. The inside of the cab has been designed after feedback from operators. The driver's controls are ergonomically grouped together, there is a special area for crew to hang wet weather gear, and four-point cab suspension gives the crew a smoother ride. Biffa and South Northamptonshire Council were the first to invest in the model and since its launch, the company says it has proven to be a popular choice among both operators and hire fleets nationwide.

The latest addition to the range is the 8x4*4 model, which is an eight-wheeler with two driven and two steered axles. The configuration is front axle, then a triple bogie in which axles two and three drive and the rear one steers. The advantage, says Scania, is excellent manoeuvrability and traction. This model has just gone into production with a number of advance orders taken.

BMC of Coventry is optimistic about the future with its professional range. In April this year it launched the Pro 628 with a 6x4 cab at the Commercial Vehicle show. A company spokesperson says: "We have focused on cab access and cab space with fittings for cab and crew - typically one driver and three crew."

BMC are emphasising the step height of the cab and the door opening for ease of use. Following on from the CV Show, the 4x2 Pro was launched and other Pro ranges are due to be launched with different axels and configurations. The company reports that over 80 of the Pro 628s have already been sold on just the prototypes and Wakefield Metropolitan Borough Council have taken delivery of the first four vehicles, fitted with CPD-Semat refuse compaction bodies. A further two vehicles will be delivered to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council fleet with Farid compaction bodies.

The marketability of the low entry cab is well known throughout the trade. But one major manufacturer remains a frustrated bystander on the sidelines as it watches its competitors obtain orders throughout the country. Andy Young, fire & specialist vehicles sales manager at MAN ERF UK, was poised to take delivery of low entry cabs as long ago as 2005 and had already sold 40 of them. However Nutzfahrzuege, MAN ERF's parent company in Germany, has yet to deliver a right-hand drive version for the UK.

A very frustrated Young tells LAWR that he knows he can sell 1,200 to 1,500 MAN ERF adapted low entry cab chassis very easily. He describes his sales meetings where he is asked to project volume sales. "I can meet your sales targets for 2008 with one model, just give me the low entry cab," he replies, at which point he observes that eyes are lowered and papers shuffled.

LAWR contacted Simon Hall of Halls Communications, MAN ERF's press contact, to ask when they could expect the delivery of the low entry right hand drives from Germany. Hall promises to ask MAN ERF's chief Executive Des Evans our "jolly good question". However, Hall thinks it is more a problem of capacity. The company in Germany has taken on a contract for the British Armed Forces and the low entry cab may have to be dropped in terms of priority.

Into the future
Meanwhile, Young is still looking towards the future of low entry cab design. "As the two-weekly collections come into force, councils will be looking at alternative uses for the RCVs," he says, adding that he sees air conditioning, air sprung seats and noise insulation fitted as standard items to the cabs rather than optional extras. These, he realises, are not luxuries but are important factors in the comfort and safety of the drivers and crew.

Mercedes-Benz spokesperson Simon Wood echoes this sentiment. Mercedes' Econic range continues to be a popular choice and is reported to command over 30% of the UK's low entry RCV market, with more than 2,000 Econics now sold to domestic operators. The new generation Econic highlighted at this year's CIWM show in Torbay features a five-speed Allison automatic gearbox with CANBus.

Operated via a dashboard-mounted touch panel control, Mercedes says it delivers increased flexibility and makes smoother, seamless gear changes - in some cases more than 1,000 times a day. It complies with stringent ECE-R29/2 impact regulations, ensuring even better protection for driver and crew alike. A new, wider-opening passenger door makes access even easier, and improved door seals provide better temperature and sound insulation, further increasing cab comfort. And it is easy to keep clean.

Wood says: "You have to have a cab that not only fits the operation, but creates a pleasant working environment. These guys hit the deck running as the doors open automatically. Sometimes they are only back in the cab for a few seconds before they leap out again. So it has to have a cross access for easy entry and exit, yet be safe and comfortable for the trip to the landfill."

Entry to the new Econic cab is via a single step, accessed by one of two types of door. The air-assisted forward folding nearside door is ideal in tight situations where obstructions can make conventional opening doors awkward to use. One of the major benefits of this door is occupant safety - linked to CANbus data, it can only be opened while the vehicle is stationary, thus removing the temptation for crews to jump in or out of the cab while the vehicle is on the move.

*Additional research by Ruth Lukom

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