Part V: Advancements in Serviceability and Maintenance
John-Paul McGovern, Ph.D., Chief of Research and Technology, USSC Group, Inc.
This is the fifth installment in a series of articles discussing recent technology advancements in fire apparatus seat systems. Previous articles have discussed technology advancements in first responder seat systems and transition of technology for complimentary markets. This article discusses practical advancements in maintenance, service, and repair.
While Valor first responder seat systems have been engineered to be robust and durable, the rigors of the first responder environment dictate that designers consider ease of maintenance and service. In considering cleaning, maintenance, and repair from the outset of product development, the end user benefits from reduced life-cycle costs of the rescue apparatus as a whole.
Drawing on its decades of experience in the commercial bus, rail, locomotive, and military industries, USSC broke its spares provisioning plan down into three main areas: soft goods, such as upholstery and foam; hard parts, such as base plates, back frames, and hardware; and restraints, such as seat belts, airbags, and rollover mitigation components.
In the area of soft goods, by choosing Type III Cordura as the standard fabric on Valor seat systems, the fabric itself provides water resistance, extreme durability, and excellent wear properties. However, the traditional weak spots of all upholstered vehicle seat systems are the seams. As such, USSC chooses to take the more costly approach of triple-stitching all seams on the seating surface and to make this practice standard on all upholstery from base model seats up to the most option-laden seats available. As the name suggests, this triple stitching distributes the loads on the seams between three rows of stitching instead of the traditional single row as with most automotive seat systems.
Beyond the physical construction of the seat system covers, designers also carefully considered how they are attached to the supporting foam and seat structure. For seat backs, all covers are removable either by opening a zipper on the back surface of the seat or by separating a hook-and-loop joint. Thus, for cleaning purposes, the cover can be completely removed, then replaced. To replace cut or damaged covers, replacement in the vehicle is quite simple. For seat cushion surfaces, all nonflip seats have quick-release mechanisms that allow for wholesale change-out of the cushion assembly if need be. For flip seats, four easily accessible screws allow for foam/upholstery/support board changeout.
When it comes to hard parts and hardware, USSC uses all standard SAE hardware such that no special tools are needed if service is required. In terms of metal seat components, the initial design goal was for the Valor seats to be as modular as possible with different types of crew seats sharing identical parts and suspensions being common to driver and officer seats of various types. This goal was achieved and continues to be optimized today in terms of spare parts and parts compatibility across Valor Seats and OEM vehicle applications.
Finally, and touched upon in a previous article in this series, seat belt or safety component replacement need to be field-serviceable items such that major teardown of the seat system or replacement of the whole seat would not be required because of a cut or problematic restraint. By externally routing all belts, replacing a restraint system is as easy as turning a wrench in the event of a cut belt or failed retractor. The same simplicity of service applies to advanced restraint systems such as air bags and rollover protection systems. However, in cases of service on these devices, a certified technician must perform the work for safety reasons.
Overall, designers and engineers at USSC have endeavored to create an extremely user-friendly and serviceable line of seats for the first responder industry. And with no design ever frozen in time, the product will only continue to evolve as a greater user base is achieved and continued user feedback obtained.