All sectors of industry are being forced to review and re-shape their strategies and operations in order to meet the challenges thrown up by tough market conditions resulting from the economic downturn. In the global off-highway industry, many of the issues facing OEMs and end-users impact on OH vehicles and equipment and necessitate a change in focus in their design, functionality, technology and manufacture.

Key factors driving this change in focus include the need for greater security, lowering the cost of ownership, improving driver comfort, adopting ‘green’ technologies, and re-aligning manufacturing sites to support emerging markets.

Alex Wakeley, Industry Manger for Transportation at Southco takes up the story: “In order to address these changes and stay ahead of the game, OEMs are re-structuring operations throughout all parts of their businesses. For many, this involves making radical changes to their supply chain arrangements in an effort to achieve supplier consolidation wherever possible, and this is particularly evident in the area of access solutions.

“Traditionally, off-highway vehicles have a plethora of different locks, latches and fasteners and, in the absence of a specialist single supply source, OEMs have been forced to use a diverse collection of different product suppliers for components such as latches for cab access, various access covers on the chassis and storage compartments within the cab. To meet today’s changing demands, OEMS are seeking expertise, innovation and support from one global source, thus enabling them to achieve design consistency, cost efficiency and functionality across their entire platform of access hardware systems and products.

“As the leading global manufacturer of engineered access products across a broad range of industrial applications, including the transportation and high-end automotive sector, Southco is ideally placed to offer the one-stop-shop full global service so badly needed by the OH sector. Added to this is the fact that we are already a proven supplier to the off-highway industry, with the broadest range of access hardware and position control solutions available.

“As a result, the company has stepped up to the plate, and added the final piece to the ‘total off-highway service’ jigsaw with an exciting new range of products. This provides OEMs and end-users with the ultimate in single sourcing solutions, anywhere in the world, including ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions or a highly specialised ‘customer tailored solution. This is backed by total support throughout the product development stage, from initial consultation through to concept phase, prototyping, solution integration support, testing and production.”

This final element is a new range of rotary action latches and actuators, available in a wide choice of sizes and strengths for direct, remote or multi-point actuation and developed in partnership with OEMs. It complements and enhances Southco’s existing range of industry-proven rugged, durable, high performance and good quality access hardware solutions. Essentially an expansion of the company’s existing rotary offering, this latest generation of access solutions takes Southco into parts of the driver’s cab it had not previously catered for.
Wakeley: “We can now offer access hardware to all interior, chassis and entry applications – and, whenever necessary, we can modify and customise to meet the specific requirements of different customers - thus enabling us to address all the key issues and challenges facing the industry.”

By integrating electronic control systems with basic latches such as the electro-mechanical locking door handle, Southco can provide a wide range of solutions for differing levels of security which don’t compromise end-user convenience and flexibility, from key-code flexibility to electronic access systems. Wakeley: “Our main rivals are not as far forward as Southco with the electro-mechanical products and systems. We can not only offer similar basic components to other manufacturers that meet all standards and safety requirements but also we have taken things to another technological level with sophisticated electronics. For example, whilst providing the lever actuator for an entirely mechanical system, we can bolt on an electronic locking system which can be hooked up to a host of other Southco electronic hardware on the vehicle.

“Still on the important issue of security, our recently launched R4-EM rotary latch provides excellent vandal resistance and long-term durability and reliability. The microprocessor control of the R4-EM accepts a variety of electronic actuation signals including wireless devices such as proximity cards or RF key fobs, hardwired numeric keypads or swipe-card terminals, smart reader devices, biometric devices and remote computer or network security system signals. An integral option is also available to provide a “latch opened/latch-closed’ status for remote monitoring.”

Another critical factor facing the OH industry is cost of ownership. Spare parts are very expensive, so end-users want vehicles with robust, durable access hardware. Southco products have been designed, manufactured and tested to last as long if not longer than the vehicle. This lowers maintenance costs for vehicle owners and reduces warranty claims for OEMs.

For driver comfort, cab ergonomics are becoming increasingly important as drivers spend many hours in the cab. For its part, Southco has designed its latches and access points to be as intuitive as possible – easy to grab hold of and actuate the right force on the latch.

From a global environmental standpoint, emissions regulations are influencing complete vehicle/cab designs and this presents a great opportunity for the global capabilities of Southco, with facilities and sales offices throughout the world, and its ability to support international projects wherever they may be.

Wakeley concludes: “To sum up, Southco’s off-highway access hardware solutions are tried and tested, robust and durable. They provide greater security and lower overall cost of ownership than available from other manufacturers for OEMs and end-users. We recognise that it’s difficult for customers to choose the right latch, the right actuator and the right cables so, as a system integration specialist, rather than just offering a latch we can offer a complete system.

“At Southco, we are making the process as simple as possible by enabling customers to specify the load they need on the latch, where the latch is going to be, where the actuator is going to be and the loads they need to apply onto the actuator. Armed with that information, we will configure all components and provide a complete package of access hardware solutions and support that ensure off-highway OEMs and end-users coming to Southco are best equipped to meet and beat the challenges facing their industry.”

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