In less than a year, diesel engines in all new off-highway vehicles for the U.S. will need to comply with U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final regulations. Over the last decade, as each Tier of the emissions regulation has gone into place, it has become more challenging than ever for OEMs to meet the environmental requirements. As a result, Southco has seen firsthand the shift in the design energy at the OEM level, toward designing new vehicle models that comply with these regulations.
At Southco, we provide engineering resources for OEMs so their engineers can concentrate more on the overall design of the vehicle while we focus on engineered access solutions for latching and positioning. This has given us a unique perspective over the last 13 years as we have watched industry design trends develop as each Tier progressed.
With Tier 4, we have seen OEMs make changes to diesel engine designs to meet regulations and optimize engine efficiency. One method is to control airflow through the engine for optimized cooling.
It is common for our customers to increase the amount of gasketing on exterior panels to better control air flow and reduce overall power consumption. This results in closing forces that are not conducive to traditional push-to-close latching, because higher compression of the gasket is needed. Standard compression-type latches, such as lever latches and heavy-duty lift and turn compression latches, give the user a greater mechanical advantage that lessens the closing efforts required to compress the additional gasketing.
OEMs are also opting for lightweighting and part-reducing solutions to achieve compliance with Tier 4 regulations. Our “design for assembly” approach means we use the least amount of materials and components necessary for optimal design. This reduces the total weight and total cost of the system.
We also use MuCell technology, an injection molding process that reduces material density and allows us to reduce the weight of a plastic part. OEMs also receive the additional benefit of increased dimensional stability in the MuCell process. For example, in a recent off-highway application, we engineered a concealed, lightweight articulating hinge with this technology, designed to hold up heavy access panels to allow fast maintenance of operating equipment housed within.
With all the changes being made, additional high value devices and systems are being added to off-highway vehicles to meet regulations, making them more attractive targets for theft. As a result, OEMs are placing an increased focus on security.
We have worked with many large OEMs on solutions to lock out hoods and access panels. Solutions. Southco’s electronic rotary latch, for instance, has a small design footprint and can be easily installed on the inside of a panel, thereby removing visual attack points on the outside of the vehicle.
Electronic locks can also provide a digital record of access, allowing operators to monitor who opened a panel and when. This is especially useful in situations where the operator needs to be alerted of suspicious activity, such as when a toolbox is opened when it should not have been.
Each OEM is implementing its own technology and solutions to meet Tier 4 final regulations. The penalties for non-compliance are high. Southco provides engineering support and proven solutions that allow OEM design teams to spend less time on integrating a latch or hinge and more time on being able to achieve compliance with environmental regulations.
Bob Straka, Business Development Manager, Southco, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.