Perfect fit

| May 01, 2009

Shopping for a seat is like trying on shoes. So says Don Fishel, head of sales and marketing for Commercial Vehicle Group’s National Seating brand, who says the holy grail for both is finding the perfect fit.

That goal is more achievable than ever, thanks to multifaceted designs and comfort options. From four-chamber adjustable air lumbar to ever-more-sophisticated air-ride suspensions to recent souped-up luxury automotive-derived stimulative massages, today’s seats can give you home-on-wheels comfort.

If you can’t fix the roads…
Fix the seat. Such has been the logic behind the development of seat technology through the years, alongside increasingly sophisticated truck suspension technology.
National Seating introduced its air ride seat base in the mid-’60s, says CVG/National’s Larry Blankenship, seats development director.

“The basic concept was to introduce the air suspension part because it offers a superior ride to the mechanical springs” of those days, he says. The air ride seat didn’t take off immediately, says Blankenship. But in the early ’70s the Teamsters “mandated that their drivers would not drive a truck without an air-suspension seat, so the truck OEMs followed suit.”

Seats Inc., in the truck seating market since 1952, likewise early on adopted the air suspension for aftermarket products, says Sales Coordinator Adam Lindoff. “We were also one of the first with the isolator,” he says, referring to the feature that allows modern seats to glide back and forth with the truck’s movement to reduce shoulder stress.

Germany-headquartered Isringhausen enhanced the air ride suspension by introducing an automatic weight-adjustment feature to improve many European rides in 1979. Since entering the North American market in the 1980s, the company’s seats have focused on becoming a “Mercedes of seats,” says Sales and Marketing Coordinator Kristin Griffin.

The company’s 6860 series seat, introduced last year, is an upgrade from the 6800 series, says technical support representative Rick Short. It offers shoulder position adjustment plus “a quick air release so the driver can get in and out of the truck without the seat pushing him out of the door, seat cushion movement, six overall seat adjustments and seat frame tilt,” as well as an isolator, he says.

Shocks in the 6860′s suspension allow the user to “adjust the dampening of the suspension,” says Short, to prevent the bottoming out he remembers as a driver in the ’80s and early ’90s, when air suspensions would “bounce you off the ceiling.”

Most premium seats now come with most of these features, plus a wide base and cushion. In the ’90s, says Lindoff, Seats Inc.’s XLT seat expanded to a 21-inch cushion from 18 inches, a former industry standard. “We’re 22 inches now,” he adds, and the seat back is the same width. Some manufacturers increased the width to 23 inches and 24 inches to accommodate larger drivers.

Also in the ’90s, says CVG/National’s Vice President of R&D Logan Mullinix, National retuned its seat “to better compensate for the vibrations coming through the floor. Compared to most seats, we’re reducing vibrations 40 percent.” Some seats, Mullinix says, “actually amplify the vibration slightly” by carrying it through springs or other parts of the frame into the driver.

National Seating’s extra-width high-performance base and seat is standard on the Freightliner Cascadia and International ProStar.

Enhanced comfort and styling
With the basics of a fine seat – extra width, more durable foam, enhanced air suspensions, various adjustments – entrenched in many manufacturers’ products, the focus now is toward durability and comfort. Griffin says the slow economy has prompted drivers to choose carefully.

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