In an industry increasingly looking to replicate the automotive look and feel,
OEMs in the off-highway and construction and agricultural equipment industries
need to deliver equipment that provides the necessary performance, productivity
and cost-effectiveness in a package that meets the expectations of a wide range
of end users in terms of design and ease of use. For that, they look to the
support of suppliers like Southco who listen to the leading industry players to
deliver product sets that meet those needs.

With modern cabs already delivering features such as air conditioning, multi-
positional seating, glove box and storage compartments – even stereo systems –
Southco is now working with the leaders in the industry to take the off-
highway/construction and agricultural vehicles even closer to its road-going
counterparts by offering a single source, single key solution.

Describing the advantages, Southco Transportation Business Manager Gerry
Gomez explains: “In a car, all of the locks and latches are designed to be
operated by the same key as the ignition. In the off-highway industry, vehicles
traditionally have a plethora of different locks. This can include the latches for
cab access, various access covers on the chassis and storage compartments and
glove boxes within the cab. We have developed the capability to offer key code
flexibility, the ability to design the various lock cylinders around the ignition key
and effectively deliver the same single key solution for the off-highway industry
as we do for the automotive industry.”

If it sounds so simple, why isn’t everyone doing it? Gomez: “Any typical vehicle
will have a number of different latch types – slam latches, draw latches, pawl or
compression latches – with the designers cherry picking from different
manufacturers’ ranges. The latch normally determines the key, so the end user
has a number of different keys to contend with. We have turned that situation
round because we have the capability to manufacture all of those different latches
types.   We can, therefore, engineer the lock cylinders to the same key profile, no
matter what type of latch the customer wants. We can also provide the latch
with or without the lock plug so that the OEM or dealer can customise the latch
with their own lock plug to provide the level of security that they require. Whilst
the idea of one key is not unique, we are the only manufacturer capable of taking
the concept over the whole range of latches.”

The single key access solution offers the ultimate in user-friendliness for the
vehicle operator but its impact goes far beyond simple convenience. Gomez:
“One of the main benefits of this key code flexibility is security. Vehicle owners
can determine the level of flexibility or security they want. For maximum
versatility and operator efficiency where drivers have to change regularly from
one vehicle to another, fleet managers may opt for a single key across their
whole range of vehicles. Others may wish to restrict some areas of access, for
example, only giving the driver access to those functions necessary for normal
operational needs.”

Gomez: “With the ultimate scenario, we could see fleet owners having their own
exclusive master key for all their vehicles, no matter who the manufacturer is.
This would offer maintenance teams total convenience – they would not have to
store masses of different keys, ensuring that they were correctly labelled and
there would never be the problem of an engineer turning up on site with the
wrong keys. The time saving would be enormous. We are already working with
the leading manufacturer in the industry to provide single key solutions and the
feedback from the market is excellent. It is where the market wants the
manufacturers to go next and as cabs are being re-designed to meet changing
environmental regulations it is a feature that will become more and more

Southco sees the key-coding flexibility as being just the first step. Already the
company is working on the electro-mechanical latching system concept in
response to market demand and anticipates offering systems to operate both
compression and slam action latches. Gerry Gomez: “Truck manufacturers have
got there already and the off-highway industry is equally keen to be able to
incorporate these features. With different types of actuators such as a key fob,
we will be able to offer lock/unlock and latch/unlatch functions in whatever
combinations the customer wants.”

As the leading global manufacturer of engineered access products, Southco is
uniquely positioned to provide the ultimate in single sourcing solutions. A
dedicated vertically integrated manufacturing facility enables the company to
carry the single key concept through its full range of latch types, matching this
with the ability to supply global management of keycode flexibility. Gomez:
“Off-highway is a truly global industry with manufacturers focusing production of
different vehicle types in different facilities worldwide. To be able to offer single
key solutions to customers purchasing mixed fleets, they need a supply partner
like Southco who can match their global capability.”

As a proven supplier to the off-highway industry, Southco champions a close
working partnership with its customers, offering a high level of technical and
commercial programme management delivered with full service capabilities. This
encompasses concept development, CAD design and FEA, prototyping and testing
through to final production and subsequent product launch support with engineer-
to-engineer connectivity that makes Southco a virtual engineering extension of its
customer’s organisation.

With design and manufacturing facilities in the USA, UK and Asia and an
authorised distribution network in 23 countries, the company’s key account
managers can utilise any of these sites to provide OEMs with seamless global
integration wherever their manufacturing bases are.

Gomez concludes: “Our experience across a wide range of automotive industries
helps us to spot the trends. The influences of the car industry are getting
stronger in off-highway: ten years ago it would have been regarded as being
crazy to put air conditioning in cabs. Automotive design thinking has arrived and
the single-key solution is the obvious next step on the road to maximum user-
friendliness and operational efficiency.”

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