"Visibility is something you may initially think of in regards to safety. [You need to] know your surroundings so when you back up, you don't hit anything," says Lemke. "But visibility is also key for comfort so that at the end of the day, you're not strained."
Purchasing a machine with near 360° visibility is important, adds Zupancic. "It will reduce the amount of body stretching and neck turning," he says.
A machine with lift arms that rest lower can prevent overexertion. "It keeps the operator's head above the linkage. He doesn't have to strain to see over the side," says Zupancic. "And when doing reverse operations, selecting a machine that doesn't have high rear towers will minimize stress. Finding a machine with arms that rest low in relationship to where the operator sits will help reduce operator discomfort. Being able to see the bucket cutting edge without having to lean far forward is also important."
Keep it quiet
Noise is another indirect factor related to operator comfort. "High noise levels in the cab are physically tiring," says Zupancic. "It's difficult to harness and reduce the noise level because basically you're sitting on the engine compartment. But the industry is doing a lot to reduce it."
Most standard noise reduction packages include sound absorption materials, such as foam and padding strategically placed throughout the cab and in the engine compartment. Some manufacturers also offer noise reduction kits that can be retrofit onto existing machines.
Additional noise reduction methods are also available from some manufacturers. In the case of John Deere, its optional package includes noise reduction for the hydraulics, which brings decibel levels down into the low 80s, compared to the mid-80s for its standard package. "To dampen hydraulic noise, we use something called a hydraulic attenuator," says Zupancic. "It's like a muffler for the hydraulics. It significantly reduces the hydraulic whine that a loader puts off when using multiple functions at the same time."
Bobcat mounts a stiffening rim on the outside of the cab to minimize vibrations, which can contribute to noise. And ASV incorporates a pusher fan that pushes air away from the back of the machine, instead of a puller fan that blows air and engine noise back into the cab. "Having a pusher fan cuts down on the noise from the operator's standpoint," says Lemke. "We also work with our engine manufacturer to keep the noise level down for outside noise.
"On louder machines, people can wear ear muffs, but they aren't comfortable," he notes. "Operators would just as soon not wear them. They like to listen to their iPods or music and they can't do that if they're wearing ear muffs or ear plugs."
The overall operating experience
Many manufacturers have also added "convenience" features that may not directly affect operator comfort, but certainly enhance the operating experience. While too numerous to mention all of them, they include interior dome lights to extend the work day; cargo nets to hold small tools and notes; and 12-volt receptacles for cell phones, small air compressors and laptop computers. Anti-theft packages offer peace of mind, and hydraulic quick connectors can hook and release attachments at the push of a button.
"Basically, operators can stay in their machines longer and be more productive without having to stop work in undesirable conditions," says Zupancic.
"Some of these convenience and peace-of-mind features may not necessarily enhance operator comfort directly," adds Fitzgerald. "But they allow the operators to do their work more easily and focus on what they're supposed to be doing."