Narrower roads, wider design options

Jon Lawson

In Singapore, the country’s civil defence force has launched a radical line of new-age fire trucks, to replace the conventional box shape. Designed for narrow urban streets, the vehicles look more like a rugged SUV than a traditional truck. But, what does this unique re-design tell us about forthcoming changes for the wider emergency vehicle industry? Roger Brereton of steering system manufacturer, Pailton Engineering investigates.

Singapore’s cutting-edge re-model of the traditional fire truck design still has enough space to fit five people and a completely integrated compressed air foam pump system. So, does this launch mark the end of the conventional fire truck for the rest of the world? Probably not. But it does show that emergency vehicles can break conventions and still be fully functional.
City streets are getting slimmer — much to the dismay of emergency vehicle drivers. Anyone who lives in a city has witnessed large fire engines struggling to squeeze through traffic on narrow streets, potentially losing valuable seconds in a high-stake callout. Singapore’s redesign has been developed to solve this problem.
Back in 2014, firefighters called for wider roads to be built in San Francisco, California. The government publicly opposed this, arguing for narrower, safer streets. While this may seem counterintuitive, they argued that wider urban streets encourage faster driving and lead to deadlier collisions.
Interestingly, research backs up this argument. A study by civil engineer Dewan Karim on intersections in Toronto and Tokyo found that lower crash rates were linked to lanes measuring 10 to 10.5 feet in width, compared with 12 feet wide lanes.
Narrower roads get the thumbs up from government, leaving vehicle manufacturers reconsidering emergency vehicle design. After all, a fire truck normally measures between seven-to-nine feet wide, which on a 10-foot-wide road, leaves little room for error. What’s more, it isn’t just road width that is causing issues. Higher volumes of traffic and excessive on road parking can also cause problems for emergency vehicles when navigating domestic roads.
As shown in Singapore, emergency vehicle manufacturers are redesigning vehicles to meet modern demand — not only to streamline the size of vehicles, but also to improve manoeuvring and agility.
To achieve this, chassis designers in the emergency vehicle sector are turning to custom parts suppliers, to help them produce more compact and agile emergency vehicles than ever before, with no compromise to functionality and ergonomics.  
Of course, in this highly regulated industry, a complete redesign of an emergency vehicle cannot happen over-night. One subtle change to the vehicle chassis or steering system could have huge implications to a vehicle’s performance, if not carefully considered and validated.  
As vehicle manufacturers take on new design projects with challenging space-saving specifications, mass-produced vehicle parts won’t suffice. Instead, chassis designers should work closely with bespoke steering parts suppliers that can design, manufacture and test parts specifically for the emergency vehicle project.
Manufacturers of new or niche vehicle concepts will also depend on lower-volume orders of parts, which may not meet the minimum order volumes of some large well-known part suppliers. Pailton Engineering, a specialist manufacturer of steering systems, has a low-volume cell specifically for orders like these.
New-age emergency vehicle concepts, like the Singapore example, may address the problems associated with narrow streets, but as with any new design concept, access to flexible design options will make or break any ambitious project. When sourcing parts, choose experts that already have a good track-record working with non-standard specifications and offer complete design flexibility.   

Click here to read more from Pailton, considering data use in steering system design for the military.


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