Special purpose vehicles are to be customized as much as possible. Unlike general purpose vehicles either personal or trucks firefighting and rescue units must fulfill very specific needs. They depend not only on the region and country, laws, certificates, regulations and norms but also firefighting customs, traditional use, even crew habits and current equipment of a given firefighting station. It requires tailoring products which may be produced as the only piece in the world.
Special vehicle’s manufacturers all over the world differ radically in customization levels. Some world leading manufacturers like Rosenbauer, Ziegler or Magirus offer about 20 types of vehicles which may be customized further on with various external equipment. WISS boast already 641 types of vehicles.
Despite the company’s experience in completed projects with plenty of examples to be applied there are still completely new types of trucks created individually. Some of them are produced in hundreds others individually or in small volumes sometimes for such distant countries like Honduras, Togo, or Greenland.
To ensure high expertise in various areas of special vehicle production WISS Group include 3 large facilities in Poland (2 in Bielsko-Biała – WISS Company and 1 in Koszalin – Bumar-Koszalin) as well as company in Sweden (W. Ruberg AB), Germany (WISS Thoma) and Czech Republic (WISS Czech).
The whole process creation can be divided into 6 stages:
- Identifying customer needs
- Creating design
- External and in-company parts, devices and equipment
- Quality control and testing
- Finished truck delivery, crew training, maintenance & service
1. Identifying customer needs
This stage of the process in never hasty, it takes time. It requires consideration and gathering information. Even for the customers that know exactly what they want there are always a few surprises of what they actually can expect. It’s mainly due to constant new improvements, patents and engineering achievements which change the way firefighting units operate.
2. Creating design
Once customer needs and technical solutions that are to be applied have been identified the chief project engineer decides whether to use an existing project or start a new one. The designing process including specs analysis, creating technical documentation, overview of ISO9001, tests, research, verification and validation of the project takes in average 5 – 12 months and is carried out by team of 5 – 7 people.
Basic data that need to be taken into account are:
- Client’s requirements
- Regulations concerning quality and environmental protection
- Chassis manufacturers requirements
- Norms and regulations required by a client
- Result of technical and financial analysis
- Technical and production capabilities
- Previous experience in designing and production
- Information from Service Department about possible irregularity in previously produced vehicles operations
Based on the findings the project is revised in a joint meeting of leading constructor, chief design manager, project coordinator, export director, sales director and, if possible, the client. As a result a technical documentation is created with construction and technological documentation, spare parts list and a manual.
The designs are differentiated by:
- Chassis manufacturer
- Number of axis and gross vehicle weight rating
- Number of crew members
- Material for the vehicle superstructure
- Extinguishing agent tanks capacity
- Truck-mounted pump performance
- Additional equipment such as high reach extendable turret, sprinkler system, light mast, electricity generator
Virtual 3D model is prepared in Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks based on about 30 years of experience of tens of constructors designing water, foam dosage, control, blinds and superstructure systems. It takes 4 – 6 weeks to prepare construction documentation necessary to start production process.
Even though there is a high level of customization applied to every single vehicle, the manufacturing process for most of them is very predictable as far as the time is concerned. It takes 21 days to create vehicle superstructure with tanks and 30 days to assemble all the systems. Another 3 – 4 days are reserved for all the systems checks. The final stage of production is mounting of the external equipment which usually takes 2 days and is carried out with the client who decides where and how to set it up.
The exceptions are Heavy Airport Crash Tenders which require much more time due to their extreme parameters – f. ex. Felix F800 8×8 Twin Engine 1224 HP, 20 tons of extinguishing agents and 9.000 l/min pomp where the superstructure alone is produced for 90 days. The new type of Felix has taken 2 years to plan, design, construct and test. Such an airport vehicle has to meet a number of special regulations, among others it requires the pomp to operate while the vehicle is still in the move, approaching the fire. It means that at first both engines are used for vehicle moving and traction then one of them engages with pomp and the other follows once the vehicle stops. It requires special mechanical and electronic solutions.
On the other hand, large quantity orders, as for example 550 vehicles for Slovakian Fire Departments, allow for adjusting production line and limiting time from standard 950 hours to just 330.
A vast variety of highly specialized workers allows for manufacturing very sophisticated and unique projects like vehicles for lifting trucks up to 40 tons engaged in the car accidents, water purifying vehicles, military and anti riot vehicles or off-road fire and rescue vehicles which are often produced as just one piece.
4. External and in-company
parts, devices and equipment
There are a number of elements, devices and equipment which are used in WISS vehicles but are purchased from external companies. Starting with cabins, engines, wheels, chassis and gearboxes trough stationary equipment like water cannons, illuminating masts, water equipment and winches to external loose equipment
like snips, enhancers, saws, torches, radio stations, ropes and cones.
There are three major areas covered by in-company production – a truck-mounted pomp – Ruberg –a superstructure made in Poland as well as software to
PLC computers integrating chassis and structural elements in CANbus J1939 system. The software integrates and monitors over 100 parameters which may be adjusted by end-user or sent through a dedicated server to service monitor center. 15 years ago the system was used offline just to volume the pomp performance but today all the parameters are used online for full diagnostics of the vehicles. In that way any abnormality in any system operation is picked up instantly and dealt with online if possible or communicated to end-user.
When using parts, materials and equipment from external companies the documentation is always thoroughly checked ensuring all the norms for a given country or world’s region are met.
5. Quality control and testing
Quality Control tasks may be divided into a few areas – documentation verification, material examining, works examining, equipment and devices testing, clients’ specification verification. Special vehicles are obliged to meet a lot of external and internal standards, norms, certificates and regulations. All of them are crucial and must be checked before the design and construction takes place. At each stage of the process of making the vehicle there are 7 inspectors going through their check-lists. Raw material quality controls are selective others must include every single item. Apart from the standard procedures inspectors perform random examinations which sometimes exclude human errors and sometimes contribute to improvement of the existing quality procedure.
The controls are performed with 0 1 system which means that there is no room for uncertainty – either the part, system, device fully works or it needs to be replaced.
Additionally there are quality control checklists/cards filled by each assembly worker. At this stage also overall esthetics is verified according to silicon, glue and other finishing materials internal standards.
Most of the vehicle systems and production stages require between 50 – 100 points to be checked. However the clients’ specification may include as few as 15 points but sometimes as many as 1249.
Testing and quality control is crucial considering the vehicles are delivered presently to 46 countries all over the
world, on 4 continents. The repairs are very expensive so the vehicles are built to be extremely reliable, immune to human error and monitored by online systems to ensure that any abnormality which may be a sign of future failure is dealt with beforehand.
6. Finished truck delivery, crew training, maintenance & service
The manufacturing process always includes active participation of clients. They specify their needs, accept designs, examine production especially equipment stage. Between formal reception of the vehicle by client and crew training there is often a time gap for the transportation which in some cases for example Marocco due to its ports procedures, takes as much as over a month. 90 percent of the international training is performed at the client premises the rest at WISS premises. This process includes instruction on the devices, systems operations but also deals with crew previous habits and customs.
Thanks to a state-of-the-art WService system over 100 parameters of the vehicles are monitored in real time to ensure reliability of the units and safety of the crews. The data are available at the Monitor Center as well as at clients’ control centers.
The special purpose vehicles are built to withstand extreme conditions, human error and time. They must work reliably not for 5 or 10 years, but maybe 25 or even 40. Most of the vehicles produced by WISS since 1993 are still in service today. Some have undergone renovations and upgrades, some not. To ensure high quality control and constant innovations the company is building large Research and Development Center in Poland which will cost 10 million dollars.
For more information, go to www.wiss.com.pl