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Sitting can sometimes be the hardest part of any ride, whether for pleasure or work. Take motorcycles, for example. The thrill of open air riding gets a bit diminished if the seat soon makes your posterior yearn for a parking spot. A comfortable seat is absolutely essential to a successful riding experience. Here’s just one report on how Wisconsin-based seat manufacturer Milsco helps achieve rider nirvana for the 2015 Indian Roadmaster, as Bryan Harley of Motorcycle USA recounts his wife’s passenger experience: – the plush seats gets a big thumbs up. It’s ultra comfortable with plenty of room side-to-side and front-to-back. After a couple of hundred miles she experiences no saddle-soreness, comparing comfort levels to “riding in a car”– the backrest was equally comfortable and supported her back properly.
Such results are not surprising considering that Milsco has been making motorcycle seats since 1934 when it developed the first Buddy Seat for Harley-Davidson (a relationship that continues some 80 years later). What might be surprising is that Milsco furnishes the same relaxing and restful seating quality to a variety of work and utility vehicles. For example, the Consumer Reports review of the new 2015 Cub Cadet lawn tractors notes that the Milsco-supplied, contoured, high-back seat is comfy and key to an overall ergonomic design that takes into account how someone actually fits into the vehicle.
In fact, Milsco designs and makes seating solutions in four major market segments—motorcycles, turf care (e.g., riding lawnmowers), heavy industry (e.g., construction and agricultural utility vehicles) and power sports (e.g., ATVs, golf carts and UTVs). It produces more than three million seats annually in more than 200 unique product variations exclusively for these OEM customers. “We compete against various companies in each of these segments, but Milsco is the only manufacturer that supplies seats to all four of these markets,” notes Fred Rheinlander, vice president of sales and business development.
Milsco president Srivas Prasad points out that, “To a certain extent, a seat is a seat regardless of industry application. We manufacture two basic kinds of seats, static and suspension. The major difference is that with a static seat, the vehicle suspension absorbs the impact of vehicle movement, while with a suspension seat the seat suspension mechanism takes on the vibration and loads, in addition to the vehicle suspension. A suspension seat is therefore more comfortable, and also more expensive, than a static seat.”
Which isn’t to say it is necessarily better. “It depends on the application,” Rheinlander notes. “For vehicles that are not exposed to rough surface conditions or where someone isn’t going to be sitting for long periods, a static seat is perfectly fine. But you wouldn’t want a static seat where someone is working in a piece of construction equipment like a Compact Wheel loader for several hours.
There is, however, a lot more to seat manufacture than just whether it is static or suspension. “The seat is very much a part of brand identity. It’s a way to use design and color, as well as fit, to differentiate your product from everyone else’s,” Prasad explains. “As an example, John Deere makes a line of industrial grade tractors and heavy equipment, but also sells to consumers through retailers such as Home Depot and Lowes. The seat is essential to establishing the John Deere brand. It’s one of the first things consumers focus on when they see a tractor on display. And what is one of the first things they are going to do? Sit on it. First impressions make lasting impressions.”
Also, there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf seat. “We either make the seat to customer specifications or customers ask us to design seats appropriate to particular vehicles,” Rheinlander notes. “Even in the case of built-to-orders, it’s not unusual for us to go back to the customer and suggest design changes that are better suited to the vehicle and the application to improve comfort and usability. We utilize both predictive modeling and our years of industry experience to help the customer develop a comfortable solution.”
With the exception of a small number of seats it stocks for the turf care market based on sales projections, Milsco practices Just in Time (JIT) inventory. “We have a continuous improvement program and we’re always looking at ways to reduce waste and more effectively utilize our supply chain,” Rheinlander says.
Milsco also designs all its products in-house. “Our aim is to be as flexible as possible to accommodate customer needs. Even though we are talking about a mass market product, there’s a lot of customization that goes into each product line in terms of achieving a proper balance between affordability and performance for a specific application,” Rheinlander notes. “We’re looking to reflect the voice of the customer in terms of comfort, practicality, durability and brand identity.”
Phoenix and VersaStyle™
Case in point are two new Milsco seating lines. The Phoenix is a next generation static seat for the residential turf car market. Seats in the VersaStyle line are the first to offer Milsco’s new innovative and propriety mechanical and air suspension systems. Standard features include backrest adjustment, lumbar control options and an intelligent ride indicator. Option features include a backrest extension, heated seats and logo.
There are four VersaStyle models aimed at specific industry applications:
- VersaCompact™(replaces the 5300 seat) used in compact construction, material handling and commercial turf care;
- Versa Z static seat used in zero turn radius mowers;
- VersaMax™ used in mid-range construction equipment;
- VersaPremium™ used in heavier agricultural and construction equipment.
“Product innovation is a cornerstone in Milsco’s strategic priorities and the new Phoenix and VersaStyle lines exemplify that commitment,” Rheinlander says. “These seats are the result of extensive research that included benchmarking products available in the global marketplace, studying market trends and industry requirements and asking our customers to list all the qualities they wish for in a seat. Extensive field testing validates these products as world-class and establish a new benchmark in performance, durability and comfort.”
Milsco is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., with additional locations in Redgranite, Wis.; Jackson, Mich.; Thomson, Ga.; Merida, Mexico; Nuneaton, United Kingdom; and Aurangabad, India. The company has overall 500,000 square feet of production capacity. It employs roughly 900.
Although about 80 percent of sales are in support of North American markets, the company has a presence in Europe and shares manufacturing space through parent Jason Inc. “Our intent is to support our customers that have global operations,” Prasad notes. “In fact, Harley-Davidson India recently honored Milsco with a supplier recognition award for our work related to the Harley-Davidson Street™ 500 and Street™ 750 motorcycles. The award noted our ability to provide the highest level of customer service while ensuring outstanding quality, competitive cost and on-time delivery of seating solutions for Harley-Davidson motorcycles launched in India.”