HICKORY, N.C. — HSM is developing a new school bus seat that will be lighter, more durable and more ergonomic than current models, a company executive said in an exclusive interview with SBF.
Tony Everett, HSM’s vice president of transportation solutions, described the product in the works as “the next generation” of school bus seating. Beyond the more practical features mentioned above, Everett said that the new seat will also be cosmetically improved.
“We want it to be a sexy school bus seat — we want it to be cool,” he said, also noting that keeping the cost low is a priority.
According to Everett, HSM hopes to unveil the new seat in 2015.
Product innovation has been a major focus for HSM (formerly known as Hickory Springs Manufacturing), particularly as it has undergone a transformation that has included the acquisitions of school bus seating product suppliers Triad Fabco and the C.E. White Co. (Everett was the president and CEO of the latter company before joining HSM.)
The epicenter of development at HSM is its new Corporate Innovation and Technology Center. The 40,000-square-foot facility houses design teams that include about 35 program managers, engineers, and research and development directors. Also in the center are testing equipment, pressure point and mapping technology, and a 3D printer for creating prototype parts.
HSM, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, has adopted a procedure called “Adaptive Innovation Management.” Potential products go through five phase-gates: discovery, product requirements, concepts, prototype and launch. Each phase includes a “go,” “no go” or “redirect” decision on the product.
Last year, HSM launched an innovative new product for the school bus market: a portable child restraint system that folds into a carrying case for storage and transport when not in use.
Everett said that the response to the portable child restraint system has exceeded the company’s expectations.
“It has been a phenomenal launch … The customer feedback is that they like the storage and portability of the product,” Everett said. “We’ve actually evolved it. We’re in generation three already, based on customer feedback.”
HSM also offers lap-shoulder belt seats for school buses through the C.E. White brand. Belted school bus seating has long been a contentious topic in the industry, but Everett said that one of the initial objections — bus capacity loss — has been addressed, and another major hurdle — the additional cost of the belted seats — is currently being addressed.
“We’re dramatically cutting the cost of manufacturing them as volume increases,” Everett said. “Mark my words: There will be a point in time when we will be able to offer a securement package [for school bus seats] for the same price as a non-securement package.”