“We stock well over $1 million in fabric,” Cohen said. “The reason is orders will fall from the sky.”
Each bus model, maker and purchaser has different needs and constraints. Because of the customizations welding must mostly be done by human workers in order to make various models. Some robotic welders are used for common repetitive welds.
Cohen said some agencies like AC Transit in California and MTA in New York City are now opting for hard plastic seats because some riders view them as cleaner and can wipe them down with a baby wipe before they sit down. He said they also lower the cost of the seats.
“Not only does it lower the upfront cost, but the cost of maintenance,” he said. “Fabric is going to wear out. This isn’t going to wear out. This is going to last forever.”
Orders ebb and flow at Freedman, but Cohen said an average of 175 bus sets per month are being shipped out. Freedman only supplies to companies in the U.S. and Canada, Cohen said, because it’s bulky to ship the product and the cost of labor is less overseas.
Freedman puts information out to its workers with department layout, quality policies, tracking safety, it’s policy on keeping the factory organized and quality tracking. Cohen said the company tracks a lot of metrics, but key are on time delivery and complaints.
“We track complaints whether they’re generated by a customer or the partnership,” he said. “A complaint is a complaint.”
Quality is taken so seriously at Freedman, that seating is thoroughly tested under various conditions. In the testing area a setup designed to fit a particular bus model’s wall and track test complete assembly to see how it will hold up during the life of the bus.
“What we can do is we can dial in the harmonic frequency of the bus,” Cohen said. “So we know that this bus, we know what the frequency of the bus is and we can dial that in so we can test and simulate what it’s like to be in a bus for five, 10 years. We can see if any bolts are going to loosen, any welds are going to fail, any joints that are going to crack.”
Engineers at Freedman are even working on complex issues, such as seat belts on heavy duty transit buses in order to accommodate those asking for them. Seat belts are tested for failure by loading and holding them at 5,000 pound of force and new seat belt designs are tested to stop them from wearing folding seats by having them open and close 50,000 times to see what wear occurs.
“We’re the only company in North America that offers seatbelts for seats on heavy-duty transit,” Cohen said.
But putting seat belts into a bus isn’t an easy task. Cohen said seeing as there’s no law for seatbelts for vehicles more than 10,000 pounds, there’s no standard to build the unit to, so it’s build to like it’s for a car. When doing that it means the bus builder has to make sure the vehicles holds the load of the belt, which may mean track adjustments or other modifications, which can add significant costs.
“The other part is, when you put seatbelts on, what about the standees,” he said. “Every solution begs 200 questions.”
Two companies, one misson
Cohen said Freedman seating has been making seats for companies like FedEx and UPS, along with small and midsize buses. Then about a decade ago, it decided to get into the heavy duty transit market and found one of its competitors, USSC Group, was also looking to break into that market.
Eventually the two companies started talking and then started a joint venture known as 4One. Since its inception, the company went from zero to 50 percent market share with steady growth continuing annually.
USSC handles direct sales while both companies handle OEM responsibilities while both use their strengths to succeed.
“Taking our manufacturing and engineering ability and ability to build stuff and deliver on time and USSC’s ability to make contact with the customer, understand the customer’s needs and marry that with what we can do has been the big thing,” Cohen said.
Although both companies have done rail projects in the past, Cohen and Melleady said they will continue to focus on the bus market because of the length associated with rail project and the delays accompanying them.