A Healthy Market Means More Aerial Platform Action

March 27, 2015

There was a reason for all of the aerial work platform (AWP) action at the recent American Rental Association (ARA) show, which saw several manufacturers introducing new booms and scissors—and for once it wasn’t all about Tier 4.

It’s the market. A healthy market means new and upgraded models from manufacturers and better choices for fleets.

“We certainly have seen the market come back versus 2009 and 2010,” says Chad Hislop, director of product management for Genie. “We saw some years of really good growth, and now I would say it’s more at a normal rate of growth; not explosive. Still, I’d characterize it as ‘good.’”

Hislop points out that though the oil market is down due to lower crude prices, Genie sees other parts of the market growing, acting to offset oil’s decline. The company experienced a historic revenue peak in 2014, and is expecting 2015 to be about the same.

The many fresh buyers and prospects for AWPs, both on the core-customer rental side and the end-user side, are not hesitating to make their needs known.

Trending: more with less

“We always see a trend to try to go higher, and to try to drive at full height,” Hislop says. “There’s also a call for more outreach, but also for narrower, more compact machines—that’s what everyone asks for.

“Another really big focus is keeping the machine lightweight while still giving you that extra envelope so you can get more height and outreach out of the machine,” Hislop says.

Though the needs sometimes sound mutually exclusive, OEMs are finding ways to make them realities.

One way Genie has addressed the request is with its Z-62/40, unveiled at ARA. The zero-tail-swing unit offers two additional feet of lift height and six more feet of outreach. “We did that without sacrificing machine weight,” Hislop says, “in fact, the machines did get a little bit lighter.”

Recent changes from JLG also speak to the trend.

The company has modified its ES and RT scissor lift lines to reduce weight for certain models, as well as to improve serviceability.

It upgraded the platforms and deck extension surfaces for all ES model scissors to diamond plate steel to enhance strength, durability and serviceability. A locking foot lever has replaced the rail-mounted locking handles for deploying the extension.

Two models, the 2030ES and 2630ES scissors, have been widened from 30 inches to 32 inches, and the model names have been changed to 2032ES and 2632ES. The wider footprint allowed JLG engineers to reduce weight without compromising stability. The result is lighter machines with better weight displacement. In addition, JLG’s entire RT scissor line will now have steel hoods. Steel adds strength and durability, the company says, and is easy to repair if damaged.

“The weight reduction idea is a unique one that came out of a number of voice-of-customer studies that showed that customers are very much in-tune with the fine balance between price, features and life-cycle costs, and how these factors drive the value of the equipment they choose for their fleets,” says Paul Kreutzwiser, JLG Industries category director—global scissors/verticals.

The company debuted two telescopic boom AWPs (400S, 460SJ) and one articulating boom model (450AJ) at ARA. Each machine features an increased platform capacity over previous models, another customer-driven development.

Safety by request

End-users are also getting more specific about safety needs.

“We’re seeing more of a drive toward the ability to exit the platform safely on booms,” Hislop says. “Genie’s had instructions for years on how to exit the platform safely at height, when you tie-off to something outside the platform; the hard part has been there’s not always somewhere to tie-off on every job site.”

As a result, the company is now offering users a fall-arrest bar that can be bolted on to the outside of any 6- or 8-foot Genie platform.

“They can attach the fall-arrest bar to the outside of the platform, hook their lanyard into it, and they can now exit the platform safely, even if they don’t have somewhere off of the platform to tie off to,” Hislop says.

“It’s got a sliding track on the front. The operator really has a large range of motion to get to the side of the basket or the front of the basket, and get the job done but still be safe while doing it.”

Buyers have also been asking for increased overhead protection while operating booms, which the company has addressed two ways: an OPS (Operator Protective Structure), and an OPA (Operator Protective Alarm).

“The OPS bolts onto the platform and actually does go over the operators head—think roll cage,” Hislop explains.

The OPA is a pressure-sensitive bar that goes across the front of the control box, and an alarm on the machine. “It is set up as a secondary protection device; if an operator was to get forced down onto the controller, it stops the function of the machine and sets off an alarm,” Hislop says. Both items are available to fit any 6- or 8-foot platforms.

Advice for buyers

“There are a couple things to think about when you’re starting or buying for a fleet, either as a rental [business] or an end-user,” Hislop says.

“As people, we tend to focus on acquisition price when we look for anything new, but the cost of the machine doesn’t stop at that acquisition price, so the ease of serviceability and then the support that the company selling you the machine can give you can be as important as a low acquisition price,” he says.

For serviceability, Hislop points to the company’s SmartLink control system on its scissor lifts, which provides a readout error code if there is a problem with the machine.

“The readout error code tells you exactly what the issue is, so you spend less time troubleshooting the machine, less time making phone calls to service support, and more time up and working,” Hislop says.

“For example, there may be something lodged under the pothole protection [sensor of a scissor lift], so the machine won’t drive when it’s elevated,” he says. “If you don’t have that easy-to-read error code readout at the base of the machine, you may spend a lot of time calling to get someone to fix the machine when there’s simply something lodged under the pothole protection.

“It’s a really big deal to be able to troubleshoot the machine very quickly and efficiently, because more than 50 percent of the time, we find there’s nothing actually wrong with the machine,” Hislop says. “Rather, there’s a situation that’s easily correctable in order to get that machine up and running.”

Telematics for AWPs

Hislop says his customers are starting to become more interested in telematics.

“They’re using it to plan their milk runs for service,” he says. “If I can see all my machines, I know which ones are at 500 hours and need oil changes. I can plan my service guy to get to those in an efficient manner, instead of just going out and checking hour meters on the machines.”

As earthmovers have already found, AWP owners are discovering there are a ton of choices available.

“The industry is pretty young on telematics right now, and everyone is doing something different,” Hislop says. “So if you own a fleet of machines, not just aerial, you may have several different telematics solutions across your fleet. And that can be troublesome if you’re a fleet owner trying to manage all this data.

“Genie stepped back and said we want to do it differently, so we put in a port—we call it the telematics-ready port—that allows you to plug in whichever telematics system you want to use to get the information out of the machine. So we’re not forcing you to buy our specific telematics brand, pay a monthly service charge to us, or run the data through us,” Hislop says.

“It’s an 8-pin Deutsch connector, so a standard connector, not a proprietary connector, and we share the pinouts for that connector,” Hislop says.

“So they can take any third-party black box—looks like a cell phone with no screen—simply make sure their harness matches the connector, and they can plug right in. There’s a port on every one of our machines so you can plug in your solution, and manage your data and your monthly service plans with that. I see a big focus in being able to manage fleets more appropriately, and telematics is going to be a big part of that,” he says.