Specialized Aerial Work Platforms Stretch Makers' Market Share

By Larry Stewart, Executive Editor | September 28, 2010

 

JLG direct electric drive
 

According to JLG, direct electric drive is about 65-percent efficient, compared to 30-percent efficiency from hydraulic drive.

 
MEC AWP with rough-terrain drive system
 

MEC's rough-terrain drive system has three modes, with a Quad-Trax mode that splits oil flow to four separate circuits for all-wheel traction. Each motor senses load, and if one wheel loses contact with the ground, the machines' full power is diverted to the wheels with traction. Model 3072RT can climb 45-percent grades.

 

To Stretch Battery Life

 

The quickest gauge of a scissor lift's duty-cycle range used to be a look at the power ratings of the battery package. Most scissor lifts have battery packs in the 245 ampere-hour range, but that is beginning to change as engineers design more efficient machines with smaller battery packs. Smaller batteries are lighter, which translates to longer duty and lower costs (220 ampere-hour battery packs cost about $250 less than 245 ampere-hour battery packs). And since they aren't storing as much energy, they recharge faster.

To wring more duty cycles from smaller batteries, manufacturers make machines lighter using lighter alloys, by consolidating operating systems to eliminate parts, and by shrinking hydraulic reservoirs. Precision bearings and better machining on scissor pins reduce friction.

Replacing hydrostatic drive with electric drive delivers the greatest improvement in duty cycles because the machine doesn't have to pump fluid to the drive motors. According to JLG, direct electric drive is about 65-percent efficient, compared to 30-percent efficiency from hydraulic drive.

Asking about the number of duty cycles a lift can be expected to run is an informative purchasing guideline, but remember that there are no standard tests for duty cycles. Duty cycles for scissor lifts range between 30 and 150 cycles. Long-cycle machines will not only work more between battery charges, but they will also power various accessories such as welders, lights or DC-to-AC inverters for electric tools for a longer period of time.



 

 

Aerial-work-platform sales have grown enough to accommodate manufacturers competing for niche users with specialized machines. A growing percentage of aerial-work platforms are sold with accessories that outfit them specifically for the work that they will be doing. Certainly the addition of generators wired to power outlets in the platform has become a staple. But the range of ways to customize a work platform has grown from simple options to the very design of drive systems and capacity of platforms. It's a renaissance that is changing the very nature of aerial-work platforms.

Popularized by JLG's Workstation in the Sky concept and communicated broadly by that company's marketing might, several manufacturers are counting on innovative features designed around the needs of specific trades such as iron workers, HVAC installers, glazers, and masons to distinguish their products from those of AWP juggernauts capable of going toe-to-toe on the bargaining floor with rental giants who buy most units sold in North America each year.

The Workstation proposition basically says "Tradesmen are using AWPs to lift more than people. They need to put tools and materials up in the air, so why not give them an AWP with some tools they need — a rack for securing glass or handling duct, or a platform that has electrical outlets, a welder, or even a masonry saw — built right in?"

Pursuit of these niche applications is an indication that the market for standard access machines has grown large enough. Large enough to inspire buyers and renters to modify machines to improve safety and productivity in special applications. Large enough to generate the revenue necessary for manufacturers to research and develop niche products. Large enough that some AWP manufacturers are staking their companies' success on specialized products.

Some smaller AWP builders such as MEC and MLE, who live from day to day trying to skirt big marketers' strength in mass-produced lifts, are staking the success of their construction sales on their ability to build machines they can entrench in demanding trades such as steel erection and tilt-up construction.

Man & Material Lift Engineering (MLE), a company that has long specialized in lifts for clean rooms and other manufacturing, recently entered the construction market with a heavy-lifting telescopic AWP line — a 40-foot model that will lift 3,000 pounds and a 60-footer rated to lift 2,000 pounds. MLE sells Quad Lifters (at as much as a 12 percent premium, compared to competitive machines) on the strength of their ability to replace telehandlers and small cranes on some building sites. In fact, to approach the T40MH-3000's capacity at 40 feet of lift height, you have to put a basket on the end of a telehandler.

MLE's accessories are designed to take advantage of a fully functioning personnel lift with tremendous capacity. Extendable material racks, a 1,000-pound winch, or a pair of 500-pound winches actually mount on the basket. Another attachment that replaces the standard platform puts a one-man basket on the back side of a pallet-fork carriage. Operator controls stay up on the end of the boom, with the load being placed.

Quad Lifters come with a multi-capacity load chart that looks like a telehandler's. As with any lifting machine, they give up capacity to remain stable as the load is boomed down (even derated, though, Quad Lifters out-lift competitors). MLE's Load Sensing Platform clearly shows the operator how much weightis on the platform, and MLE president JeffBailey says operators should be trained to use the machines.

These machines are far from run-of-the-mill 40- and 60-foot booms. In fact, MLE created them by mounting a 40-foot boom on their 60-footer's carrier, and a 60-foot boom on their 80-footer's carrier. So you end up with a 60-foot lift that weighs 31,500 pounds and has a nearly 20-foot turning radius to its outside edge.

If restricted work sites and machine weight are issues, Genie's new S-60HC with capacity to lift 1,250 pounds to its 60-foot platform height could be an alternative. Both the Genie and MLE's T60MH-2000 will take their full rated loads out past 40 feet in horizontal outreach. The Genie is a somewhat more conventional machine, though, weighing in at just over 22,000 pounds and turning within an 18-foot radius.

Mechanical contractors, glazers, brick layers, and other trades are often looking to move heavier loads and up to three people into and out of hard-to-reach areas, so the high-capacity booms can be an advantage in certain niches.

Strong commercial construction has created a ground swell of demand for small rough-terrain (RT) scissor lifts that can put tradesmen within reach of three- and four-story work. Contractors need scissor lifts that perform like RT booms on the site before there is a concrete slab or power to recharge batteries to keep pace with building development. That way the same machine can be useful for installing mechanical systems and other interior work as the building is finished. But the scissors must have stowed dimensions that allow them to squeeze through standard double doorways.

The lure of the commercial building market is so great that most key names in scissor-lift manufacture — Genie, Haulotte, MEC, Skyjack — have introduced new RT scissors in the past 18 months. Indeed Skyjack abandoned its venerable differential drive system on its 68RT line to make an RT scissors with 32 feet of platform height, for example, retract down to a 69-inch stowed height. The compact RT scissors use a more conventional hydrostatic drive system, with individual wheel motors plumbed into two circuits uniting drive flow on opposite corners of the machine. Skyjack publishes the machines' theoretical gradeability at 50 percent.

MEC stepped beyond traditional AWP hydrostatics with its Quad-Trax drive system, outfitting its 3072RT and 3772RT scissors withall-wheel traction control powered by a variable-displacement pump. Mid-sized MEC RTs have three drive modes. The first two mirror what's available in most scissor lifts — a series mode that routes hydraulic flow to each wheel motor in turn for fast ground speeds, and a parallel mode that divides oil to two circuits supplying wheel motors on opposite corners. The third, MEC's Quad-Trax mode, splits oil flow to supply four separate circuits. Each motor senses load, and the system can transfer flow to the wheels with the best traction. The 30-foot model 3072RT can handle 45 percent grades.

Early last year, Genie introduced a similar traction-control drive system on its GS-68 RT scissor lift that allows each wheel to work independently of the others. Divider valves were added to isolate flow to each wheel. If one tire loses contact with the ground, the unit maintains 75 percent of its power, the company says. Operators can tackle sites with 35- to 40-percent slopes.

Makers of ultra-compact articulated booms (small enough to fit through a standard single door) are trying to take advantage of the industry's move to rough-terrain mobility. NiftyLift added a 4x4 version of its popular SP34, 34-foot boom, and introduced a 52-foot model to its line — the SP53 4x4 — last summer. The British company also fields a line of four track-mounted articulated booms. Since November, ReachMaster has been distributing two track-mounted articulated booms made by the Italian company, Hinowa. Both makers claim these machines can climb up to 60 percent grades.

While most mass-produced AWPs are being sold today with at least the generator wired to electrical outlets on the platform, it may be a while before any significant percentage of rental outlets can offer you the choice of a plain-ol' 40-foot boom, or a 40-footer with welding terminals in the basket.

If you're a regular AWP renter, it's good to know which options are available to tailor machines to your job so you can ask for the ones that make your rental more productive. For example, don't forget to order self-leveling outriggers if you're using your RT scissor lifts on unimproved surfaces.

If you buy AWPs for routine specialized use, you owe it to your bottom line to have a close look at the options available not only from the big names, but from niche competitors. There are still a lot of brands available, for the time being, and you might find somebody out there building access equipment with features that perfectly suit your needs.

Articulated Boom Aerial-Work Platforms
Manufacturer Number of Models Platform Height Horizontal Reach Up-and-Over Clearance Capacity (lbs.) Weight (lbs.)
Bil-Jax 5 34'5"–50'0" 21'0"–30'6" n/a 300–475 3,112–5,181
Genie 20 29'2"–135'0" 20'6"–69'9" 12'8"–75'6" 500–600 14,220–44,900
Haulotte 7 32'10"–128'0" 21'11"–69'11" 17'3"–54'2" 500–551 13,006–49,613
JLG 30 30'0"–150'0" 20'0"–79'3" 13'1"–80'0" 500–1,000 14,600–58,100
NiftyLift 14 25'3"–63'0" 11'6"–43'4" n/a 265–500 1,870–13,508
Snorkel 3 40'10"–60'0" 23'7.5"–43'1" 16'2"-n/a 500 12,625–24,800
UpRight 1 37'7" 18'4" 17'8.6" 475 7,470

 

Telescopic Boom Aerial-Work Platforms
Manufacturer Number of Models Platform Height Horizontal Reach Capacity (lbs.) Width Stowed Weight (lbs.)
Genie 11 40'0"–125'2" 31'8"–80'0" 500–1,250 7'6"–8'2" 11,650–44,640
Haulotte 6 39'7"–134'0" 34'9"–63'11" 500–790 7'6"–8'1" 13,227–30,522
JLG 13 40'0"–135'0" 29'0"–80'0" 500–2,000 7'6.5"–8'2" 12,525–45,000
MLE 6 40'0"–151'0" n/a-80'0" 500–3,000 5'9"–8'2" 17,500–45,000
Scanlift 3 54'0"–72'0" n/a-36'1" 500–507 6'4" 6,657–9,471
Skyjack 2 40'0"–45'0" n/a n/a n/a n/a
Snorkel 15 37'0"–126'0" 32'0"–71'1.5" 500–600 6'4"–8'6" 6,660–42,150

 

 

Scissor-Lift Aerial Platform
Manufacturer Number of Models Platform Height Capacity (lbs.) Width Stowed Wheelbase Weight (lbs.)
Custom Equipment 1 10'0'' 750 2'6'' n/a 1,175
Genie 17 15'0"–53'0" 500–2,500 2'6"–7'6" 4'4"–9'4" 2,575–16,620
Haulotte 11 14'7"–53'0" 500–1,980 2'5"–7'5" 4'6"–9'1" 2,976–15,070
JLG 12 18'9"–43'0" 500–2,500 2'6"–7'10" 5'3"–9'8" 2,750–15,300
Lift-A-Loft 16 15'0"–31'8" 750–2,250 2'7"–7'10" n/a 1,960–7,650
MEC 9 15'0"–37'0" 500–1,250 2'7.8"–6'0" 4'2"–7'2" 2,700–8,500
Skyjack 18 15'0"–50'0" 500–2,500 2'8"–7'8" n/a 2,400–14,470
Snorkel 7 19'0"–39'10" 500–1,750 2'6"–7'0" 4'6"–7'5.5" 3,040–9,300
UpRight 18 19'0"–30'7" 500–1,300 2'6"–7'0" n/a 3,100–6,540

 

 

To compare the specifications of individual models of articulated-boom and telescopic-boom aerial-work platforms as well as scissor lifts, go to ConstructionEquipment.com.

 


Web Resources
Specifications ConstructionEquipment.com Bil-Jax www.biljax.com
Custom Equipment www.customequipmentlifts.com Genie www.genieindustries.com
Haulotte www.haulotte-us.com JLG www.jlg.com
LDC Industries www.arrowmaster.com/ldc Lift-A-Loft www.liftaloft.com
Man & Material Lift Engineering (MLE) www.manliftengineering.com MEC Aerial Work Platforms www.mecawp.com
NiftyLift www.niftylift.com ReachMaster www.reachmaster.us
Scanlift www.kesla.com Skyjack www.skyjackinc.com
Snorkel www.snorkelusa.com UpRight www.upright.com

 

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