Getting up in the air is easier than ever, thanks to the wide selection of elevating work platforms available today.   

Aerial equipment provides the fastest, most efficient and safest way to raise personnel, tools and material to elevated working heights, and there is an aerial device suited for virtually every kind of overhead construction and maintenance requirement.

“The selection, versatility and quality of lift equipment available today has never been higher,” said Jim Glazer, president of Elliott Equipment Co.

Job conditions dictate which type and size of equipment is best. Basic specifications to consider include lift capacity, maximum height, size of the platform, transport width and height, turning radius, smooth-slab or rough-terrain capability, reach of boom models, and total machine weight.  

For working inside buildings, equipment choices include simple vertical lifts with small platforms that extend straight up from the base; self-propelled telescoping boom lifts can be moved while platforms are extended; articulating boom lifts with telescoping multi-section booms with individually-controlled pivot points provide up-and-over capabilities to access areas other equipment cannot reach; scissor lifts have larger platforms and can support heavier loads than other aerial devices. 

For outside projects, all-terrain telescoping boom lifts and scissor lifts are available. For transmission and distribution work, bucket trucks come in a wide range of models, the largest able to take workers to heights exceeding 100 feet.

“In addition to getting personnel to the work area safely,” said Glazer, “manufacturers are designing equipment to reduce set-up time and have added a number of dedicated accessories in the work platform and on the vehicle to help get work done faster.”

Platform accessories available include electric and welding packages, work lights, pressure washers and more. Lines to operate accessories run from the base of the unit on the chassis through cable carriers, so the lines are protected, don’t get tangled and are always accessible at the platform.

Self-contained lift equipment

The maneuverability, stability and ease of operation of these versatile machines can increase production by enabling personnel to work more efficiently. They elevate quickly, eliminating time spent assembling scaffolding. Workers don’t have to climb up and down structures or ladders while attempting to carry tools and materials. To move to a new location, self-propelled models simply are driven to the next spot.

Small machines are powered by electric motors operating off rechargeable batteries. Larger equipment is available with gasoline, diesel and dual-fuel (gasoline/propane) engines. Because liquid propane emissions are cleaner than those from gas or diesel engines, they are well-suited for indoor projects.

“Many of the DC machines will run a full shift or more on a charge,” said Scott Owyen, product manager, Genie Industries. “Bi-energy machines allow the lift to operate on DC while working indoors and then recharge the batteries with the built-in diesel-powered generator while traveling from building to building. Dual-fuel machines allow the operator to switch from gas to LPG on the fly, effectively doubling the work cycle of the machine between fuelings.”

Howard Kaplan, vice president for product and market development at JLG Industries Inc., said there is a trend today toward more integrated tools for work platforms to enhance productivity, operator comfort, job-site effectiveness and operator convenience.

Lift companies also are moving toward targeting models for specific trades, especially professions such as electrical contracting, said Leigh Sparrow, senior vice president for sales and distribution for UpRight Inc.

“Narrow widths allow easier passage through doors,” he explained. “Together with lighter gross weights, this compactness allows the self-propelled lift to go into areas not previously possible. Boom-style outreach is now available in an ultra-compact, lightweight package, great for electricians reaching over obstacles, even if it is just reaching over material left in the way.”

The biggest improvements have come in reliability, optimization and safety, said Genie’s Owyen. “Customers want quality machines that can be utilized in a variety of applications and that can provide a high level of safety.

“For the smaller lifts, the trend is to make them as reliable and efficient as possible. By incorporating proportional controls, variable speed motors, and highly efficient hydraulic systems, the work cycle of these machines haas more than doubled over older models. For the bigger, rough-terrain lifts, the trend is for more power, grade ability, and ‘terrainability.’ High-powered engine packages, rugged high-flotation tires and rock-solid craftsmanship are critical in rough-terrain applications.”

Lifts are among the most popular types of rental equipment with many units rented on a short-term, as-needed basis.

“Rental continues to be the main distribution channel for aerial work platforms,” said Owyen, “and the number and variety of rental channels are expanding every day. The larger rental stores typically maintain a significant inventory of high-utilization equipment. A benefit to users, besides the low acquisition cost, is the extremely high level of service and support provided by the rental stores.”

Tom Stachurski, UpRight vice president of sales and marketing, said some rental stores prefer to rent the core lift product at a basic rate, pricing specialized options separately.  

Truck-mounted equipment

There also are significant changes in the bucket trucks used by electrical and telecommunication service providers and the contractors who serve them.

“Truck-mounted aerial lift products are being mounted on smaller trucks that allow efficient deployment into crowded metropolitan job sites, with minimal impact on traffic flow and the environment,” said Skip Baker, president of Baker Equipment. “Today, 50- to 85-foot truck-mounted aerial lifts are readily available on non-CDL cab-over style chassis. Such products often come with a five-year limited warranty on tower and chassis. Smaller, lighter, chassis installations bring improved tower safety systems, such as basket-load sensing systems. This moves the industry closer to meeting certain international safety standards that are now influencing U.S. standard development.”

Truck-mounted aerial lift designs reflect changing needs of the marketplace, said Paul Rugh, director of special accounts for Time Manufacturing, Inc.

“Utility poles,” Rugh said, “are taller today, and setbacks are farther from roads, so more reach is required. Ten years ago typical working heights were 36 feet; now booms need to reach to 40 or 42 feet. Today’s equipment also has increased basket capacity... linemen seem to carry more tools... so capacity has gone from 300 to 400 pounds.”

Users often want a material-handling option for smaller distribution trucks, said Rugh.

“Jibs and winches are becoming very popular,” he said. “A 17,500- to 19,000-pound GVW truck can be equipped to lift material to 750 pounds and have working heights to 45 feet and is still a relatively compact package.

“With larger units for the transmission end of the market, there is increased interest in machines with 100-foot working heights that mount on conventional tandem-axle chassis. Before, we had to use expensive, custom 4- to 6-axle vehicles. In higher-end transmission aerials, the trend is toward more insulated units because of the demand of power companies to work on energized lines. And combination vehicles with aerial device and a digger derrick that also can accommodate buckets are popular.”

For stability, torsion bars are replacing outriggers.

“Outriggers require time to position and take up space,” said Rugh. “Torsion bars eliminate those issues. Two torsion bars may be necessary to stabilize equipment with the increased lifting capacities in demand today.”

The usefulness of bucket trucks is not limited to utility work.

“Many contractors working on the outside of buildings could very well be using aerial devices mounted on trucks,” said UpRight’s Stachurski. “Electrical lighting jobs around buildings could be completed with telescopic and articulated boom lifts. They provide basket rotation to position the worker close to the work and provide workers with a sturdy feel in the basket in order to get work done efficiently and with confidence.”

Truck-mounted aerial equipment usually is owned or leased, rather than rented. EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net