Truck-mounted aerial lift equipment is the fastest, most efficient and safest way to raise workers, tools and equipment to work on aerial power transmission and distribution systems and overhead telecommunications plants.

Mobility, stability and ease of operation describe the latest truck-mounted lifts. Today’s models can go higher, reach farther and offer options that make them much more versatile than the early “cherry pickers” introduced more than 50 years ago.

Terry VanConant, manager of Terex Utilities, said two things come immediately to mind when tracing the evolution of aerial lift equipment: a focus on work-crew efficiency and safety.

Designs of truck-mounted aerial lift equipment have adapted to meet changing needs, said Paul Rugh, director of special accounts for Time Manufacturing Inc.

“Many utility poles are taller than in the past, and setbacks are farther from roads, so more reach is required,” Rugh said. “Ten years ago, typical distribution working heights were 40 feet, now booms need to reach to 45 feet or more. Lift equipment also has increased basket capacity—linemen seem to carry more tools and equipment today—so typical capacities have gone up.”

There are several basic specifications used to classify truck-mounted lift equipment, said Jim Glazer, president of Elliott Equipment Co. The most common are platform height, working height, side reach, boom type (telescopic or articulated), platform size and capacity, material-handling capacity, and gross-vehicle-weight rating (GVWR), among others.

“Elliott units are primarily used for electrical applications,” Glazer said. “They are used for work ranging in height from 30 to 153 feet—most often between 50 and 90 feet—with platform capacities of 600 pounds, so two workers can work comfortably. Side reach also is a consideration. In addition, many contractors use truck-mounted cranes with baskets attached to allow them to more cost effectively reach higher work, generally in the construction phase.”

Telescoping booms have multisection assemblies that provide a wide range of motion, including horizontal reach to allow platforms to go out and up.

Articulating booms consist of multiple telescoping sections connected at individually controlled pivot points.

Terex’s VanConant said that the types of equipment used in electrical and telecommunications markets are basically very similar because of the need to access overhead work areas and place people into those areas.

He continued: “That being said, there are usually some differences regarding size and specifications between the two user groups, due to varying work practices and environments. For instance, electrical utilities and contractors need to access work areas that are higher on the pole and are usually designed around the ability to lift materials, such as transformers, up to the work area for construction purposes. Therefore, special attention is paid to the material-handling aspect of the equipment. Equipment for the telecommunications industry, on the other hand, is usually smaller and can be mounted on more-maneuverable chassis.”

Glazer said major changes in the evolution of Elliott equipment include smoother controls, simplification of design throughout, the elimination and improvement of fittings, improved access for serviceability, and other features to improve operator efficiency.

“In addition,” he said, “chassis have increasingly grown more oriented to the user, with increased demand for higher horsepower, automatic transmission and other user amenities.”

According to VanConant, the growing emphasis on height has driven equipment designs.

“And, there has always been an emphasis on safety and safety-oriented equipment designs and, rightfully, it will continue to be one of the driving forces in this business,” VanConant said.

Rugh said that on smaller units without material-handling capabilities, torsion bars are replacing outriggers, which speed set up time and don’t take up work space needed for outriggers.

For larger models needed by the transmission segment of the market, users like equipment that can reach to 100-foot-plus working heights and be equipped with jibs and winches and still fit on a tandem-axel chassis. Because power companies cannot afford to shut down service during work, the need for insulated units is growing to permit personnel to work on energized lines.

Many contractors also want material-handling options.

“Jibs and winches are very popular,” Rugh said. “A 17,500- to 19,000-pound GVWR truck can be equipped to lift material weighing up to 750 pounds and have working heights to 45 feet and still be a relatively compact package. Vehicles that provide dual work functions, such as those with digger derricks that can accommodate personnel too are popular, because they can function both as a personnel lift and digger derrick.”

According to VanConant, “Larger trucks usually are designed for material handling, that is the ability to lift construction materials, transformers, insulators, etc., to the work area. Also, crews are needing the ability to use power tools at the boom tip so hydraulic power in the basket is pretty much a standard option in today’s market.”

Glazer said, “Attachments we offer are diggers, winches, various platform sizes (up to 16 feet long) and platform accessories, including material handling, welders, air, electric and hydraulic lines, rotating platforms, and others. These are very popular as they add to productivity and ease of setup.”

Changes in distribution vary among manufacturers.

“Five years ago, the Terex sales channel was mostly through independent distributors,” said VanConant. “Today, we work direct with the customer in 66 percent of the contiguous U.S. and through independent distribution in the other one-third. We are also working through independent distribution in Canada, Mexico and in other countries around the world.”

Glazer said that in general there have been no major changes in the distribution channels in Elliott’s class of equipment in the past few years.

“Our products are sold to end-users using independent dealers,” he said. “This gives us a strong local sales and service presence. In addition, we make our engineers and factory staff available upfront to assist in the equipment-specification process and after the unit is manufactured for service and support questions.”

Rugh said most lift-equipment sales originate with the manufacturer or its distributors—few are initiated from chassis dealers, but distribution channels are changing.

“Time still sells primarily through dealers,” he said. “But with consolidation in the utility markets creating larger entities, the trend is to buy in larger volumes, and many times purchasers want to deal directly with the factory. Many times large buyers provide their own vehicles and the lift company installs aerial equipment. Smaller contractors often take advantage of the lift equipment company’s buying power to purchase chassis, or they may specify what brand of vehicle they want, or that trucks come from a dealer in their area. All lift manufacturers have working relationships with truck providers.”

Terex maintains very strong relationships with all of the chassis manufacturers including the specialized track-vehicle manufacturers.

VanConant said: “We have to continue these relationships so we can remain ahead of the curve from changes in body styles to changes in primary fuel systems. In addition to the chassis manufacturers, we have to maintain relationships with PTO suppliers, transmission people and the list goes on.”

Glazer said that Elliott also maintains excellent working relationships with all major chassis suppliers, both at manufacturer and dealer levels.

“This helps us get engineering support for our application and also support for our customers once their equipment is delivered. We install most of our equipment on the chassis at the factory” Glazer said.

Users of truck-mounted lift equipment purchase, lease and rent equipment.

“It varies and all three are used and make sense depending on the contractor’s financial status, job requirements and a contractor’s business philosophy,” said Glazer. “There are merits to each form of financing. Elliott products are available in each of these channels.”

The more specialized the design of the equipment, the more apt the contractor is to rent or lease.

“It all boils down to efficiency: if the equipment is going to be used to capacity, then contractors will be more inclined to own or lease the equipment. If use will be more sporadic, then rental is usually the norm. That is why Terex continues to offer all channels and options for financing or renting along with outright purchase and combinations thereof,” VanConant said.

Rugh said Time has found that when workloads are heavy, contractors are likely purchase or lease equipment.

“In slow times,” he said, “they have the option of renting, usually with the option to apply rent to buying the equipment. Because this equipment is very specialized, rentals come from companies specializing in lift equipment—conventional equipment rental sources do not carry them. Some manufacturers also have rental and leasing programs.”

Those in the industry agree that the trend of the past 40 years to place more and more outside cable underground has had an effect on the aerial-lift market.

“However, demand for equipment is still increasing,” Glazer said.

The underground market has always been a concern, said VanConant.

“History teaches us that there will probably continue to be overhead lines of some sort,” he concluded. “That doesn’t mean that they will be used the same as they are today but, we believe that overhead lines in one form or another are going to be here for a long time.” EC

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