As long as people who design institutional and commercial buildings emphasize form over function — as they have so often for decades — aerial work platforms will remain essential tools in maintenance and engineering departments. Managers looking to rent or buy lifts generally have a series of standard questions about cost, training, and safe operations, but the conversation with a manufacturer or rental agency generally starts with a different issue.
"Often, it's more a statement of amazement, that the architect designed the building with no thought of how to change a light fixture," says Scott Reynolds, president of Teupen USA Inc.
Given such challenges, as well as the precarious situations in which technicians tend to use lifts, the focus of many specification conversations is safe equipment operation. Managers who have not kept track of advances in the newest generation of lifts will find much has changed to address their questions about safety, as well as other important issues.
Lift manufacturers have re-engineered many of their offerings in recent years, citing the need to meet customer demands. Take accessibility, for example.
Among Teupen's newest lifts is its smallest unit to date, one that can fit through a standard doorway and offers operators access not provided by scissor lifts and other similar large units, Reynolds says. The company's newest lifts also offer more standard features, including the size of track-drive motors and engines, and enhanced on-board computers.
New lifts also give users more room to perform their tasks. Terex Corp. now offers a lift that features an extension deck with room for two operators.
"It has an advantage where a job requires two people on a smaller footprint and (where) a boom or a scissor lift is too big," says Jeff Weido, Terex's senior product manager.
Other improvements seek to minimize or reduce accidents and injuries. One model from Terex features sensing pads located on the chassis under the platform, Weido says. The pads cut off all power and function to the unit when they detect a person, such as a child in a retail facility, has contacted or climbed onto it. Also addressing safety concerns, several of the company's lifts feature an enable button.
"You've got to push a button to do anything," Weido says. "So a random person can't just jump on the machine and go. It's for the protection of the user, but for us, it's an advance in the control system."
As with all other types of maintenance and engineering products, aerial work platforms provide more functions that address sustainability.
"JLG has taken steps to provide equipment that utilizes direct electric drive to provide a greener machine that operates more efficiently, reduces the number of leak points and improves productivity," says Jeff Ford, JLG's global product parent. One new model has only six hoses, compared with the previous model, which had 50. It also has direct electric drive, which allows us to replace 620-amp-hour batteries with 240-amp-hour batteries, while providing the same duty cycles. This system consumes less energy and lowers the cost of replacement batteries."
Don Irwin, vice president of group operations for NES Rentals, points to several additional key advances in lifts likely to affect managers' equipment decisions:
Vendor control. "All of the manufacturers have better vendor control, so when they're doing maintenance on the machines, they know which part is in which model," Irwin says.
Operation. "Many have more advanced controllers at the operator station and at the motor control," he says, adding the advances result in smoother and more predictable movements. "There is no unexpected behavior."
Separate drive and lift functions. Operators used to be able to drive the unit and lift the work platform simultaneously, Irwin says. Increasingly, units separate these tasks to avoid operator confusion and improve safety.
Standardized decals. Decals on lifts from most manufacturers are more durable, legible, and, increasingly, universal, he says, meaning operators using lifts from different manufacturers will see similar decals containing similar safety and operating information.
Telemetrics. Lifts increasingly feature sensors and global positioning systems, which have several benefits, he says. First, they enable the lift to send alerts on maintenance problems, faults, error codes, and location. Second, they enable rental companies to control the machine and keep it in a specific area on a job site.
Licensing. More manufacturers are moving toward the use of power access licenses (PAL). Issued by the International Powered Access Federation or its North American subsidiary, the American Work Platform Training, the PAL is proof the cardholder has completed training to operate specific types of powered access equipment safely and effectively.
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PRODUCT FOCUS: Lifts