Truck-mounted aerial work platforms aren’t new to the North American market, but the units are still working in niche applications and acceptance beyond wind farms and utilities can be difficult.
“The North American market is a tough one to crack,” says Janne Pulkkinen, vice president of Bronto Syklift, Inc. “There have been alternatives to the use of truck-mounted platforms, which are designed and developed for this purpose: Truck cranes, man baskets and large, self-propelled booms. However, the benefits of using the right tool for the job are becoming more evident as certain industry sectors, such as wind energy, grow. There are tremendous cost savings, productivity increases and safe work practices opportunities in the market right now. It’s a question of tapping into the right sectors and demonstrating these. The next few years will be very exciting.”
One company looking to crack that egg is Texas-based ReachMaster, which has just entered into an agreement with German manufacturer Ruthmann to provide a non-CDL 109-foot truck-mounted unit. The Eagle T-108 A offers a vertical work height of 108 feet and 69 feet of horizontal reach with a 700-pound basket capacity.
“Our focus has been the market for truck-mounted AWPs that can be driven below the CDL limit of 26,000 pounds,” says Ebbe Christensen, president of ReachMaster. “Obviously there are several sub-segments in that category, but the tall segment seemed to be untapped, basically because there are very few players that can produce and sell a 100-foot unit and still keep it under CDL level.”
TGM’s fleet shows off its bending capabilities.
ReachMaster is very accustomed to providing products to niche markets. The company has long been a player in the compact, track-based AWP market and offers other innovative lifts, such as track-based scissors and more.
“Coming from the specialty side of the business with our other products, we often see a trend where the European market seem to adopt new solutions before North America, in part due to the very different demographic and topographic conditions, but indeed also culture,” Christensen says. “For decades, the European rental companies, for example, have offered truck-mounted solutions for rent rather than staying with the typical American model of delivering primarily boom lifts for any work applications above 30 feet.
“Driven in part by higher logistic cost, the European market has been quick to realize that if a customer can pick up a lift himself, taking it to and from the work site, it saves the rental company a lot of cost, from heavy haul equipment, CDL drivers, insurance, fuel and, last but least, time, which is a major player with the high European labor cost.”
Christensen says for the customer, picking up their own equipment and being able to move it themselves from site to site – not depending on transportation equipment to arrive from the rental company – is a great advantage.
“For jobs in urban and city environments, you only need permit for the exact window of, say, three hours it takes to do a job rather than having a street lane closed off for 24 hours to accommodate a boom lift being unloaded, used for the job and then picked up again,” he says. “It is truly a win-win situation for all parties.”
However, like many trends that have taken their sweet time crossing over the ocean from Europe to North America, the truck-mounted AWP segment will also face similar obstacles; it will be an uphill battle to not only convince the consumer, but in particular the general rental industry, about the advantages of a truck- mounted units.
Hinkel Equipment Rental, which has been in the truck-mount business longer than most in North America, says taller aerials are gaining traction and customers particularly like the automatic features such as auto levelling, auto storage of booms and simple operations.
“Crane manufacturers are building taller machines with work platform attachments, but the stability, speed and versatility of a tall aerial lift will always enable the work to be accomplished with less drama,” says Mark Hinkel, president of Hinkel Equipment Rental. “I wish I could say that North America’s interest would blossom [as much as it has in Europe], but self-propelled aerials created the powered access part of the construction market, and they became the standard. It’s hard to change habits that go back almost 50 years in the States. The rental market for these truck-mounts in Europe has been operated not bare and that is a major difference in philosophies.”
Despite the differences, Hinkel says the company continues to see good utilization in the 150- to 200-foot range. He expects market growth of about 10 percent in the coming 18 months as more customers come on board.
That positive sentiment is echoed by Jim Glazer, president and chief executive officer of Elliott Equipment Company.
“Overall, we are finding that customers are demanding higher quality equipment that can multi-function to reduce their costs of doing business,” Glazer says. “We are very optimistic about the next 18 months. Demand for equipment both in retail and rentals is up, and interest rates are low and financing is readily available, making it a great time for many companies to invest in newer equipment. In addition, the proposed infrastructure investment by the new federal government administration provides potential upside to our view.”
Glazer says 2017 will be a strong year for the entire North American truck-mounted aerial work platform market.
“There is continued growth in multiple market segments ranging from electrical utilities to sign and lighting,” Glazer says. “Many companies that delayed purchasing due to the economic recession are now looking to upgrade their equipment to increase their market competitiveness.”
Elliott Equipment Company’s truck-mounted aerial products are sold initially to both rental companies as well as end users and contractors.
“In general we find that equipment available for rent has a more generic specification so that it may apply to a wider range of applications,” Glazer says. “Equipment sold straight to end users is more customized, so that it is optimized for a given application.”
Rental is a good option for users who have a shorter term project or view, as it allows them to use the equipment without a long-term commitment, according to Glazer. On the other hand, users who have ongoing use for equipment are well-suited to purchase, so they can get something best suited for their application and also enjoy other benefits like low interest rates and tax savings from depreciation. There is a third option that is often available, which is a rental with purchase option. This is slightly more expensive than purchasing up-front, but the user mitigates their risk by getting to use the equipment on a rental basis while also having a portion of the rental costs applied to the final purchase price at the end of the rental period.
Finland-based Bronto, which has a number of units in the North American market, uses all distribution channels of its machines.
“In Europe and other parts of the world, we sell through our own sales channels and independent distributors,” Pulkkinen says. “The sales to the rental market are some of the most important as this inevitably leads to increasing the size of the customer base who then experience the inherent advantages and this leads to further end user sales. We believe that by targeting certain sectors through rental, end users and the contractors combined you have the best opportunity to grow the total market.”
Bronto says it is seeing a demand for taller units to work, but that, “Yes, the utility sector requires taller units as new transmission lines are higher. In the wind sector, nacelle heights are taller which naturally drives demand for taller AWPs. Some cities are also interested in procuring higher units for window cleaning and building maintenance,” Pulkkinen says.
TGM Wind Services, which has a fleet solely of Bronto units, says wind generation is still the largest segment for the company. They have, however, seen 25 percent annual growth over the past two years from customers within the transmission and construction industries.
“I believe the growth with continue to rise as more and more companies see the efficiency and safety gained by working from a truck mount,” says Kevin Darby, chief executive officer of TGM. “I also believe with more aggressive pricing being introduced for the truck mounts under 200 feet we will see a rise in the use of these over crane and boom trucks.”
Darby says while his units have been working in wind a fair amount, the company had units deployed on a few fun projects in 2016.
“This past year we had 295-foot units working within the film industry for the Ryder Cup and Red Bull Air Race show,” he says. “The film and production industry is also picking up greatly.”
Darby absolutely believes North America will have as big of a market for truck-mounts as Europe does.
“Just give us time to educate the users,” he says. “As more and more large truck mounts make their way into the market and the customer become educate the demand will increase. We have seen massive growth year after year over the past five years and this trend will continue.”
Challenges, trends and opportunities
Time Manufacturing (through its Versalift product line, PHX, Skybird and Ruthmann products) provides diversity in aerial lift equipment from 29 to 235 feet, both insulated and non-insulated.
“Our business is strong, our product offering is at its strongest and our pioneering products and designs will truly change the way aerial lift are utilized in the future,” says Amber Kaiser, marketing manager for Time Manufacturing. “One of the biggest challenges we see is the ever-changing emission and ANSI regulations. We are constantly making sure we are up to date and responding to all of the required changes, and making sure our fleet of aerials is compliant and meets or exceed mandatory regulations.”
Kaiser says the market has responded positively to Time’s product offerings and that the rental market has great potential and could be poised as an area of tremendous growth for the company.
“There is lots of growth in electrical transmission, wireless communications and renewable energy sectors,” Kaiser says. “A trend we are seeing is greater side reach on units and greater platform capacity. Our PHX is the best in the market for end-users interested in side reach and platform capacity.”
Christensen with ReachMaster says for his particular sector (non-CDL), in particular the European manufacturers have excelled in developing tall, but light lift structures to conform to standards and norms for Europe,” he says. “When that is transferred to an American chassis, the result is a 100-plus work height lift with a total weight of 24,900 pounds.”
Another opportunity and trend in the market is adopting to the latest visual aids like color screens and a high focus on operator interaction.
“Today’s modern lift control panels provide a wealth of information that improves safety dramatically compared to the past definition of a truck-mounted lift as a ‘cherry picker’ with simple functions,” Christensen says. “We strongly believe that the end-users, including contractors, from a wide range of industries, will start to look at the truck-mounted AWPs below CDL and sooner than later tap into the huge benefits of ownership and bringing their own equipment [to a jobsite.]”
Traditionally, Christensen says, truck-mounted units with work heights above 100 feet fell into the category of CDL with increased operational cost.
“Call your insurance agent and ask him for insurance cost of a CDL truck and compare that with the insurance for a non-CDL, plus the cost of hiring CDL drivers or have your employees take CDL and go through the annual upkeep,” he says. “Add to this DOT requirements, local state requirements for CDL trucks, driving limitations and in many states also strong union involvement in the CDL segment, which impacts – good and bad – the flexibility of operating a CDL truck. Compare that to sending your technician – who has a regular drivers license – off to the job in a 108-foot truck as if it was a regular pick-up, drive straight to the jobsite, do what he has to do, and go to the next job without concerns of DOT requirements and limitations for a CDL truck.”
Glazer with Elliott also touts the benefits of non-CDL options.
“Class 5 and Class 6 trucks that don’t require an American CDL are increasingly popular in contractor markets due to a shortage of CDL drivers,” he says. “Elliott offers models up to 87 feet of working height on non-CDL trucks. However, depending on the size and use of the machine, larger trucks give better performance and are more rugged for certain markets we serve, such as electric transmission construction and mining.”
Glazer says one thing is certain: Users want taller machines and machines that will let them work safer and more efficiently.
“We have seen this in the electrical utility market for transmission construction and in other markets. They are displacing telescopic cranes with removable baskets due to the technology improvements offered by taller aerial work platforms, and the safety systems that improve compliance with OSHA and internal company safety regulations,” he says. “Self-propelled aerial products have historically done well in the U.S., but do not offer the mobility, ease of transport and many of the productivity features available on truck mounted units.
“As equipment owners factor in the time, scheduling and productivity savings in using a truck-mounted machine, we expect the truck-mounted aerial industry to continue to grow.”