Access on a high

24 April 2008

The aerial platform industry is going through one of its periodic high points, with growing demand for products worldwide. “Europe, US, Asia Pacific, South America, the Middle East are all becoming stronger simultaneously,” said Bob Wilkerson, president of Genie Industries, late last year, “That we haven't seen before.”

It's a situation that is causing access manufacturers the same problems as in the wider construction equipment market - long delivery times. Lead times are now a key battleground for access manufacturers as they compete for large orders, particularly from rental companies.

The big US manufacturers, JLG, Genie and Skyjack, have the additional ‘problem' - if that's the correct word - of having to supply the massive US rental companies whose fleets are densely populated with aerials (see Access-50 table) and who have been investing heavily. The top 10 US renters will together spend over €3 billion on new equipment this year, and for some up to 40% of that will go on aerial platforms.

The result has been enormous growth in sales, with 40% increases not uncommon last year: the five fastest growing manufacturers were Snorkel (+63%), JLG (+42%), Skyjack (+41%), Genie (+40%) and Haulotte (+35%).

These same manufacturers have been investing heavily in additional manufacturing capacity. But this investment has been matching rather than exceeding the growth in demand, with the end result that lead times have not come down significantly just yet.

Still, the upside of a booming aerials market is a greater number of suppliers, and machines, for end users like contractors. Japanese manufacturers, for example, are again interested in the European market: Aichi of Japan is developing a full new range of machines including scissors and crawler booms, and Hanix Europe - which is better known for its excavators - will launch a Japanese-built Nagano crawler mounted, articulated boom at Bauma next year.

Some suppliers are now resurgent again under new ownership. The UK's Tanfield Group, for example, has acquired the powered access business of UpRight and shifted production from Dublin, Ireland to the UK (see box story), and the well- known Snorkel and MEC brands of self-propelled booms and scissors are once again on sale in Europe.

The big product news is that Skyjack, the Canadian scissor lift manufacturer, is re-entering the self-propelled boom market. The company isn't trying to break the mould of self-propelled booms with its new range of machines - the first of which, a 13,7 m telescopic model, was launched at the US Rental Show in February.

Instead, as Dave Stewart, the manufacturer's vice president of sales and marketing makes clear, the priority was to start with a machine in the “bread and butter” sector of the market - hence the SJ 45T model - and to design it to be easy to use, maintenance friendly and reliable.

As with many Skyjack machines, electronics have been kept to a minimum - there's no computer control system - and the drive system is mechanical axle driven rather than hydraulic torque hubs. “We believe it's the best way to transfer power,” says Mr Stewart. Where will the booms be pitched on price? “We will be competitive on price [with JLG and Genie],” says Mr Stewart, “but the goal is not to be -10% cheaper.”

Machines will be out on trial in the coming months and availability of the SJ 45T machine should be later this year. Skyjack also plans a 12,2 m telescopic model and 18,3/19,8 m telescopics as well as two 13,7 m articulated models following in 2007. Longer term, probably in late 2007 or 2008, the company will have 24,4 m and 36,6 m telescopic models.

Updated Models

Neither JLG or Genie has launched any completely new booms in the past few months. JLG has been extremely busy with the new telehandler manufacturing alliance with Caterpillar - which could add as much as US$ 350 million (€ 275 million) a year in sales for the company. Genie, meanwhile, has introduced a new HC (High Capacity) version of one of its existing machines, the S-60. The S-60 HC telescopic boom uses the larger counterweight from the standard S-65 model and an automatic load sensing and outreach management system.

This increases cage capacities from the standard 227 kg to 567 kg. At this higher capacity the machine's maximum outreach is automatically limited to 12,4 m.

The HC boom is being targeted at trades such as glazers, bricklayers, mechanical contractors and film/media users. The next models to get the HC treatment will be the S-80 and S-85 units.

One manufacturer that is being extremely active on the boom side is the Haulotte Group in France. The company launched the 41 m working height, articulated HA 41 PX in the past few months as well as a completely redesigned 26 m articulated boom, the HA 260 PX. But the focus in the first half of this year was on the company's largest ever telescopic boom, the 43 m working height H 43 TPX.

The H 43 weighs 20,4 tonnes and will use exactly the same chassis and extending axle design as the HA 41 PX, according to Haulotte's product marketing manager, Philippe Luminet, “It's a very robust system. We think it's the best solution for the machine.” The 43 m unit also uses the same continuous outreach control technology found on the 41 m and 26 m articulated models, reflecting what Mr Luminet describes as the two design priorities for the model; “safety and productivity”.

One innovation on the H 43, however, is the use of a 2,2 m jib that rotates both vertically and horizontally. This new ‘3D' jib design will also eventually be available on Haulotte's other big boom models.

The scissor lift sector has also seen some new machines in the first half of 2006. MEC Aerial Platforms is adding mid- and large-sized rough terrain models to its existing electric, slab scissors. At the US Rental Show it showed the first of two mid-sized models, the 3072RT, a 10,9 m working height model that will soon be joined by the 3772RT, a 13,1 m working height version. The two share base dimensions of 2,98 m (L) and 1,83 m (W) and the models weigh 3329 kg and 3856 kg, respectively.

Jim Tolle, MEC's president, says the RTs use “rock solid”components and are designed for “extreme durability and extreme conditions”. Self-levelling axles are an option, as is the company's 4WD Quad-Trax system using a variable displacement pump. “The biggest complaint with RT scissors is if a machine loses traction on one wheel it stops,” says Mr Tolle, “this machine can lose traction on three wheels and still drive.” Hyperbole it may be, but the point (and claim) is clear: the machine will go almost anywhere.

If MEC's Quad-Trax system is designed to propel the scissor over all kinds of terrain, Genie Industries has been similarly focused on improving rough terrainability. The company has introduced a new traction control drive system for its GS-68 RT series of RT scissor lifts, which has been developed at the request of its customers.

The traction control uses added combiner divider valves to divide and isolate hydraulic flow to each wheel, allowing them to work independently and transferring power to the ground even when one or more wheels lose ground contact. Gradeability with the new system is 35% to 40%, and the scissors come with two drive modes - Series Mode for flat ground and Parallel Mode for going up hills at lower speed and maximum torque. There are two models in the 68 RT series, the 9,7 m working height GS-2668 RT and the 11,6 m GS-3268 RT.

Scissor Lifts

Long-decks are the key feature of Haulotte's new SXL range of diesel rough terrain scissors. With working heights of 12 m (H 12 SXL), 15 m (H 15 SXL) and 18 m (H 18 SXL), the scissors have platform sizes of 7,3 m by 1,9 m, platform capacities of 700 kg and automatic levelling outriggers as standard.

JLG Industries, meanwhile, has supplemented its own range of rough terrain scissors - the 260MRT, 3394RT and 4394RT models, plus two electric RT units - with the acquisition of the European- built Liftlux electric and diesel models. The Liftlux diesel range comprises seven models with platform heights of between 15,3 m and the 32,0 m.

One particularly vibrant sector in the access market is for low-height machines.

This has been triggered in the UK by new Working at Height Regulations which, although they don't ban the use of ladders, do force end users to consider carefully whether they should be using them.

The end result has been the development of several small, innovative platforms to provide working heights of under 10 m, and a massive increase in UK demand for small electric scissors and UpRight TM12-type machines: “It's like a new industry,” said one manufacturer. If the UK is where the trend started, there is no doubt that interest in the products is coming from throughout Europe.

Good examples are the Pop-Up scissor, a battery powered, push-around model from NSG UK, and the RazaDeck 200, a new take on the access tower concept from Wolfe Designs, a UK company that specialises in designing innovative products for rental companies.

The Pop-Up has been winning plaudits - and orders - since its launch earlier this year. The 270 kg weight machine has a 240 kg payload capacity on its 1,01 m by 0,52 m platform, and will reach its maximum 1,63 m platform height in eight seconds. The scissor lift cylinder is powered by battery and it is light enough to be manually pushed - also small enough to enter elevators and go through standard single doorways. The list price is €3500.

Rental companies have bought about 80% of the 350 units sold since the launch in January. Nigel Woodger, NSG's managing director, likes to emphasis one desirable characteristic of low height models, “The machines must be easy, almost fun, to use.” The Pop-Up is made in China for NSG and the company is investigating sales opportunities outside of the UK, although domestic demand is keeping it busy enough.

Wolfe Designs, meanwhile, extends its access products with the RazaDeck 200, an access tower offering platform heights of 0,55m, 1,0 m and 2,0 m. It's a one-piece platform, weighs just 52 kg and the clever feature is a foldable side-frame that allows the tower to be flat-packed for transport and which, by means of 16 sealed torsion springs at the frame hubs, can be erected and collapsed in a series of simple moves. CE tried it out at the recent SED show in the UK and it is very easy to use. Small outriggers are required at the top height, and also at this position you have to access the platform from inside the frame.

“It looks simple”, says Wolfe's sales manager Chris Suter, “but the geometry has been patented. It's actually very clever.” List price will be around €2160. Wolfe is talking to Altrex in the Netherlands about a possible cooperation agreement for both the Towermatic and the RazaDeck 200.

Although these small products are not facing quite the same lead time problems as the major manufacturers, you can bet that delivery times will not be getting any shorter.

Latest News
Steil Kranarbeiten doubles up for precision lift
City class cranes offered the necessary agility and precision for a tricky factory lifting job
Big Grove crane order for Poland
Polish crane rental company expands fleet with 21 new all terrain cranes
CTE signs up with Vermeer
Vermeer to become distributor for CTE lifts in southern US states