Big deck the walls

19 March 2008

MEC says it will be releasing various rough terrain models that will exceed the 50–foot mark soon.

MEC says it will be releasing various rough terrain models that will exceed the 50–foot mark soon.

According to JT Sutton, operations manager for Area Equipment Rental & Sales in Norfolk, VA, the construction of the “big box” stores is the application where one is most likely to see big deck scissors. These machines, with a very spacious platform and typically heavier weight capacity, can be used on an endless list of job applications by several different trades.

Area Equipment serves the southeastern portion of Virginia and northeast North Carolina. Its largest big scissor is the Snorkel SR4084 rough terrain model. The rental company carries “ units” of this machine in its fleet and Sutton says the machines are kept busy.

“The machines go across the board to a lot of end users – steel guys, the machanical contractors, sheet metal,” says Sutton. “The machines are pretty universal, especially if they're duel fuel (meaning they' go inside and out); you can run them on propane.”

New heights

But will Area Equipment consider the next phase of height on thse machines? At this time, it doesn' think so. Sutton says anything above 50 feet and he feels there are safety concerns. “With any aerial unit, there are safety precautions that need to be taken. But 100 feet high–that's a long way up there for a scissor lift,” he says.

At this time, the big deck scissors market is mostly rental fleets. However, jim Tolle, president of MEC Aerial work Platforms reports shift in buyers.

“As with most scissor lifts Produced, they are being consumed by rental companies. However, we are starting to see a trend of end–users buying scissors, mainly a result of specialized contractors performing the same task again and again, thus needing the same unit over and over. Though this point could be argued, it is a trend we feel will continue.”

He says the large deck is a multiple purpose unit and could be used in many applications, such as joining walls, setting ceilings, installing fire sprinklers, installing heating and air–conditioning, even putting up drywall.

At this year's ARA show, MEC introduced three models that fit within the “big deck” range: 2591RT, 3391RT and 4191RT, the last model being the largest the company manufacturers with a working height of 47 feet and a platform height of 41 feet. The deck measures 91 inches wide by 180 inches long once extended.

Market strength

Tolle says the market for these units varies depending on the area. Currently, he says it's a popular unit in both North America and Europe. “We find North America requires a lighter (gross weight) machine and customers in North America are willing to sacrifice some load carrying capacity in order to gain better terrain–ability. Whereas in Europe, the heavier (increased load capacity) is more important than the terrain–ability. This unit is traditionally the first on, last off unit at most construction sites.”

MEC has plans to release a low cost 50–foot model that is able to reach the 50–foot mark and still remain drivable. The company will also release an “extreme duty,” more than 50–foot model with “unmatched” deck capacity, says Tolle. This unit utilizes MEC's Quad–Trax drive system and is expected to be drivable at full height.

“This unit is designed for the European market, which requires extreme deck load capabilities. It will also be offered in North America and throughout the world. MEC customers can also expect our large deck models in electric drive,” says Tolle.

The GS–5390 is Genie's largest rough terrain scissor, released in 2000. This is a 90–inch wide machine that has a maximum deck height of 53 feet. The company has found the unit is used on construction sites for two to five story office buildings. Eric Ludwig, product manager with the company, says the rough terrain capabilities of these machines make them easy to transport across muddy areas to building worksites.

Agility plus

The company feels that there is an expanding market for machines with a 1,500–pound capacity that can work in a variety of jobsite conditions. Ludwig says as real estate has become more expensive, the need for medium height office buildings has increased dramatically. At this point, Genie “will continue to evaluate our large deck offerings,” he says.

Skyjack offers two 50 foot models: its SJ9250 with 24 inch long platform with optional dual powered extension decks and its lower priced 8850, which is a more agile model driveable at full height but has a smaller platform. The company's Senior Product Marketing Manager Paul Kreutzwiser says it is selling these large scissor units primarily to rental companies, that are renting to end users in the construction sector. He says the applications include external building finishing such as cladding, glazing, stucco and indoor trade work such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and more.

“The market for these lifts has been strong,” says Kreutzwiser. “Strong commercial sector construction in North America has continued to drive demand for large rough terrain scissors.”

Super scissors?

But does he feel North America is ready for larger scissors exceeding what it already carries? He says market demand will dictate this but feels there is not the same need for vertical access in the US and Canada as there is in Europe where several suppliers already produce scissors up to 100 feet. He says the capacity, drive heights, stowed heights, and overall machine weights are still important specifications in the North American market, whereas Europe's super scissors are extremely heavy, are very tall when stowed, and have limited capacities and drive heights. His thought is that a 60 foot unit would be practical stateside.

So it will be interesting to see what JLG decides with the much anticipated release of the Liftlux line in North America. Currently, the manufacturer's largest rough terrain scissor in the US is the 4394RT, which has a 43 foot platform height and 1,500 pound capacity. The company's Product Market Champion, Scissor Lifts Bill Dovey says the biggest market is in the rental fleets.

“It goes to end users but the biggest market by far is the rental houses and they in turn rent those to electrical and mechanical contractors, drywallers, painters, sheathing and insulation companies, and anywhere where you need a large platform with a high capacity to handle workers,” says Dovey.

The current status is two Liftlux models, 67SL and the 80SL (67 feet and 80 feet, respectively), are being test marketed in North America now. JLG is evaluating the market potential for those products, says Dovey. “We're pretty early in the evaluation process at this point.” However, he says depending on the market response to the field trial machines and customer evaluations, the products could be launched in North America as early as next calendar year.

If JLG's Liftlux range is one high–reach scissor option, one other possibility is European company Holland Lift (based, not surprisingly, in Holland). Holland Lift is another company that makes a wide range of scissors, going up to working heights of 110 feet – the same as the largest JLG Liftlux model. Holland Lift has considered the North American market in past, but hasn't so far done anything about it.

Although the manufacturers state the larger scissor deck line is expanding, one concern is the return on investment the rental yards get from these. “Here's one thing that's kind of unfortunate about them: they don't command a high rental rate but they do have a high demand. It's paradoxical,” says Dovey.

Tolle states likewise. He says unfortunately for MEC's rental dealer customers, the large deck units often produce the lowest ROI of any scissor, the worst case being the 40 foot market.

“We have discovered that the 40 foot market often yields single digit returns for our customers, yet they are required to have them in their rental fleet due to demands from their customers. To solve this problem, we have developed the 3772RT. This model fits between the compact and large deck series. Once the deck extension is slid out it fits very well in the large deck application. With a working height of 43 feet, it more than meets the demands of a 40 foot required height,” says Tolle. According to him, the solution for the customer is the cost. The 3772RT is a lower costing machine and he says this model has become a popular machine in the company's line up.

The reports suggest the larger scissor market is good for manufacturers, based on that the rental yards need them and continue to keep the units on the job site. But the question is if the return on investment is so modest, what will manufacturers do to help its customer base? Is the answer a higher working unit or a greater weight capacity that rental yards can demand better rates for and stumble on a niche market? Given these concerns on larger deck machines, it will be most interesting to see if North America is ready for a much larger machine.

As in the case of Area Equipment, bigger models may well scare away some customers, but others seem willing. Simplex Rental Equipment, the largest independent rental yard in Canada, says it will be purchasing Liftlux models if they become available in North America (see feature on page 11).

Coin toss

And with the recent acquisition of Snorkel by UpRight's owners the Tanfield Group, Tanfield CEO Darren Kell says he couldn't be specific but that the company is looking to strengthen the rough terrain scissor range in both of the company's product lines. As it stands, it's a coin toss whether the manufacturers and rental yards in North America are excited for the larger units the Europeans are having success with. If the Liftlux models pop up within the next year, then JLG must think so.

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