Gearing up

29 October 2013

Maber provided units to install Brise soleil to a 100 m tower in Slovenia.

Maber provided units to install Brise soleil to a 100 m tower in Slovenia.

The mast climbing sector was one of the hardest hit during the economic crises, but now it is clawing its way back. Euan Youdale reports.

There is hope on the horizon for beleaguered mast climbing manufacturers, but the path to growth holds some obstacles. As Mike Pitt, owner at US-based mast climbing services company Mastclimbers LLC, attests manufacturers of mast climbers saw dramatic reductions in sales. “This has forced them to cut back and as the market breaks the existing manufacturers will be overloaded with baggage and probably slow to react. It is an ideal time for new players to enter the market, probably from China or other countries.”

Looking globally, the story is equally disheartening. Mr Pitt continues, “The only positive markets are in the Middle and Far East, Europe is slow or stopped. Canada has been booming but is getting ready to slow. USA is the biggest potential market and is showing signs of recovery - fragile but still growing.”

As Jarkko Ovaska, marketing manager at Finland-based manufacturer Scanclimber, puts it, “The mast climber industry has suffered like many other industries, but maybe the recovery has been slower than for AWPs.”

Diego Benetton, sales manager at Maber expands on the point. “Generally speaking the mast climber market is really slow. The recession for this type of product started years ago, but I personally believe it will grow in the next months and years.”

He adds, “There are so many old machines manufactured in the 90s still working they need to be replaced, and I believe this makes space for a good number of sales. “But the future will not be like the past with high rise building everywhere, I believe these machines will be used a lot in renovation and for this reason the size of the machine will be really important as well as easy manageability and quick installation.”

For renovation work specifically, Mr Benetton believes smaller products will find more potential sales than the higher capacity models. “Every country has different needs, but my personal opinion is there will be more possibilities for smaller machines.” He says the ideal specification for renovation work will be a 1 m wide deck with extensions up to 2 m, and a maximum length of 25 m. “For maximum capacity I would recommend 1000 or 1500 Kg. Of course there will be space for big machines too for lots of other reasons.

Looking up

Scanclimber has concentrated on the middle heavyweight sector with its new Taurus SC6000 mast climber. It is the small brother to the range-topping Monster SC8000 and is targeted at facade construction or restoration work up to 300 m in height that requires a big lifting capacity. In this respect, the machine has a load capacity of up to 5600 kg and a climbing rate of 11.3 m/min. It also offers a 1.6 m wide platform. The platform length starts from 4.1 m for a single mast version and can grow up to 16.9 m in length. With two masts the platform length can be extended up to 48 m.

Kevin O’Shea, director of safety and training at Hydro Mobile, says refurbishment, large industrial projects and infrastructure development are providing significant opportunities in the sector. “Transport platforms are a rising star in our industry and the uptake of the product in all sectors is very encouraging.”

For example, the TP transport platformis a derivative of Hydro Mobile’s popular F series and, as such, shares a many common parts with the F series. The TP can be used as a standalone platform or can share the mast with the F series to reduce cost, cut down installation time and improve productivity.

The manufacture’s latest product, the S series, is a new rack and pinion unit, featuring twin drive motors with independent centrifugal brakes, either of which is sufficient to support the unit. Lift capacity is almost 6000 pounds (2700 kg) with a platform length of 60 feet (18 m) on single mast. It is suitable for stucco, glass, refurbishment, demolition, and masonry.

The S series also features the ability to ‘twin’ with other drive units, with self-levelling ability between them. The S series uses existing masts and platforms from the Hydro Mobile range to reduce development costs.

Another innovation launched this year comes from USA-based Reechcraft. It works with swing stages and walkboards and features 1500 pounds of capacity. The PowerMast can support platform dimensions up to 30-inches-wide and can be configured to any length within the system capacity of 1500 pounds (750 pounds per mast). Maximum height is 200 feet and tie spacing is every 15 feet. The PowerMast is assembled by hand and can fit in the back of a truck or van, the company said.

Mastclimbers LLC has invested in 12 units of the Powermast, and as Mr Pitt explains, the product demonstrates where the mast climbing sector is heading. “Main features will be easy to use, simple to install with minimum tools required, lightweight but heavy capacity.” Continuing on the theme, Mr Pitt adds, “in the future someone will design a new unit, based on the best specs, using multiple power sources, and taking advantage of new materials available.

Scanclimber has heavily invested in research and development to fill its hoist and transport platform product lines and promises new products in the near future. “Development has been focused on delivering more value with accessories that enable special projects with standard machines,” says Mr Ovaska.

These developments will include the first multi-deck platform, available for its standard Monster SC8000 machine, which offers 8000 kg capacity at 15.8 m in length and 1000 kg at its maximum 46.2 m length.

Mr Ovaska continues, “This means our existing customers will be able to deliver a lot of special projects with only minor investments and create further value and increase utilisation. With multi-deck platforms people can work at different levels at the same time. Previously this was only possible with multiple machines on the same masts. “Mast climbers are constantly reaching for new applications that were before only possible with heavy scaffolding and special machinery.”

Mr O’Shea adds that safety systems will also play an important role in future products. “New developments will feature operator and installer safety improvements and greater modularity. Improving safety while decreasing development costs is a win-win situation for both the manufacturer and the customer. “Operator warning systems are also important. Displaying levelling information, limit switch functionality, power availability and load information are extremely important.”

Future sales

But where will the latest systems and mast climbers in general find sales in the future? Mr Benetton explains, “I’m sure Europe will remain a good market for mast climbers, while new markets like China or India are really difficult or even impossible to reach - price is an issue in these areas, particularly for Europe-based companies which still manufacturer in Europe and not locally.

With so many challenges to be faced in emerging markets, the Western manufacturer often has to tailor a machine to that area, rather than expecting existing models to have direct synergies with it. For example Scanclimber’s new rack and pinion driven Tango SC3500 mast climbing work platform is a combined mid-capacity lift and a working platform. Primarily produced for the Japanese market, it is also targeted at Asia, Turkey and other developing markets.

Tango is specifically designed for building and restoration projects where the working space is limited, required lifting capacity varies between 1 to 4 tonnes and building heights are less than 100 m.

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