AWPs Reach for the Top
August 1, 2015 by DAVID GODKIN
In 2009, the aerial work platform business was one of the hardest hit by the global financial crisis. Nearly a quarter of the annual income walked out the door, according to the IPAF Rental Market Report. AWP demand “plummeted” as large construction jobs ended without new ones starting, rental companies sold off aerial equipment and existing fleets aged.
Since then, things have changed considerably for the better as the manufacturers focused on innovation and market development. Both Skyjack and Snorkel – two major players in AWP – reported growth in 2012 and 2013. That culminated in a much more upbeat IPAF assessment of the Canadian and the U.S. market in 2014. The AWP rental fleet grew by 10 per cent, generating nearly $8 billion in revenue. All of it was due to strong demand from construction, in turn driving fleet expansion and higher rental rates.
“It has been on a pretty steady incline,” says Corey Raymo, JLG manager, Global Category Director/Boom Lifts in Harrisburg, Pa. “And if you look at that data forecast forward, I think it continues to increase, though maybe at less of an incline in the next five years.”
Since 2009, JLG has tried to complement the slow rise in AWP sales and rental by upping its game in AWP design and manufacture. A good example is the 1850SJ, an ultra-boom AWP with a platform capacity (227 to 450 kg) and a working height of nearly 60 m. Another important factor for JLG’s customer base, says Raymo, is achieving maximum lateral reach “throughout the upper range of the work envelope” as well as great ground movement – i.e. the ability “to not only drive, but drive at full elevation.”
That addresses an immediate user need. “If the customer gets all the way up in the air and isn’t quite where they need to be, we want them to be able to drive the machine along the ground and get properly set up, instead of coming all the way back down and re-positioning.”
Nor does it hurt that the 1850SJ’s axles take only about a minute to extend or retract and that they are able to pivot in and out, so operators spend more time working and less time wrestling with their controls.
The key, says Raymo, remains giving customers what matters most to them: productivity through better reach-at-height and maximum load capacity.
He is also frank about two challenges facing the industry, one perennial to machine design and another that will be new to the AWP in 2016 and 2017.
The first is the pressure engineers are under to balance what is desirable in a machine with the laws of physics. “You have to make some trade-off decisions. You can’t have the best of everything in your product and make some good choices.” A case in point, says Raymo: platform capacity and lateral reach. “If you want to up your capacity to, say, 1,500 lb. instead of a thousand, you can do that. But you’re most likely not going to be able to extend your boom as far.”
Next year, platform capacity will face another challenge, this time from an entirely different quarter.
By 2017, mandatory regulations governing platform load sensing in Europe will be mandatory in North America, too. “If your platform capacity is 1,000 lb., for example, and you put more than 1,000 lb.,” according to new ANSI regulations the machine is “not going to allow you to move.”
Details on how the new ANSI requirements will work, says Raymo, are yet to come. What is clear is that AWP manufacturers will be at pains to invest in the necessary load-sensing technologies, just as they and other manufacturers are investing in Tier 4 engine requirements.
“You need to start putting plans in place that provide the best overall approach to meet those regulatory requirements. At JLG, we’re aware of it. We know the timing. And we’ll meet it with our product.”
A wide array of power options is available to North American AWPs. These include gas, diesel, electric and now hybrid – the most interesting, Raymo says, “because there’s so many different ways to do hybrid.” Already well-entrenched in commercial vehicles, trucks, buses, and even locomotives “a lot of our customers are asking questions and looking harder at hybrids.” That is not just because of the increased fuel economy, he adds.
“We’re also seeing some regulatory (requirements) where construction sites, depending on the job site, will be told you have to have no emissions or limited-emissions products, such as hybrids. I think we’re seeing more and more of those job sites requiring those types of products,” he says.
One company out in front of the trend to hybrid hydraulic and electric AWPs is Custom Equipment Inc. based in Richfield, Wisc. In 2004, it introduced regenerative braking to its machine battery systems. Today, it combines electric drive with hydraulic lifting, delivering full AC power to its scissor lift when on-site power is not available. In addition, the machines have the ability to use hybrid or electric power for rough terrain or indoor slab environments. Notable among these is its 12-ft. HB-1230 low-level scissor lift.
An alternative to vertical mast lifts (gaining 15 in. more platform space by eliminating the mast) the HB-1230 combines electric drive with hydraulic lifting.
Why does that matter to users? To answer that, Custom’s Marketing Manager Justin Kissinger makes a quick comparison: getting a hydraulic motor pumping, he says, can take about 100 amps. By contrast, “an electric-drive motor, depending on the weight of the machine and its load, will turn on and start moving with as little as ten amps.”
The HB-1230 is also “extremely mobile,” something that became clear on a 42-in. wide ramp at the back service entrance at the Las Vegas Lift and Access Showcase in October. The machine was able to maneuver the ramp very quickly, explains Kissinger. “Then, it was through a double service doorway at the top of the ramp, two 90-deg. turns down five-ft. hallways and up an elevator to the eighth floor.
“Because it’s a zero-turn system, you can actually pivot the machine along to the next wall. It allows the machine to turn on a dime without hitting the next wall,” explains Kissinger.
Custom Equipment focuses on the low-level access industry, according to Kissinger, leaving the 19-ft. and higher AWPs to other manufacturers. “That sector is really what’s helped our company grow,” he adds, and that includes contractors willing to pay admittedly higher rental rates in return for greater productivity and saving gains than can be achieved using ladders or scaffolding.
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS
Back in 2012 when we chatted with Genie Industries Director of Product Management Chad Hislop, the focus was on solid-chassis, two-wheel electrically driven lifts for interior applications and four-wheel drive and oscillating-axle designs for more rigorous outdoor terrain.
Since then, a new category class has emerged in between the two, says Hislop. Minus four-wheel drive, but structurally the same as its GS 69 rough-terrain scissor lift, Genie’s GS 69DC and BE two-wheel scissors feature two powerful, direct-drive electric motors.
“Because those AC motors are direct drive, they’re very, very efficient and able to deliver an amazing amount of torque while taking a very small amount of energy from the battery pack,” says Hislop. In fact, he adds, those AC direct-drive motors and oscillating axles actually help the machine approach four-wheel drive performance.
Once again, it is because the hydraulics in the drive system have been eliminated. “Every time you switch energy from the battery to the electric pump, fro
m the electric pump to hydraulics and then back from the hydraulic drive motor, you take an efficiency loss.” Cut out the hydraulics stage and the energy recovery “is significant, because now I’m going directly from batteries, getting rotational energy in an electric motor,” says Hislop. More torque with greater energy loss also means “longer run times and better terrainability.”
But Genie has also gone hybrid. The GS Bi-Energy Hybrid Scissor Lift series is based on the 69 DC but with an on-board gen set to charge itself, the chassis, the platform and working tools. AC drive motors on the rear, in combination with rough-terrain tires, make it suitable for outdoor applications, says Hislop. “If you need more than one day’s work out of a battery pack, the on-board generator will keep that machine running on the job even if there’s nowhere to plug it in.”
Users are asking for more efficient machines, smaller engines and lower fuel costs, Hislop adds. What they’re not willing to give up is performance. They are asking manufacturers to come up with the kind of innovative solutions in AWPs “that you have to come to expect in your Camry,” says Hislop. “I think you’re seeing the same kind of reaction in our industry. That includes the flexibility hybrid technology gives you to work indoors without emissions.
Might we see a day when an AWP is entirely electric – the equivalent of the Tesla automobile? Justin Kissinger says it all depends on the regulatory environment. Customers are not going to pay more than what is required by written standards. “A completely 100 per cent electric lift would have applications. You wouldn’t have to worry about hydraulic leaks, for example,” he says. “Overall, I think there is growth in the hybrid market. I think it would be a long time before you would see it go completely electric.”
David Godkin is a B.C.-based freelance writer and editor. Send comments to email@example.com.
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