High Interest in Low-Level Powered Access

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More companies in a growing range of businesses are going small to gain big by using low-level access platforms to improve safety and productivity in their construction, build-out, renovation, and maintenance operations. Although this class of powered access equipment is not new, it has experienced resurgence over the past few years, and the wave is still rising with no crest in sight.

“With OSHA enforcing more regulations, ladders are on the decline, and it is creating more need for low-level access,” says Mike Buley, president of Absolute E-Z Up, Charleston, S.C. He also notes that as buildings continue to get higher, floor loadings and mobility are ever more critical, and low-level access platforms is a safer and more productive way of doing the work.

The low-level concept was born with the Parker Lift SP10 in 1966, and given spikes in popularity by Economy Engineering’s Polecat in the 1980s and UpRight’s TM12 in the mid-1990s. But for much of the past 40 years, low-level work has been done with ladders, podiums, rolling steps, small scaffolds, and other traditional equipment, or with 19-ft. scissor lifts that were somewhat oversized for many applications but readily available and well known.

“This is a growing market that will continue to grow, especially as safety concern grows,” says Justin Kissinger, marketing manager for Custom Equipment Inc., Richfield, Wis. As an example, he says that using a 19-ft. lift to reach a 16-ft. ceiling creates a potential crushing hazard, since the lift can go higher than the structure above. Kissinger says that using a lift with a 10-ft. platform lets a worker still reach the work while eliminating the crushing hazard.

A stronger focus on safety and productivity throughout the construction and maintenance industries in recent years, along with changes to building design and construction techniques, have fueled demand for low-level access equipment that can travel lightly on floors, ride in normal passenger elevators, and slip easily into the tightest of spaces.

Looking to do more work quickly and safely, contractors, maintenance workers, and tradespeople who need to reach above-ground work areas in commercial, larger residential, and industrial buildings are turning to low-level access platforms as replacements for older methods of working at low height. The trend is affecting the full spectrum of projects, from carpentry, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work, to communication and computer installation, drywall, painting, and maintenance.

In addition to contractors and maintenance departments, equipment rental companies are also recognizing the value of low-level powered access machines. “Although our main focus is still taking care of industrial customers, we are seeing a large push toward the rental market,” says Doug Jeurissen, sales manager of lift manufacturer Lift-A-Loft, Muncie, Ind.

Steve Watts, Snorkel’s vice-president of sales and marketing for the Americas, also notes the rental trend. “Rental companies are already developing fleets of these mini aerials, and will continue to do so,” he says. “Their main customers will be contractors, but we also expect them to have a big secondary market in building maintenance professionals.”

Characteristics of low-level machines

The low-level access platform class traditionally has included aerial lifts with powered access platform heights from five to 16 ft.; for this article, manufacturers also provided information about machines with platform heights to 19 ft. because that size of lift has traditionally been used for low-level access work. The types of lifts in this category include small scissor lifts, mast lifts, and sigma lifts. Some are push-around models that are rolled into place manually, while others are self-propelled using battery power. Two exceptions are the JLG Lift Pod and the Reechcraft PowerLift, which rely on a hand-operated drill to raise and lower the platform.

Because low-level access lifts are designed to work indoors on smooth floors, decorative finished flooring, carpeting, and raised floors over air ducts or computer cabling, relatively light weight is an important feature of this class. The overall weight of these machines ranges from about 700 lbs. to about 3,000 lbs. Also, non-marking tires are common.

Because they work in the finishing stages of new construction, as well as renovation, build out, and repair, they are narrow and short enough when stowed to fit through standard doorways, travel hallways, and maneuver in the rooms of finished buildings. As a result, they generally have widths of 30 in. or less, lengths of 72 in. or less, and stowed heights of 45 to 54 in. Because maneuverability is so important, many now have the ability to turn in place, a capability called “zero-turn radius.” (See the MaxCapMedia YouTube channel for a video showing a Custom Equipment Hy-Brid scissor lift making a sharp 90° turn through an L-shaped doorway.) Platform capacities range from 500 to 1,100 lbs., and the machines are rated to lift only one or two people.

Several manufacturers have products that serve the low-level accessmarket in North America. They include: Absolute E-Z Up, Charleston, S.C.; Aichi, which is handled in North America by Toyota  Material Handling, Irvine, Calif.; Custom Equipment, Richfield, Wis.; Genie Industries, Redmond, Wash.; Haulotte Group, Archbold, Ohio; JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa.; Lift-A-Loft, Muncie, Ind.; Man Lift Manufacturing, Cudahy, Wis.; Reechcraft Inc., Fargo, N.D.; Skyjack, Guelph, Ontario; and Snorkel, Elwood, Kan.

Some of the manufacturers have only one or two models, while others offer families of low-level access products. Snorkel, for example, offers five models of Pop-Up push-around lifts. Absolute E-Z Up and Custom Equipment focus on low-level access lifts as the core of their businesses, offering a number of models, both self-propelled and push-around.

Recent and upcoming developments

Recent years have seen many low-level lift manufacturers add features to their existing models, upgrade them with new technology, or introduce brand new units. Here’s what some of the mainstream lift manufacturers have done relatively recently —or are planning to do soon—with aerial lifts used for low-level work.

• Absolute E-Z Up: In a busy 2012, the company upgraded its IAWP-15 lift, which had been introduced in 2010. Absolute also introduced the ISP-11 in the spring, followed by both the CAWP-9.6 and the Rocker sheet-material handling accessory the fall. Now, in the spring of 2013, the ISP-11 is going through an electronics upgrade that will make the steering and driving more responsive.

• Custom Equipment: In October 2012, Custom upgraded its Hy-Brid HB-P830 push-around lift to improve visibility, simplify maintenance access, improve the rear wheels, and cut its weight by 83 lbs. In February, the company rolled out prototypes of three new scissor lifts: the HB-P527 5-ft. push-around, the HB-830 8-ft. self-propelled, and the HB-1230 12-ft. self-propelled. The HB-P527 began production in April. The HB-830 and HB-1230 will start in June. The HB-1230 offers better stability, a larger platform, and lighter weight than a 12-ft. mast lift.

• Genie: Although Genie put its development efforts into other product lines during 2012, Marie Engstrom, associate product manager, points to the Smart Link control system, which was released in 2011 and improves diagnosing and troubleshooting service issues. Engstrom also says that Genie will “be providing innovation solutions to several product lines in the near future.”The company has long offered machines for low-level applications, including the GS-1530 self-propelled scissor lift; GR-12, GRC-12, and GR-15 mast lifts; as well as the QS-12 and QS-15 mast lifts, which are stock pickers sometimes used for low-level access work.

• Haulotte: In 2010, Haulotte re-released its Optimum 1930E, an electrically driven 19-ft. scissor lift. Last year, the company rolled out its Star 13P, an electrically driven 13-ft., mast-type lift that is a stock picker but is also used where floor limitations are a concern or aisles are narrow.

• JLG: The full-range lift manufacturer is promoting LiftPod portable personal lifts for low-level access work. JLG offers two LiftPod models: the FS80, which was introduced in 2008 and offers a platform height of 7'8"; and the FS60, which was introduced in 2011 and offers a platform height of 5'8". Each is a single-person, push-around lift that comes in lightweight modules one person can assemble in about 30 seconds. JLG also offers the 1230ES 12-ft. self-propelled mast lift for low-level access work.

• Lift-A-Loft: Focused primarily on industrial customers, Lift-A-Loft offers its VAL15/28-H mast lift as a solution for low-level access applications. The company has the prototype of a new design currently in the works. About the new model, sales manager Doug Jeurissen says, “You can look for a reasonably priced product with performance improvements in the coming months.”

• Man Lift Mfg.: Known primarily for developing custom specialty lifts, MLM also offers the MVL12EX mast lift, as well as the 1532EX and 1932EX scissor lifts for low-level access applications. All three are battery powered and explosion proof. The MVL12EX mast lift has a 12'6" maximum platform height, 500-lb. platform capacity, and measures just 30 in. wide. The company’s engineering staff is working on several research and development projects, says James Wilson, marketing specialist, who notes that one of the company’s current projects relates a safe access solution for small spaces.

• MEC: Although MEC does not make products specifically for low-level access work, its 1932ES electric scissor lift is one of the 19-footers sometimes used in low-level applications. It has a 19-ft. platform height, measures 32 in. wide, and can handle 500 lbs. on the platform.

• Skyjack: The company offers two self-propelled mast lifts for low-level access work, the SJ12 and SJ16, launched in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The SJ12 has a platform height of 12'0", and the SJ16 a platform height of 15'7". Senior product marketing manager Paul Kreutzwiser says that a key goal when developing the machines was minimizing overall weight and floor loadings. The SJ12 weighs 1,720 lbs. and has a floor load of 101 psi. at full capacity. The SJ16 scales at 2,130 lbs. and has a floor load of 120 psi when carrying its 500-lb. maximum platform capacity.

• Snorkel: Snorkel unveiled the prototype of a new self-propelled mini-scissor, the S1030E at Bauma, as well as an extension deck for its M1230E self-propelled mast lift at The Rental Show. The S1030E has a 10-ft. platform height, 500-lb. capacity, and measures 30 in. wide. Weighing 1,091 lbs., it travels by DC electric drive and has a zero inside turning radius. The new optional rollout deck extension for the M1230E adds nearly 20 in. of length to the platform, bringing the total length to 58 in. when the extension is deployed. Snorkel also offers a range of Pop-Up brand push-around scissor lifts. Upgrades to the Pop-Up PUSH Eco 6 and Pop-Up PUSH Eco 8 in 2012 included a new cylinder configuration that improves lifting performance. The Pop-Up PUSH Pro series of lifts in 6-, 8-, and 10-ft. heights was launched in 2011 and went into full production in 2012.

 

Looking at the future of the market, Absolute E-Z Up’s Buley says: “Today’s companies are looking to do more with less. Low-level access helps them achieve that on many fronts.”