Rotating Telehandlers Add a Twist to Traditional Material Handlers

About 15 years ago, I was introduced to the first rotating telehandler in North America. The unit was made by the Manitou Group in Europe and imported into the United States.
 
I have to admit that I was very skeptical about how this product would be accepted in North America. It was an amazing concept that had dozens of unique construction, utility, and inspection applications, but it carried a hefty price, especially for the time.
 
Although several rotating telehandler products have been introduced and sold over the past decade, Manitou and Merlo S.p.A. stand today as North America’s two leading suppliers of those products.
 
Over the past year or so, the embers of interest that continued to smolder through the great recession have finally started to reignite, thanks largely to Manitou’s long-term efforts and Merlo’s recent aggressive push.
 
Experts estimate that about 2,000 rotating telehandlers are sold worldwide each year, but only about 100 of those machines, or 5% of the total, are sold domestically. Analysts expect that percentage to increase in North America to more than 20% annually, eventually leading the world in sales as they become more accepted in equipment rental fleets. 
 
Manitou's equipment is sold and supported directly through the company’s North American dealer network. Merlo works through two independent importers: Applied Machinery in the United States and Manulift EMI in Canada, each of which has its own network of dealers and subsidiaries.
 
It is interesting that roto-handlers are very much an Italian concept, and I believe that each one produced, today and in the past, has been manufactured there. Counting the justintroduced heavy lift MRT 3255, Manitou currently sells four rotating handler models in America, as does Merlo.
 
Aside from the ability to rotate the turret 360°, the real advantage to these versatile and productive lifters is the variety of attachments they can use. One of the most intriguing is the personnel platform that can work below grade to enable operations like bridge inspections.
 
With the right array of attachments, a single roto-handler could inspect a bridge, off load materials for repair, rapidly stage those materials just about anywhere, and then hoist materials on its forks or with a winch to effect the repairs.
 
In another application, an auger attachment can be used to bore holes for traffic signs, guardrail posts, or pylons. And using Merlo’s concrete mixer attachment, the concrete could be mixed and poured with the same machine that will set the posts.
 
When you compare the entire rotating telehandler lineups of these two leading OEMs, the two most comparable models according to their specifications are Manitou’s MRT 2150 Privilege Plus and Merlo’s ROTO 45.21 MCSS.
 
These units are indeed similar on paper. But with list prices approaching a quarter-million dollars, there is more to consider than just specifications. 
 
Manitou launched its first roto-handler in 1993, and introduced it to North America in 1998. The MRT 2150 was introduced globally in 2002 and in North America a year later.
 
Merlo, it is believed, originated rotating telehandlers and has been building them since 1990. It introduced the Model ROTO 45.21 MCSS globally in 2004, and brought it to North America in 2012.
 
 
Operator ergonomics
 
In the 1970s and 1980s, operator comfort was an afterthought for U.S. handler manufacturers. Suspension seats were rare or non-existent, as were tilt steering wheels. Controller placement was, in a word, nonsensical.
 
Operators across the U.S. and Canada owe thanks to European OEMs for the advancements those manufacturers have made in ergonomics and the influence they have had on North American equipment makers.
 
Both the Manitou MRT 2150 and the Merlo ROTO 45.21 are good examples of the shift that has occurred. Each unit comes equipped with a comfortable fully adjustable suspension seat, adjustable armrests, and a tilt steering wheel. Both also offer a spacious cab with full roof and window sunscreens. 
 
Manitou even includes air conditioning as standard equipment. Although Merlo makes A/C optional, Applied Machinery packages it as standard equipment on every unit it imports to the United States.
 
Dual electro-hydraulic joysticks are standard in the Manitou MRT 2150. There is a FNR thumb switch, located on the right hand joystick, which allows the operator to select forward, neutral or reverse while always keeping one hand on the steering wheel. A single right-hand joystick is standard on the Merlo 45.21, but you can opt for dual controls.
 
 
Computerized control
 
One of the more impressive features of these two units is an onboard computerized control system.
 
On the Manitou, you will find a 7-in. LCD color display that keeps the operator informed with traditional dashboard information, as well as a wide selection of functions and inputs. The system creates and then displays customized load charts, establishes restricted work zones, and regulates function speeds according to pre-set parameters.
 
It also features Manitou’s E-Reco attachment recognition system. When any of Manitou’s transponder-equipped attachments (introduced in November 2013) is installed, the control system recognizes it and automatically alters the telehandler’s operational parameters. Attachments without a transponder can also be used on the machine, but the operator has to manually tell the system which attachment is in use.
 
Merlo uses its proprietary Merlin (Merlo Local Interactive Network) system on all models in its MCSS range. Merlin provides a way to electronically manage all of the machine’s operating parameters. The core of the system is a computer that acquires and processes all inputs and outputs from the various working areas of the machine in real time. The main operating conditions and all information that the operator needs are continuously displayed in an easy and intuitive format with six individual screen displays.
 
The Merlin system also manages all safety functions and acts as a versatile, effective tool for advanced and remote diagnostics. It adjusts the load chart for a specific attachments as well. Currently, the operator must manually tell the system which tool is being used.
 
Merlin can also serve as an anti-theft system and an immobilizer, providing a higher degree of security.
 
 
Engines and outriggers
 
Both the Manitou and Merlo feature a side-mounted engine. The Manitou MRT 2150 has a clamshell-style hood that swings upward. Manitou has just introduced a Tier 4-compliant 150-hp Mercedes engine. This is transversely mounted. Merlo now offers a Tier 4I 170-hp FPT Iveco NEF engine and it is mounted longitudinally.
 
On the Merlo 45.21 MCSS, the engine drives a load-sensing variable displacement hydraulic pump, whereas the Manitou incorporates a gear pump for function flow. Both units feature hydrostatic transmissions that have inching capability.
 
Merlo and Manitou both use multi-position outriggers. Manitou adjusts the height and angle of the outrigger by controlling the angle of the beam. Manitou’s computerized control system also adapts the machine’s capacity charts based on outrigger position. Stabilizers can be set at fully retracted , mid, and fully extended positions. The system reads the outrigger pattern and/or attachment and alters the load chart. Although Merlo also uses telescoping outrigger beams, it levels the machine by using hydraulic jacks at the beam ends. On the Merlo, the stabilizers can be set at any length, and the Merlin system reads those positions and provides the correct chart to match any of an infinite number of configurations.
 
It is important to note that the Merlo requires that you fully retract the stabilizers before traveling. In contrast, the Manitou requires you only to raise the outriggers enough to release the ground pressure sensors before driving. Manitou touts that this speeds set-up time when repositioning. Merlo counters that its system prevents an operator from accidentally damaging the outriggers or property by traveling with the outriggers deployed. For quick and safe setup, both systems feature the ability to auto level all four outriggers or adjust each one independently. 
 
 
Other important features
 
Frame leveling is included on both units. Independent controls allow up to 8° of lateral axle correction on the front axle of the Manitou MRT 2150. The axle locks when the superstructure is rotated more than 15° off center line.
 
The Merlo 45.21 MCSS offers its EAS (Electronic Active Suspension) to improve operator comfort. EAS is an electronic system that works with the entire hydraulically controlled suspension. It is always active and adjusts continuously to level the frame fore and aft as the machine travels. Its damping effect limits pitching (porpoising). It not only increases operator comfort; it also helps limit material drops or disruption during transfers. EAS can also be used to manually level the frame up to 9° both fore and aft.
 
Optional camera systems are available on either telehandler. Merlo’s cameras are mounted at the boom tip and at the rear of the machine. The system includes an independent monitor that can be switched to see from either camera.
 
The Manitou system offers cameras at the boom tip, right front fender, and rear of the machine. Images can be displayed on the main screen in the cab individually or as a three-way split screen.
 
The machines have attachments that include winches, jibs, augers, several work platforms, and a concrete mixer.
 
The array includes standard work platforms with capacities exceeding 2,200 lbs. Other platforms include Merlo’s Space System, which allows for an extra 30 ft. of extended height, or almost 99 ft. of maximum working height. Although it’s available in other parts of the world, it is not yet approved for the U.S. market. The Manitou platform system allows 21 ft. of extended reach both horizontally and vertically.
 
Standard auxiliary power, hydraulic and electric, are found on both units. The Merlo features a cab-control led hydraulic “tac-loc” system to secure the attachment. Manitou features a manual locking system, but a dual-effect, cab-operated version is optional. Quick-disconnect hydraulic couplings are located conveniently on the boom head.
 
While both units offer remote boom controls, the Merlo relies on a tethered remote that operates both the work platform and all boom functions. A wireless system is currently waiting domestic frequency approval. The Manitou system’s remote is completely wireless and can control boom functions, swing, auxiliary load-line operation, engine start–stop, and work platform movement.