Crossing Over: Bil-Jax 45XA

When Bil-Jax Inc., Archbold, Ohio, entered the self-propelled boom lift market in early 2007, the company decided to focus on offering the easiest product to sell to its already developed clientele: smaller, independent rental companies. Bil-Jax established a strong presence with this market through the popular Summit Series trailer-mounted aerial lifts.

The company also determined that the quickest, most cost-effective way to build a self-propelled product was to leverage as many engineering strategies and components from the Summit Series as possible. Doing so allowed Bil-Jax to build a machine that was light enough – 4,715 pounds – to be towed on a trailer behind a properly sized pickup truck while at the same time hitting a price point that encouraged and enabled a new set of buyers to investment in a self-propelled boom.

Variable power options

Although the concept for a lightweight, low-cost, four-wheel drive boom lift is in itself unique, the most unusual aspect of this unit is the way it is powered. Bil-Jax calls its design a “flexible power system,” which utilizes both DC and internal combustion power for operation. The flexible power system makes it more of a bi-energy lift than a hybrid.

For traveling longer distances or when more torque is required, the 21-hp Kawasaki air-cooled engine drives the unit, which powers a set of dedicated 5 gpm hydraulic pumps that can scoot the boom lift along at nearly 4 mph. If the machine is slated to be operated indoors –it can pass through a set of finished double doors when stowed – or if it only needs to be moved a short distance, the operator can select the totally independent 24 VDC electrically driven hydraulic pumps. The same DC pumps serve double duty: They are an alternative source of power for the drive, and they are the exclusive power source for all boom functions. Energy is drawn from a set of four 6-volt, 245- amp/hour batteries that are recharged by the 45-amp onboard charger. Although not intended and very inefficient to boot, the onboard 4,500-watt generator can juice the batteries in a pinch.

The generator is standard equipment, and its primary function is to provide 110 VAC power to the platform. Along with the 110-volt wiring to the platform, a 300-psi air line and a 4,000-psi water line are standard.

Defined features

The second introduction in Bil-Jax’s X-Boom product line, the articulating 45XA, has a 46-foot platform height with a 27-foot maximum horizontal reach. Outriggers have been employed to hold down the weight of the 45XA to half that of a conventional boom lift.The outriggers feature auto-leveling, and with the push of a single button, they level up the chassis on grades up to 12° degrees in about 30 seconds. Once they have been set, the boom must be lowered to the fully stowed position to activate the drive circuit. Once stowed the outriggers only need to be raised ever so slightly to reposition the machine. For better driving visibility, the system has an interlock that allows the jib to be raised when the boom is lowered and the outriggers are fully stowed. Of course, there is some tradeoff for using outriggers: You lose about 34 inches of horizontal reach in some applications, such as when the operator is working up against a wall.

The standard platform is 5 feet wide and constructed of aluminum. Capacity is 500 pounds with or without the optional manual 120° platform rotator. The platform is designed to be easily removed to utilize the optional material-lifting system, capable of lifting 500 pounds. An optional 180° hydraulic jib rotation system is also available, which is nice for working around corners or accessing those hard-to-reach places. This option de-rates the capacity to 440 pounds.

Note in the image above the controls are well defined and logically positioned around the outline of the machine. Operator interface is increased with the use of a battery condition indicator, which displays the charge of the battery when the power is turned on. All boom functions are fully proportional. As with any self-propelled boom lift, a full safety harness and proper length lanyard are mandatory.

The main superstructure rotation is 700° non-continuous and employs a Kinematics Manufacturing-supplied slewing drive powered with hourglass worm technology for maximum gear torque and smooth rotation.

Surprising performance

Bil-Jax has a small test track behind its main plant, which is where I had the chance to test the published 48-percent gradeability and determine if it was fact or fiction. The first hurdle to clear was the large mound that you see in the image above. I can’t tell you exactly the degree of incline, but it was somewhere in the range of 30 to 35 percent.

Topping the ramp’s surface was a layer of loose gravel and a set of ruts caused by rain erosion, which only added to the challenge. As we turned to negotiate the mound, I was somewhat skeptical about the likelihood of our scaling it. To be honest, I was convinced we wouldn’t but thought it would be interesting to see just how far we could climb. To my surprise, we not only crested the summit, but the machine performed the task without any hesitation. Remember, the 45XA is powered by a 21-hp engine, but the adequate weight-to-horsepower ratio coupled with the front oscillating axle and wide loader lug tires proved a perfect combination.

One minor gripe that became apparent when we were making our climb centers around the jib. As I mentioned, this unit shares the same superstructure and boom (except the controls) used on the Summit Series towable aerials. The jib is free swinging to protect it and the rotation hardware in case something were to come off the road and strike the leading edge of the platform. However, this free swinging is a minor nuisance on this self-propelled unit – especially when stopping and starting on an incline.

Another operation challenge for the 45XA was the muddy terrain. Archbold sits in an area once called the Great Black Swamp, an expanse of wetlands that stretched from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Sandusky, Ohio. Most of the swamp was drained and turned into very rich farmland. But when this farmland gets wet, the ground becomes very soft and slimy.

The day before my visit, it rained heavily – and conditions couldn’t have been more challenging. As we motored around from the backside of the hill, I eyed a very large pool of standing water just to the side of the track. It was quite obviously sitting over a muddy area, and I had no idea how deep it actually was. Not one to ever pass up an opportunity to get a machine stuck in the mud, I veered off course and headed straight to the middle of the quagmire. Once again, my skepticism was unfounded as the X-Boom 45XA pulled through this mush without hesitation. While this unit may be lightweight in many ways, it’s a heavyweight champ when it comes to power and traction. Other options of interest are both turf and non- marking tires.

It is clear that the X-Boom wasn’t designed to compete with a conventional Genie S-40 or JLG 400S boom lift. Bil-Jax is the first to point out these machines are in totally different classes. It is true that the 45XA does go just about anywhere you might need to go and will safely and quickly allow you to work 46 feet in the air.

This lighter-duty machine was designed from the ground up to be easily transported, serviced, and sold at a lower price point, and these attributes make it more inviting for certain buyers to offer a self-propelled boom in their rental fleet or for end users to justify owning a machine. The X-Boom Series has and will continue to introduce self-propelled aerial products to a new set of users.

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guy ramsey

Guy Ramsey

Guy Ramsey is president of Maximum Capacity Media, publisher of Crane & Rigging Hot Line, Lift and Access, Industrial Lift & Hoist, and Lift & Hoist International.