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The Sky's the Limit

Big Growth in Construction Leads to Bigger Projects That Need Smaller Lifts

The Sky's the Limit

As the construction industry continues to grow, a question Snoop Dogg has been asking for decades is being asked more and more on job sites across the country.  

How can we get higher?

Thankfully, Kerman, California-based MEC Aerial Work Platforms, specializes in making some of the most popular lifts in the industry, and demand has never been stronger.

The construction industry is experiencing unprecedented growth worldwide, driving demand for more capable, more compact, mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs), such as slab scissor, vertical mast and boom lifts. These platforms play a crucial role in countless projects for tasks like installation, painting, electrical work and regular maintenance.

“The U.S. construction market, as an industry, has continued to grow. Rental companies supply all of those job sites, so they have grown along with them,” David White, MEC’s president, told Lift and Access. “The demand for shortening the timeline for construction jobs has accelerated the need for lifts of all types.”

A recent report by Precedence Research is predicting a surge in the global AWP market, buoyed by increased spending, jumping from $12.22 billion last year to nearly $30 billion by 2033.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the U.S. generally build their machines to satisfy one customer, the rental companies that supply America’s job sites. However, successful manufacturers find the secret sauce by incorporating the feedback from the operators that makes the innovation stick.

Electrifying for Growth

One of the ripest routes for growth in the MEWP sector is the all-electric, fully contained system, ideal for the increasingly complex requirements for lifts in clean and controlled environments.

The electric powered segment is expected to grow at the fastest rate due to rising environmental awareness and the need to minimize toxic emissions within these highly-controlled environments. Because they emit zero pollutants and don’t have the risk of hydraulic leaks, all-electric aerial work platforms are a more environmentally responsible option. And MEC is leading the charge.

“Efficiency, safety and productivity are always what guides us,” White said. “By engineering an entire line of fully electric lifts, by removing or fully containing potential spill threats and by focusing on the everyday inefficiencies of operation, we’ve been able to capitalize on the surging demand for these specialized machines.”

Fully electric lifts have reduced running and maintenance costs due to less frequent refueling, fewer mechanical components and less wear and tear, even though their initial purchase price may be higher. They’ve also eliminated the need for those cumbersome and nasty diapers, long-used to safeguard against potential fluid leaks in clean or controlled environments. 

“Those diapers get worn or damaged, even if no spill occurred,” White pointed out. “And they go straight into a landfill.”

Challenges Facing Growth

The constant unavailability of skilled workers to operate this equipment is what White sees as the largest barrier for growth. As a way to combat the skilled-labor shortage, companies like MEC have begun to offer training and certification courses to rental companies for their equipment to ensure certified use, and proper maintenance, of their equipment while in the field.

The compatibility of our electrical grid and electric aerial work platforms (EAWPs) is also an issue due to the large loads charging these lifts put on electrical systems, many require a dedicated, 30-amp breaker, which are not commonplace on most job sites here in the U.S.

Manufacturers like MEC have continued to listen to operators and rental companies alike for nearly half a century to introduce advanced lifts like hybrid and all-electric machines onto job sites. However, the penetration of these platforms has not been widespread, especially in the U.S.

The electrification of equipment in the global construction industry is not only pushing lifts into specialized spaces, it’s also pushing industry growth, through sustainability. Electric AWPs reduce the carbon footprint of every lift in the field and offer silent, clean and easy-to-maintain machines compared to diesel-powered equipment.

Over the long run, Gary Crook, vice president of engineering at MEC, pointed out that  EAWPs are less expensive than their diesel-powered equivalents and, given the delicate nature of the environments these machines work in, cleaner is always better. 

“With the NetZero range of machines, MEC demonstrates its dedication towards delivering the most sustainable products in the industry. When your customer and application need this advanced solution, MEC has you covered.” Crook told Lift and Access.

Growth Is Fueling Growth

The North America lift sector dominates the global market, accounting for 38% of all sales and, within that segment, scissor lifts was nearly half (49.28%) of all sales in 2023, highlighting the current, and growing, need for these cleaner, contained and compact machines.

Thanks to decades of robust investments in municipal and federal infrastructure, it’s ironic that the bigger projects get, the smaller the lifts have to be.

“As these data centers and fulfillment warehouses become bigger and more sophisticated, so did the equipment needed to build and maintain those facilities,” Crook said. 

It’s a common dynamic for companies like MEC to navigate every day. Technically, MEC’s “customers” are the thousands of rental companies that buy their equipment and try to turn that into a profit by managing the logistics and maintaining the machines that builders need. 

Herein lies the dilemma for OEMs like MEC, rental companies want durable, versatile and easy-to-maintain equipment while operators want specialized equipment that often requires additional training. All too often, these needs oppose one another.

“At nearly every job site, there’s a transition from machines that simply reach up, to machines that reach up and over,” White said. “Keeping one machine on site that does the work of two machines saves time transporting equipment and rearranging rental agreements.”

Fueled by a flurry of government spending and investments from the private sector, the construction and infrastructure industries are propelling market growth for specialized lifts. Over the past 25 years, government authorities have invested heavily in the development of large-scale public projects like airport renovations, railway stations and residential buildings, with MEWPs featured at construction sites to lift tools, equipment and workers at higher heights.

A majority of boom and scissor lifts are used at our airports for luggage storage as well as for cleaning and maintaining the aircraft while articulated electric boom lifts are used on interior work to reach the overhead of an aircraft for cleaning, maintenance and inspection work. However, as facilities grow larger, and stretch to higher heights, the need for equipment to be smaller, yet reach taller, is ever-present. 

Leading the way in the surge in demand for lifts is the explosion of gargantuan data centers and fulfillment centers. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-million-square feet of new data center capacity popped up in 2022, with an average capacity of 132,000 square feet. There’s about 43,560 square feet in one acre,  just for reference. But these facilities don’t just build out, they build up as well.

Add that to more than a quarter-of-a-billion square feet of data center capacity that already exists, and it’s easy to see why the demand for these lifts is so strong, despite its cyclical nature.

The Robots Are Taking Over

Fully automated warehouses are becoming commonplace and are equipped with aerial lifts and platforms that need minimal human intervention, but they still need lifts to maintain them.

The demand and sophisticated implementation of the electrical equipment necessary for aerial lift production has also witnessed a surge in recent years. Manufacturers like MEC have been listening to renters and end-users alike for nearly half a century to put technically advanced lifts, such as hybrid and all-electric machines, onto job sites. However, the penetration of these platforms has not been widespread, especially in North Americas, due to the lack of skilled labor and a shortage of equipment.

Massive private-sector investments in warehouse buildings by ecommerce and the aforementioned logistics giants have been fueling growth and have rallied politicians, as the race for more accurate and faster delivery capabilities become the norm.

While scissor lifts are coveted for their ability to squeeze into tiny places — while also reaching for the sky — boom lifts are renowned for their impressive height and reach capabilities, allowing workers to access rugged and elevated workspaces for those “up-and-over” tasks. This makes them ideal for tasks such as building maintenance, construction, window cleaning and tree trimming, where extended reach is essential.

Safety Was Never Cooler

One of the coolest innovations MEC has introduced is its proactive platform safety system (PPSS), which shoots red lasers around the lift to set up a virtual parameter that alerts workers to potential falling-tool safety hazards far above them.

“The PPSS initially was an added feature we only offered on a few lifts,” White said. “But, because the parameters can be customized to fit specific jobsite or regional safety requirements, it became so popular that we started offering it on every lift.”

The MEWP market, buoyed by the scissor lift segment, is going to see the fastest expansion, Precedence’s report highlights, thanks to the robust offerings of MEWPs that can be used across myriad industries. From construction and maintenance tasks to warehousing and logistics operations, lifts provide a flexible solution for access to complicated areas.

“We anticipate the aerial lift market to continue to grow,” White said. “The scale of new data centers being built, the automated fulfillment centers, the microchip manufacturing and battery production industries have pushed demand in the platform segment.” 

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