Bil-Jax Enters the Self-Propelled Boom Lift Market

At the World of Concrete, Bil-Jax, Archbold, Ohio, will officially unveil its first-ever self-propelled telescopic boom lift, the 36-foot-tall SLT-3632T. Currently undergoing rigorous testing, the SLT-3632T will eventually be one in a series of X-Boom machines • a crossover boom lift that features the transportability of a trailer-mounted aerial lift and the maneuverability of a conventional self-propelled boom lift • available from Bil-Jax. Recently, Steve Citron, Bil-Jax's director of business development, explained to Lift and Access 360 the significance of its unique new boom lift.

360: Is this Bil-Jax's first-ever self-propelled boom lift?

Citron: It depends on your definition of what is included in the self-propelled boom product category. Our trailer-mounted booms can be equipped with a drive-and-set feature, and the Falcon 125 boom lift was considered by some as a machine with a self-propulsion means other than by manually pushing it around. If you use the more traditional or mainstream definition of self-propelled booms characterized by high performance gradeability, drive speed, and four-wheel drive capability, then I would say that this is indeed the first-ever • and the first of several • self-propelled booms that Bil-Jax plans to introduce in the near term.

360: Why is the company venturing into this market?

Citron: Conventional self-propelled booms started off as fairly simple machines but have evolved into much heavier, more expensive, and sophisticated products as major players have fiercely competed to develop better machines over the years. Combined with recent technological developments, such as automatic leveling and ReGen hydraulic systems, an opportunity has been created to develop a new category of self-propelled boom lifts that will satisfy a longstanding, unmet market need.

This new category, which we refer to as the X-Boom products, will provide rental companies, contractors, and other end-users with a choice of several boom models, each providing the easy-to-transport advantage of trailer-mounted booms • without requiring commercial transport vehicles and a CDL • with the jobsite maneuverability of traditional self-propelled booms, at a substantially lower price than fully counterweighted self-propelled booms. In essence, we are looking to supply the best of both worlds at a very attractive acquisition price, which will ultimately provide exceptional value and return on investment.

360: What are some of the similarities between the X-Booms and the Summit Series towable aerials? What are the differences?

Citron: Both products are outrigger-based machines, and we are really leveraging the field-proven components of the Summit Series in our design approach to the new X-Boom product family. This provides us with some common features like leveling capability, set-up time, 500-pound load capacity, and easy-to-use control systems. We had already planned to design these types of booms when we were originally designing the Summit Series family, so with a few exceptions, everything from the turntable up is common between the Summit Series models and the new X-boom model line-up.

While there is some commonality between the Summit Series and X-Boom chassis design, the big difference is the Summit Series booms are mounted to a trailer chassis, and our new X-Booms are mounted to a fully self-propelled, four-wheel drive chassis. X-Booms feature an oscillating axle and provide a fully proportional maximum drive speed of nearly 4-mph and gradeability performance of 45%. The next obvious difference between the two product lines is that the X-Booms are not directly towable. Other X-Boom differences include a larger 5-foot wide platform, an integrated 4,500-watt continuous duty generator, hydraulic oil cooler, Kawasaki FH641V 21 HP air-cooled gas engine, and the next generation of fully proportional boom controls.

360: The SLT-3632T is the first model in this six machine series. What other sizes do you plan to introduce, and when do you expect them to be available?

Citron: We are unveiling the SLT-3632T at the World of Concrete, but we will not be in a position to deliver product for several months as we need to finish all field and accelerated life-cycle testing prior to commencing with full-scale production start-up and customer shipments. The next model will probably be the SLT-4527A articulating self-propelled boom because it utilizes the same drive chassis as the SLT-3632T and the turntable-up commonality of the 4527A trailer-mounted boom. We will then introduce the other models in a methodical manner based in part on customer feedback we receive. Since we are currently leveraging component and design commonality with the Summit Series, we can basically deliver a family of X-Boom models in the same height and outreach ranges as our towable models.

360: Who would be an ideal X-Boom end-user?

Citron: X-Booms are ideal for end-users who require “on-the-go” access provided by towables and jobsite maneuverability of traditional self-propelled booms, because these machines can be positioned on a utility trailer and then towed by larger SUVs and common 1/2- to 3/4-ton pick-up trucks vs. more expensive tractor-trailer rigs that require CDL licensed drivers. We have had significant feedback from rental operators to end-users who unanimously approved the product concept and have expressed sincere interest in purchasing the product line.

We believe that a portion of the trailer-mounted and self-propelled boom user base will shift over to X-Booms in the near future, and new X-Boom market growth opportunities will emerge from end-user applications that are not being adequately served by either trailer-mount or traditional self-propelled boom models currently available in the marketplace.

360: If an end-user was faced with renting a trailer-mounted aerial, a conventional self-propelled boom lift, or an X-Boom, why would he or she select the X-Boom?

Citron: The vast majority of real world access applications do not require operators to drive while fully elevated in order to complete specific job tasks. Although in some applications it is convenient to do so, this convenience comes at a substantial price for additional counterweight, complexity, and larger engines and drive systems to propel all that weight around with reasonable drive speed and gradeability performance. This translates into two big negatives for traditional self-propelled booms: high acquisition prices and specialized transportation requirements, which ultimately result in higher rental rates and delivery and pick-up charges incurred by end-users. So the first set of reasons why an end-user would potentially choose an X-Boom over a conventional self-propelled boom is lower rental rates, no fees for pick-up and delivery, and more flexibility to transport the machine to multiple job locations during the same rental period.

In addition to the financial and transportation considerations, there are several other job specific factors that would influence an end-user's decision to choose an X-Boom, especially in areas where floor or point loading is a concern. X-Booms are less than half the weight of comparable self-propelled booms, making them usable in applications that are off-limits to conventional booms. In addition, the 12.5� leveling capability of our X-Booms can typically provide better utility on slopes whereas traditional booms are somewhat limited beyond 5�. Finally, X-Booms can only be driven in the fully stowed position, greatly reducing the risk of injury and subsequent liability associated with negligence or improper use of the machine by a rental end-user.

When comparing against a typical trailer-mounted boom, a rental end-user would choose an X-Boom for significant jobsite maneuverability • especially in applications where multiple set-ups are required, such as window washing, painting, or tree trimming, or where point loading is a concern • because although the X-Booms are slightly heavier than comparable trailer-mounted booms, this weight is dispersed across four tires vs. only two for a trailer mount. This means that in many cases, the point loading • and subsequent turf and landscape damage potential • is higher on a trailer-mounted aerial than an X-Boom when being maneuvered into position. In many cases, trailer-mounted booms also must be positioned on landscaping by a tow vehicle, and there is also turf damage potential from the tow vehicle and the boom in these cases.

360: What is different about Bil-Jax's approach to the X-Boom product category compared to other similar products in Europe?

Citron: Comparable X-Boom products manufactured in Europe, such as models produced by ScanLift or the SEV Pioneer, are solid machines, and we looked very closely at these products throughout our benchmarking process. One key difference in our design approach is we have carefully studied the towing capacities of vehicles commonly found throughout North America, and we have reviewed the relevant laws related to towing. We ultimately determined that although the cut-off for requiring a CDL is at the 10,000-pound mark, we could best serve the market and provide a much higher level of transportability for these machines by targeting a combined GVW of less than 7,500 pounds for the combined transport trailer and boom lift.

In addition, we also applied the auto-leveling system and ReGen technology from the Summit Series to the X-Boom design to provide the ability to set up the machine in less than 30 seconds, effectively minimizing the fact that these machines cannot be driven while the platform is fully elevated like conventional self-propelled models. Minimizing the machine set-up time was another key specification because the longer it takes to set-up this type of machine, the less attractive it would be compared to traditional booms. We believe that a set-up time of less than 30 seconds adequately addresses any concerns.

Finally, pricing is another key factor, and some of this is more controlled by the exchange rate than product costs. Currently, European machines comparable to the X-Boom tend to be more expensive than our targeted price range, which closes the acquisition cost viability gap compared to domestically produced, conventional self-propelled booms. One of our most important design specifications was cost containment because the closer you can match the performance and features of a self-propelled boom and the further away you can position pricing, the more viable the product concept becomes.

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