Aerial Work Platforms


by Thomas A. Westerkamp

Once a maintenance manager has decided to acquire an aerial work platform for his department, the next step is to decide on the best lift for the price and the planned use. This article attempts to walk managers through the issues of deciding on and acquiring the best aerial lift for their needs. Topics covered are:
• Steps to understanding specific facility equipment needs
• Guidelines for selecting the right type of equipment based on needs — scissor lift, boom lift, telehandler, personnel lift, etc.
• Suggestions for analyzing financial options to determine the best acquisition option — buy new, buy used, rent or lease?

Four steps to understanding facility equipment needs
The first step in understanding facility equipment needs is to have a clear understanding of local building codes and regulations. In some situations, handling large fabrications and issues involving mobility at the work site elevation may preclude using an aerial lift. Also, in some situations, building codes may require that you use scaffolding rather than relying on an aerial lift.

The next step is to develop an in-depth understanding of the kinds of work, locations, and conditions in the work that you normally do that would require aerial lifts. These requirement situations can be further divided into one-time and recurring needs. For example, moving material onto a roof with a boom lift is a one-time construction project. However, annual recurring re-lamping, window washing, and cleaning electrical insulators is continual ongoing maintenance.
The third step is to examine the myriad of lift equipment choices available today. You’ll want to make a choice, based on your needs, that enhances safety while increasing productivity on the work site.

The fourth step is to consider how much equipment and how many workers need to be at the elevated work site. This step is the basis for selecting the right capacity, elevated work area, size, and accessories.

Selecting the right type of lift based on your needs: scissor lift, boom lift, telehandler, or personnel lift.
The main capabilities to focus on when deciding which type of equipment to choose – scissor lift, boom lift, telehandler, or personnel lift – are access, mobility and load.

Access can be thought of as reaching to a point somewhere at the top of a cube in space. The point may be directly overhead, overhead and forward, out and down, or rotated to the right or left, but is usually a combination. The combination of access points determines the type of elevating mechanism—scissors for straight up, boom to reach up and out, an articulated boom to reach up, out, over and down. The type of carriage you need is a function of the surface you are working from—indoor, hard, level surface, or outdoor, rough, uneven surface.

Mobility is another consideration. Do you need self-propelled to move around frequently in the workplace, or truck- or trailer-mounted lift so you can move rapidly from one location to another over the road. Do you need quick extension and retraction of the mast at the job site? Should the lift be powered by electric, gas, diesel, or propane? What accessories are required?

Many choices are available: electric and pneumatic power on the platform; platform extension; welding hookups; glazing storage; lamping storage; easy access tool holders.
Because of the endless variety of maintenance work, versatility is king when selecting aerial lift equipment. You’ll probably want the most capability for the dollar. For example, suppose your work site needs included the following: a load capacity up 10,000 lbs.; a lifting height of 56 feet; a reach of 42 feet; straight forks; rotating forks for setting loads on uneven ground; coil handler; scoop bucket; grapple clamp bucket; garbage bucket; crane hook; spreader bar (also called strongback) for multiple hookups on long materials like beams; concrete block cube lift; work platform; work platform extension with guardrail; boom extension truss to add six feet to reach capacity; and pallet lift. This might seem like a tall order, but lifts are so versatile now that one telehandler lift with accessories can handle all of the above needs.

The same versatility can be found in today’s boom lifts. One unit can reach to 45-feet work height, with a 7-1/2-foot by 22-foot platform and 4,000 lb. capacity to accommodate a work bench and more material so fewer trips to the ground are needed. Boom lifts can reach a 55-foot-long work space without relocating on the ground, and the platform rotates 180 degrees without moving the boom. Sliding tracks for fall protection harnesses allow workers to move anywhere on the platform without unhooking and re-hooking. Many boom lifts also have crab steering for precise maneuvering, and onboard diagnostics.

Scissor lifts are more limited to straight vertical lift jobs, but they now have guarded platform extensions to add more horizontal reach. Scissor lifts have a small footprint, are very maneuverable in small spaces, and can even navigate through personnel doors.

Personnel lifts can be modified for all-weather work by enclosing the bucket or work platform with a tent and even adding a heater for maximum protection against wind, rain, cold, ice and snow.

Should you buy new, buy used, rent or lease?
The best acquisition options can often be viewed through the lens of permanence. Buying a new aerial lift requires the most decision-making, because lifts are so costly. A thorough analysis of all lifting requirements will help you select a good, versatile aerial lift with attachments that can fit all your needs and still maintain high utilization for the price.
Buying used equipment is the next option, so the same decision process applies, but there is less financial impact. Both of these buying options involve capital expenditure. Purchased equipment (whether new or used) is depreciated over time, and can also be financed over time.

Leasing is another option for obtaining a lift. Leases are often granted for a fixed time, so it is very important to ensure that you keep the lift working over the period of the lease. The lease period of a month, for example, means the one-time pickup and delivery cost is spread over thirty operating days. If you can fully utilize a lift for a lease period, leasing is usually a much better financial option than renting.

The daily rate of rental equipment is very high, in addition, you have delivery and return costs that are spread over just one or a few days, and might be as high as twenty percent of the daily rental rate. Rentals of lifts are usually short-term and only for specific purposes. For example, a one-time job of placing an air conditioner, weighing 600 pounds, twenty feet in from the edge on a forty-foot-high roof would be best done with a rented lift. Leases and rentals are expenses that are written off in the year they incur, so no long-term depreciation issues are involved.

Deciding on which option for obtaining your lift involves both cost and functional considerations. Cost issues include:
• Length of investment
• Availability of cash
• Aerial lift investment versus payback
• Potential for other investments using the same funds
• Interest rates
• Pickup and delivery cost
• Maintenance cost

Close communication with your finance and accounting departments and written agreements with all those involved, are the best practices in resolving the economic issues in determining which financial option is best for obtaining your lift.

Functional issues are equally important and should include:
• Exploring personal protection safety equipment and procedures
• Aerial equipment safety controls
• In-house maintenance capability
• Availability of aerial lift operating and maintenance technicians
• Operation and maintenance manuals located on the equipment
• Safety, operating and maintenance training requirements
• In-house or contractor repair facilities, tools and equipment
• Secure storage space for the aerial equipment when not in use.

Master specification formats show agreement details with reference to appropriate OSHA, ANSI and other regulations and standards to assure complete understanding between parties.

Once you obtain your new lift, you should find that your productivity is increasing and realize the rewards of your decision. Hopefully, by carefully reviewing the options listed here you’ll be able to obtain the right lift, at the right price, for the job at hand.

Other resources
American National Standards Institute (ANSI),
American Society of Safety Engineers, 1800 E. Oakton Street, Des Plaines, IL 60018,
International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), www.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA),

Thomas A. Westerkamp is a consultant, lecturer, and author of the Maintenance Manager's Standard Manual and AWARE.MPS, Maintenance Productivity Suite. He founded Productivity Network Innovations, LLC (PNI), in 1986.

He held positions of Partner and Director, H. B. Maynard and Company, Inc., now a part of Accenture, and plant engineer and master mechanic in the paperboard industry. He has written over 200 articles for Maintenance Solutions, a publication of Trade Press Publishing, and for numerous trade journals, and has presented maintenance management webcasts. He works with clients in manufacturing, service industries and government to install integrated performance management/CMMS and shop floor control programs in single- and multi–facility maintenance operations in the U.S., including Alaska, and in Aruba, Canada, and India.

Tags: Facilities

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