Choices, choices: access under the spotlight
By Maria Hadlow13 August 2008
With the major US manufacturers suffering on their home market, Europe is receiving more and more attention, giving buyers and users more choice of powered access platforms than ever before. At the same time, Europe's rental companies and manufacturers are pushing into Eastern Europe, again expanding contractors' choices. Maria Hadlow reports.
The US construction market is not a happy one at the moment, and the situation is a worrying one for powered access manufacturers. These companies' main customer groups is rental companies, and the ‘feast or famine' approach that they often take to investing in their fleets can mean access platform manufacturers can be exposed to a brutal cycle.
As a result, some attention is turning to Europe, which is a relatively under-developed powered access market compared to the US in any case. Europe is experiencing a slowdown in activity, but it is a long way from the sharp construction recession in the US, and there is clearly growth to be had in the booming markets of Eastern Europe.
This is all having an interesting set of effects. First, Europe's major rental companies are expanding into Eastern Europe as well as some key Southern countries, bringing greater access to powered access (as it were) for contractors in these countries.
Riwal of the Netherlands has acquired 70% of Spain's Grupo Clem, one of the biggest access renters in the country, as well as 123lift in Estonia. Grupo Clem has 1700 aerial platforms and 123lift plans to expand throughout the Baltic States where it has a few hundred aerials in the three Baltic states.
Height for Hire, based in Ireland has taken a majority shareholding in Slovakian access rental company Stronje Centrum Slovakia (SCS) which has a fleet of around 100 machines. SCS will now operate as a subsidiary of Height for Hire.
Finnish companies Ramirent and Cramo meanwhile are strengthening their presence in the Russian market. Two subsidiaries of Ramirent operate in St Petersburg and one in Moscow. Cramo has a subsidiary in St Petersburg and has established a joint venture in Moscow with the Rentakran rental company.
But it is not all about established rental companies buying their way into new markets. Russian rental company LTech has ambitious growth plans, backed by a 1000-strong aerial platform, with machines no older than five years.
Another example is Polish access rental company CityRent which is adding 120 to150 new aerial platforms to its fleet in 2008, bringing its holding to almost 400 machines. The company, which has grown +30% since 2005, is also opening a new depot in Gdansk to add to those in Poznan, Poland, and Prague in the Czech Republic.
The attractions of Eastern Europe are not just being seen by rental companies looking to capitalise on the back of booming construction markets. Manufacturers are also setting up facilities in the region to get closer to their customers. Haulotte has started producing scissor lifts in Romania, having recently opened a larger factory in order to meet the predicted demand.
Canadian manufacturer Skyjack's is increasing the volume and range at its Hungarian factory where the small 3220 and 3226 electric scissor lifts have been made for several years. The full line of electric scissors is due to be produced in Hungary by the end of this year. Skyjack president Ken McDougall, said, "Ideally you produce for the market in the market"
Aside from the growth opportunities in Eastern Europe, more and more powered access manufacturers are targeting the EU in general, bringing a greater range of equipment into the region and more choice for rental companies and contractors alike.
For example, Skyjack's SJ66T boom is now being imported into Europe. The boom reaches a 66 ft (20,1 m) working height and incorporates a 5 ft (1,5 m)jib. The four wheel drive system features a "Detroit Locker" type rear differential which is designed to maximise traction by delivering 100% of the torque to both drive wheels.
The Bil-Jax self-propelled X-booms are sold through dealers throughout Europe. X-Booms have 45% gradeability, 5,6 km/h drive speed and four-wheel drive capability. Hydraulic outriggers have replaced the heavy counterweights found on conventional self-propelled machines aiming to make the X-Boom lighter and less expensive than other self-propelled booms on the market.
MEC, meanwhile is taking European orders for the M40T telescopic boom series which was the third boom launched in the US earlier this year, while the first MEC scissor lifts have been delivered to the UK this year following the start of production in October.
But new access products are not just coming to Europe across the Atlantic - established and emerging manufacturers in Asia are also upping their offerings in the region.
It is Japanese manufacturer Aichi's aim to become the number one in powered access equipment. To this end the company launched the first of its "global" machines this year, 12 m and 14 m telescopic booms and 6 and 8 m electric scissor lifts. Bigger booms and rough terrain scissors are expected follow.
The booms have three speeds fast, slow and the new ‘elephant' rating used when the machine is facing particularly difficult ground. The 14m SP14CJ is equipped with a 1,75 m long fly jib, it is designed to be good on rough terrain and the compact design and three section boom make it easy to transport. The scissors, the SV06CNL and SV08CNL, have an AC drive system that allows them to run for a week on a single charge.
At the beginning of the year Chinese manufacturer Baoda achieved CE marks for its hoists. These are already successfully sold in North America and are now available in Europe.
Beijing JingCheng Heavy industry is to launch its self propelled and trailer mounted platforms in Europe and North America this year. Its electric scissor lifts, telescopic boom lifts from 24 m to 38 m platform heights and a 16 m articulated boom are CE marked.
Of course Europe has a vibrant powered access fraternity of its own, and the region's manufacturers have themselves launched plenty of new machines this year.
Haulotte's H28 TJ boom lift offers a maximum platform height of 26,2m and features a 6m fly jib which allows the machine to provide access to sites which would not be possible with a traditional telescopic boom. These include recessed areas, where an ‘up and over' movement is needed to bypass an obstacle, or even under-bridge applications. The wider working envelope provided by the jib can also remove the need to constantly adjust the main boom.
This year Italian Merlo has started field trials in Italy and France on its new range of MRP aerial platforms seen in prototype at Bauma last year. The three models from 20 m to 30 m working heights have been CE marked and the first production run has now started.
Oil & Steel in Italy has recently launched the 20 m working height 2010 Compact to expand its Snake line of 3.5 t truck mounted platforms to four models. The new model fits, in terms of size, between the Snake 189 and Snake 2112 Smart models but offers a different working envelope and a novel stabilisation concept.
The machine's double pantographic, steel, lower boom sections rise to an almost vertical position to provide 10 m of vertical only movement of the basket. Maximum outreach with the 2010 Compact's telescoping boom is 10 m with maximum payload of 200 kg. Stabilisers, whose ‘feet' deploy hydraulically from their legs to support the carrier, bear the name Gecko first deliveries will be in October.
Italy's CTE's improved CS 135E spider is a version of the original 13,3 m working height platform. Cables and piping have been brought inside the boom, there are proportional controls and a sound-proofed Lombardini diesel engine.
Notwithstanding all the new developments already this year, the main event for the powered access sector is still to come. September 17 to 19 sees the APEX exhibition held in Maastricht, the Netherlands. This specialised powered access event is organised by KHL, the publisher of CE, and is supported by sister-magazine Access International.
Manitou will be launching five new machines at APEX, two VJR Evolution telescopic masts, two Bi-energy articulated booms and an additional model in its engined articulated boom range, the 20 m 200 ATJ..
The VJR Evolution machines have a vertical telescopic mast, which allows work in restricted areas, with a jib that provides 3,3 m out-reach and can rotate 3500 in each direction. The 80 VJR and 100 VJR Evolution models have been designed with particularly low weights, 2,25 and 2,60 tonnes respectively, which opens up the range of industrial applications where they can be suitably employed. Transfer motors fitted to the VJR Evolution range have improved the battery's operational period, reducing power consumption.
The bi-energy booms are similar to Manitou's electric models but the addition of a low noise, two cylinder, water cooled, Lombardi Focs 702 - 10,7 kW engine allows the machines to be used outside as well as inside. The 150 AETJ L and 170 AETJ L can run entirely from the battery in electric mode or from the diesel engine and have 15 m and 17 m working heights respectively.
The 200 ATJ 20 m articulated boom which will go into production in the first quarter of 2009, differs from Manitou's smaller 160 (16 m) and 180 (18 m) models in that the articulating elements are aligned on top of each other not side by side. This construction, says Manitou, provides more rigidity for the higher working height and 12 m outreach.
Italian manufacturer Iteco is launching a new battery operated scissor with four-wheel drive designed to work inside and outside on rough terrain. The IT 17210 E has a working height of 19 m, a lift capacity of 600 kg even on the 2 m deck extension and 35% gradability. The platform is 3.9 x 2.1 m and 3.2 m high (2.58 m with folded guardrails). The model shown at APEX will be the first in the range called SERIE210, a diesel version will follow then the IT14210E a 16.5 m height 600 kg load electric scissor and a similar machine with diesel.
High Set Techno Oy, the Finnish maker of the Leguan range of access equipment, is hoping to show a 12.5 m working height spider, the first of a new line that it is working on.
Among Dinolift's products is a battery operated Dino 180 TB. This is an easy to use, compact trailer mounted telescopic boom with a long outreach and hydraulic outriggers which are quick and easy to set up. The battery can be used where no power supply is available it can also run from the mains and the machine can be used even when the batteries are being charged.
German truck mount specialist, Wumag, which was recently taken over by Austrian loader crane manufacturer Palfinger, will show its WT100 at APEX. This is currently the world's tallest elevating platform with a 102,5 m working height and this particular machine is destined for the Netherlands rental company Riwal.
But as we move into 2009 the height war will continue. Look out for Bronto's S78 XDT straight telescopic boom lift which, at 78m will be the highest ever built, the first machine is due for delivery in spring 2009.
Bronto is also planning a 104 m version of its 101 m working height S101 HLA truck mounted aerial work platform due to be launched mid 2009 this will out strip Wumag's machine and has already been sold for use in wind turbine maintenance.
Bronto may not hold the crown for long however as the 100 m plus truck mounts promised by Socage for the end of next year could be see a 105 m working height machine produced.
The number of manufacturers supplying equipment to Europe and the geographic reach of the region's rental companies has changed immeasurably over the last few years. This doesn't just mean more choice, but more machines suited to European conditions and specific applications.
It is to be hoped that this is still the case in 12 months time. The last time the industry went into a downturn there was utter carnage among manufacturers, with bankruptcies, acquisitions and restructurings galore. But the industry is in better shape now, with less dependence on a handful of big markets, and better profitability.