Productivity guide: Telehandlers — 6,000 pounds lift, with reach heights from 30 to 42 feet

Gauging productivity for telehandlers is difficult due to the paradoxical nature of their work. Clearly, reducing cycle times and achieving faster boom speeds is a plus for other machines. But manufacturers shy away from such comparisons with telehandlers. Because these machines work with heavy payloads at extreme heights, slow, precise movements are a plus. “Safety should be your primary concern operating a telehandler,” says Tom Eggers, product development manager, Gehl. “Once you’ve keyed on that, productivity will follow.”

Like any piece of construction equipment today, telehandler productivity is enhanced by auxiliary hydraulics systems that allow the use of an ever-widening array of attachments. And most of these are directly related to lift, carry and place applications, says Scott Cooper, senior marketing engineer, telehandlers, Caterpillar. “The most common telehandler work tools are standard carriages and forks, rotating carriages and forks, truss booms, fixed and swivel platforms and lifting hooks,” he notes. “All of these are specialized for specific applications and allow operators to work effectively given the very different aspects those jobs entail.”

Beyond those attachments, David Hahn, product manager, JCB, says buckets continue to grow in popularity. “Depending on the machine, you can spec general purpose buckets ranging from 1.5- to 2-cubic-yard capacity,” he says. “These are available as light-material or ground-engaging buckets and there are a variety of grapple buckets that can be used for handling awkwardly sized or shaped materials.”

There are also more specialized attachments available. Edi Ugolini, director, sales and marketing, Manitou North America, notes contractors can fit telehandlers with brooms and augers or specialized concrete hoppers. “These hoppers allow you to drive the machine right up to a mixer truck or station,” he says. “Once the concrete is in the hopper, you take it and pour it anywhere on a jobsite, using the boom to pour it at ground level where the mixer can’t reach, or at any elevated point within the machine’s lift height range.”

Still, Cooper says, many telehandler operators simply want a basic lift-and-carry machine, and aren’t interested in – and don’t want to pay for – the refinements that allow them to use work tools. “But,” he says, “the beauty of an attachment-capable telehandler is that it can save costs by eliminating other pieces of equipment on your jobsite.”

“Can a telescopic handler lay crushed limestone on a roadbed?” asks Ugolini. “Yes. Can it do it as effectively and quickly as a wheel loader? Probably not. But if laying limestone is an occasional or unusual application for you, a telehandler can handle it effectively, and save you the additional expense of bringing a loader onto your jobsite.”

Choice of conventional or low-boom begins the spec’ing process
Deciding on the proper-sized telehandler for a particular application is a simple matter of knowing payload capacities and required lift heights. There are choices you can make beyond that criteria, most of which hinge upon your use of the machine outside of a lift-and-carry role.

Models in these classes with lift heights under 32 feet are typically equipped with two-stage telescopic booms. Models over 32 feet feature three-stage booms. But, says Eggers, the design of the two different boom styles is so similar your operators should have no problem transitioning between them. “The biggest issue facing operators these days is control layout,” he says. “Since this market is so heavily focused on rental, an operator can’t always count on having the same machine or make of machine when a new job comes in. Safety demands he spend some time familiarizing himself with the control layouts. But productivity usually doesn’t suffer once he’s comfortable with the new patterns.”

You should also be aware there are two different types of telehandlers available today. “The traditional machine in North America has been models with a high boom pivot point,” Hahn says. “This configuration mounts the boom at a high point at the rear of the machine. The engine is usually placed at the rear of the machine under the boom to act as a counterweight. These models have long goosenecks and excel at lifting and placing product.”

In contrast are models with low boom mounts. “The typical configuration is a low pivot point with an offset engine, usually sitting on the right side of the machine,” Hahn says. “The cab balances the unit on the left .”

This configuration allows the boom to nest down between the cab and the engine when retracted. According to Hahn, this gives the operator better visibility around the machine. It addition, this layout balances the machine better and lowers its center of gravity, giving it better lateral stability during lifting operations. Another advantage, Hahn says, is that low-boom machines give operators better visibility when working with attachments or when carrying loads both high or low.

Key in on carriage assembly for optimum productivity
Most telehandler customization takes place on the machine’s carriage assembly. This is the business end of the machine, where forks, trusses or other attachments are placed.

For pick-and-place applications, manufacturers define the cargo area of a telehandler’s carriage as a 48-inch cube, with a 24-inch load center (load center is defined as the center of gravity of the particular load that’s being lifted). Based on this design, most machines come with a choice of carriages, ranging from the standard 48-inch-wide configuration, up to 72 inches wide for larger loads.

“If you’re placing brick or block, typically speaking, go with a 48-inch-wide carriage with brick and block forks,” Ugolini says. “If you want a wider carriage, make sure the total weight handled does not exceed the rated capacity at the landing height required.”

Drywall contractors will also want to opt for a 48-inch carriage, since it allows easier access through window openings and other structural entrances. Generally speaking, telehandler operators in drywall applications are called on to do delicate pick-and-place maneuvering. A swing carriage is a big benefit in these jobs, since it allows you a full range of three-dimensional motion when manipulating a load. It can be raised up, tilted back and then swung laterally, allowing unloading through a window opening quickly and more safely than constantly repositioning the entire machine.

Even though the telehandler will have a frame-leveling function, Eggers says it’s still a good idea to spec masonry machines with rotating carriages that allow the load to be leveled out before landing it. “These carriages rotate 10 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise,” he says. “Landing bricks on uneven scaffolding is a good example of that. You can tilt the load and match the surface of the landing and not disrupt the integrity of the scaffolding.

“Always remember that the machine’s frame-leveling function is to make sure that the boom is perpendicular with the ground,” Eggers says. “You should never use that function to move a load in the air because you’ll end up compromising the machine’s overall stability and increase the chance of an accident happening.”

Because of the inherently dangerous nature of their work, productivity with a telehandler cannot be measured in quickness. Placing drywall is a prime example of this rule. “You want a machine that allows you to move a swing, side-shift or side-tilt carriage very slowly, then have finite control over the speed of the function throughout the movement,” Hahn says. “Quick movements will only destabilize the machine. At full extension heights of 42 feet, with a load of block weighing 2,400 pounds, all movements become magnified. Smooth and slow counts more than quick in those operations.”

Forward reach an issue with wider carriages
Carriages with 72-inch spreads are available for oversized materials. “These wider carriages let operators spread the forks out,” Ugolini explains. “They can get a better balanced load, and not have as much droop in it as they lift.”

Forward reach is an important advantage for framing contractors. But as a telehandler’s load moves forward at its maximum reach height, the chance of exceeding the unit’s tipping load increases dramatically. Fortunately, most roof trusses weigh less than 500 pounds, which gives you a cushion.

Load center is the key to the equation, Ugolini says. “The width of the load must be taken in account before a lift,” he says. “If you’re carrying a 3,000-pound load of timber that’s 12 feet wide with a 24-inch load center to the forward, as long as the frame levels out, he’ll be OK. But if he’s got a 90-inch load that weighs 3,000 pounds, that increases his load center to 45 inches, and it’s time to start asking questions about the safety of that lift.”

If you routinely need additional forward reach, Egger suggests spec’ing a truss boom attachment. “These booms are designed to efficiently lift roof trusses and the additional boom extension can give as much as 15 feet (depending on the load) of extra forward reach,” he says. “There are also winch-equipped truss booms available with 100 feet of cable and a dolly wheel. In addition to lifting and setting trusses, these attachments can allow a telehandler to replace a truck-mounted crane in many applications.”