Application Tips: Aerial lifts

Although all aerial lifts perform a similar function – lifting manpower and materials to an above-ground worksite – there are several types to choose from. Finding the right lift for the job means knowing your application and doing some research.

Not just any aerial lift can be used for all jobs, though. Before you choose a lift, look carefully at how and where you will be using it. Chris Dossin, director of marketing for Skyjack, says to look at the application itself – whether it’s inside or out, what type of work is to be done, if it needs to be battery or engine-powered, the capacity required and the platform size. He suggests discussing the application with your sales or rental representative. “Rental company staff can be most helpful in helping end users choose the proper machine for the application,” says Dossin.

Mark Mohn, product manager, JLG, says size, power source, ease of use, capacity, options and potential obstructions are all important factors. “Everything always goes back to the application,” Mohn says.

There are many lifts to choose from – JLG, for example, has more than 60 models – so start by asking yourself the following questions:

How high does the lift need to go?
Maximum lift is a primary consideration when choosing a machine. Generally, the working height is about six feet higher than the platform height, meaning that if you purchase a scissor lift with a platform height of 50 feet, you can work up to a height of 56 feet. Boom lifts with platform heights of up to 150 feet are now available – perfect for construction applications requiring workers to reach the upper floors of some buildings.

What kind of lift do I need?
Because of the larger platform space, scissor lifts are perfect for moving a lot of people or equipment straight up and down, and are available in a number of different platform heights. Skyjack offers electric scissor lifts from 15 to 32 feet, and rough terrain scissor lifts from 26 to 30 feet. But even if the height and platform size is right, consider your job carefully – if there are obstacles you need to go over or around, a scissor lift is not for you.

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A boom lift is useful for many different kinds of jobs. There are two types of boom lifts – telescopic and articulated. Telescopic boom lifts have a vertical “stick” arm and articulated – or knuckle – booms have an arm that bends. Chuck Hutchinson, vice president of sales and marketing for Bil-Jax says that their towable, trailer-mounted boom lifts are a good fit for maintenance applications of all types and are “easy to transport, set up and operate,” he says. “Vertical telescopic lifts are best suited for maintenance applications that do not require many moves to complete.”

What kind of power should I use?
Aerial lifts use a variety of power sources, including electric, gas and diesel. Mohn says the job dictates the choice. “The power source depends on the application,” Mohn says. “If you need to work indoors your first choice is electric. If the work is outdoors the power choice would be diesel or dual fuel.”

Mohn says if you’re on a construction site and you need a small scissor lift, you might still use electric-powered lifts. Gas and diesel powered machines are options when electricity is not readily available.

What kind of surface will I be working on?
If you will be using your aerial lift on a concrete slab or indoors, a slab lift is appropriate. If the ground is not smooth, you may need a boom lift with additional outreach or a rough terrain scissor lift with outriggers or leveling jacks. Hutchinson cautions that vertical telescopic lifts may not be the right choice for rough terrain. “Vertical telescopic lifts are not well suited for use on uneven ground, or where numerous moves are required,” Hutchinson says.

The work surface will also dictate your choice of tire – will you be on solid concrete or driving the lift through mud? On rough terrain, pneumatic tires filled with air or foam perform better than solid rubber tires by giving a smoother ride. When working indoors, solid rubber tires that will not mark the floor are an option.

If you are working outdoors and the terrain is sloped, you may need a lift with more gradeability. And if the site contains a lot of debris, consider the machine’s ground clearance. If it’s muddy, you might need four-wheel drive, or a lift with a crawler undercarriage.

What is the location like?
Knowing the size of the area you will be working in is crucial when selecting a lift. If you’re going to be indoors, a tight turning radius or less tail swing could be important. If you have to pass through narrow areas, you must consider machine width.

Look over your jobsite. If there are overhead obstructions that you have to work around, you can use an articulated boom lift or a boom lift with an articulated jib to allow you to reach over and around obstacles. You need to consider which machine will give you the correct combination of height and horizontal outreach that you need to reach the work area. Check for low clearance areas where the stowed height of the machine might be an issue.

Check for weight restrictions and compare them to the specifications of the lift you want to buy. Parking structures, bridges and sidewalks all have load limits.

What kind of special features do I need?
Once you’ve chosen the type and size of lift that will best suit your application, think about what kind of tools you will be using to complete the work. Besides having electrical outlets and air lines on the platform, a wide range of optional features are available to enhance your productivity. Having a built-in generator in the base with a power cable and lines for air and water running through the boom to platform will allow you to power welders, plasma cutters, saws, pressure washing systems and lighting packages. Using an integrated tool system eliminates the need for ancillary equipment and avoids having wires or hoses running over the side of the platform to the ground.

If you decide on optional features for your lift, make sure they are not so complex that they interfere with performance. Ease of use is important, Dossin says. “Computers can be temperamental in these applications,” he says.

If you do run into problems, help is available. Leading manufacturers offer comprehensive technical support. If you review your equipment needs extensively prior to purchasing a lift, however, you will be armed with the information you need to avoid a costly mistake.

Quick checklist
Compare available models with your job requirements in the following areas:

Platform height: How high do you need to go, and is there anything you will have to work around?

Work requirement: How many people are needed for the job? How much material?

Power source: Electric, gas or diesel? If you’re inside, electric might be best.

Work surface: Unless it’s indoors or on smooth ground, choose a rough terrain lift.

Location parameters: Measure everything to make sure your lift will fit. Look for low clearance areas, overhead obstructions, weight restrictions and narrow areas.

Options: What types of tools are you going to use to do the job? A built-in generator could enhance productivity.