Specialization rules in the construction equipment world – and the telehandler is the machine of choice for contractors engaged in intensive material-handling and pick-and-place applications. Masonry, steel erection and framing contractors are among the top users of telehandlers with 8,000 pounds capacity and 40 feet of lift height or more. Sometimes called rough-terrain forklifts due to their basic machine profile – four equal-size tires, four-wheel drive and a long, narrow extending boom – telehandlers excel at material-handling. But as hydraulic systems matured, new possibilities opened up and they now tackle a wider variety of jobs.
It’s important to note telehandlers will never be high-production machines in many of these roles. Take bucket work, for example. The boom that makes these machines so effective at high-reach, pick-and-place jobs is a detriment in aggressive bucket work. The boom is sensitive to lateral shock loads, which can bend and weaken it over time. The nature of this boom design also gives it decreased breakout forces since it was originally designed for a very different kind of work.
As Dave White, product marketing manager, Ingersoll-Rand, notes, in limited bucket applications – cleanup work, for example – a telehandler can easily be a productive alternative to using a small wheel loader or backhoe. And as long as the operator enters the pile correctly, avoids being overly aggressive and keeps the boom retracted when rooting and extracting material from the pile, then a whole new dimension of productivity can be added to the telehandler without compromising its original strengths. “It’s absolutely true that a telescopic handler is not going to be the best digging machine on your jobsite,” says White. “Coach your operators to remember the telehandler’s boom is not designed to be ground engaging – especially on a multi-stage boom.
The same concept holds true for the use of other attachments. Many contractors no longer feel the need to add backhoes or skid-steer loaders to their fleets to run attachments, understanding their telehandlers can now handle augers, sweepers and even small hammers and breakers when they’re not lifting heavy payloads.
Hedge your bets
Your first call when looking at a telehandler should be the maximum height you think you’ll ever need to lift to, says John Koepf, product manager, Gehl. “You probably should add a little bit to it,” he adds, “because sooner or later you’re going to be on a jobsite where the terrain is uneven or you’ve got part of a building that’s on a slope. Either way, it always seems contractors need just a little bit more height and reach to get their jobs done.”
“The types of material and how they’re packaged has gotten heavier in recent years,” notes Ky Kuehling, vice president, telehandler products, JLG Industries (manufacturer of Lull, JLG, Gradall and Skytrak machines). “Another mitigating circumstance is jobsites have grown more congested. With multiple contractors working on sites at the same time it’s not uncommon for telehandlers to encounter ditches and other obstacles in the areas they need to approach to raise up and deliver supplies.”
These factors, Kuehling says, have fueled the transition from mainstay machines with 36-foot lift heights and 6,000-pound capacities to models with minimum 40-foot reach heights and payload capacities from 8,000 to 10,000 pounds. Contractors also want machines with more reach for delivering supplies horizontally on a jobsite as well as vertically. “A telehandler can reach out over a freshly poured slab and across ditches or flooded areas to deliver payloads to crews working on the ground,” Kuhling notes. “This makes an even stronger case for making reach your primary consideration when spec’ing a machine.”
Once you’ve determined your optimal reach height, though, bear in mind that capacity is not a constant. Machines in the class covered in this article, for example, are rated at 8,000 pounds. That’s the amount of material they can lift at ground level. But that rated capacity falls off exponentially as the operator starts to raise the boom into the air.
Load charts are your key to finding a machine’s capacity at various reach heights. But Koepf says having a firm grasp of your standard payloads is essential. “A typical load of block, for example, weighs around 3,500 pounds,” he notes. “If you’re raising it up four stories – 40 feet – the load chart will tell you if you’re within the machine’s rated capacity at that height. It’s a good practice to hedge your bet by spec’ing a higher capacity machine to ensure you’re productive and safe at maximum reach height.”
And spec the proper carriage for the loads you’ll be lifting, says Beau Anderson, product manager, Terex. “There is a wide variety of load placement options,” he notes. “The standard fork carriage for machines in this class is 48 inches wide with 48-inch-long forks,” he says. “This carriage works well when lifting pallets. Wider carriages up to 72 inches wide with 72-inch-long forks should be considered when handling long or bulky items such as lumber.”
Anderson suggests spec’ing cubing tines to handle masonry materials such as brick or block and a rotating fork carriage is useful when the landing area, such as a rooftop, is not level. In the same vein, a swing carriage allows you to swing the carriage away from the centerline of the boom, useful when a straight-on payload approach cannot be affected.
Truss booms are a popular carriage attachment, according to Kuehling, because they give telehandlers the ability to handle larger loads. “In many cases, these loads are typically lighter than a pallet of building materials, but are more awkward to manipulate with the boom,” he explains. “Truss booms give you the ability to lift them but also have an additional 10 to 15 feet of reach (compared to the machine’s conventional boom) to help set those clumsy loads into position.”
Check visibility characteristics
Koepf coaches Gehl customers to pay extra attention to a potential machine’s visibility characteristics. Three-section booms, common on models in this class, contract inside of each preceding boom section. This means the first-stage boom typically has a bigger circumference to accommodate the stages retracted inside it than single- or two-stage booms do.
“Given the amount of time these machines spend in transit on crowded jobsites, the importance of all-around visibility cannot be overstressed,” Koepf says. “And in many cases, the operator’s field of view to the right is going to be restricted by the boom structure.
There are high- and low-mount booms that you can spec to alleviate visibility concerns.”
Koepf says high-mount booms are designed for pick-and-place work. If you’re doing bucket-type work then he suggests the low-boom-mount version, which offers improved right-hand visibility. “Another thing to look at is the placement of the boom lift cylinders,” he suggests. “They can be placed on several areas on these machines – behind or right next to the cab, for example. Some models have them mounted behind the cab where they do not obstruct your lateral visibility.”
Don’t forget to gauge the machine’s upward sightlines as well, Anderson cautions. After all, an unobstructed view is crucial for operators landing loads 40 feet up in the air.
“If you’re going to be running attachments, I’d pay particular attention to the unit’s hydraulic system,” says White. He prefers a single auxiliary hydraulic system on telehandlers since they not only allow the use of powered attachments like sweepers and augers, but rotating and swing carriages. If the machine will be used in cleanup work a great deal, White adds, consider spec’ing dual-flow hydraulic system that can actuate a grapple arm or thumb on a bucket to facilitate removing bulky trash and debris.
Safety a top priority
All types of construction machinery demand diligence and skill to operate effectively. But due the increased risk of falling materials and the demands of accurately placing loads 40 feet in the air, safety must be a primary concern of telehandler owners and operators alike. Remember there is no standardization of controls and instrumentation on telehandlers, therefore, it’s wise to ensure all your operators are trained and proficient on the operating characteristics and style of the machine they’ll be operating. Previous operating experience does not negate unfamiliarity with a new brand of machine.