23/08/2006 - 05:00 am

Niche Play: ReachMaster FS 138 specializes in unique applications

Part One

If you count all the different makes, types, models, and sizes of aerial work platforms on the market today, the total would undoubtedly reach into the hundreds • if not a thousand. Out of this broad range of products, there are really only a few that can be classified as true niche machines. One of those is certainly the ReachMaster FS 138, a member of the company's Falcon Lifts line.

Produced in Denmark and distributed and supported by their Houston, Texas office, ReachMasters have been successfully sold and serviced in North America without interruption since the early '90s. For lack of a better classification, these units are often referred to as “compact” aerial work platforms. Compact only befits these machines when referring to their stowed dimensions and the portal they can pass through to access the areas they are asked to work within. Once in place and ready to work, compact becomes a bit of a misnomer.

ReachMaster has several products that make up this highly specialized line of lifts, featuring 11 models that start with a 75-foot unit and go all the way up to an amazing 180-foot model • anything but compact. From the Monterey Bay aquarium in Monterey, Calif., to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, ReachMaster has answered some of the most difficult access applications in the world.

Falcons are about as specialized a lift as you will find anywhere. Not only do ReachMasters exist in limited numbers, but this particular unit is also a specialty product within its own ranks. The subject of this review is a unit just delivered to the city of San Jose, Calif. The purchase was driven by a need to maintain part of the new $500 million city hall complex. You read that right: $1/2 billion. Part of the complex includes the massive glass rotunda shown in Image 1. Although not the sole reason, this project was definitely the catalyst for the selection of this machine. You can read about this application and the very lengthy process that was followed to put this unit in play in a future issue of Lift and Access magazine.

The unit selected to maintain this facility and several other of San Jose's municipal building was the Falcon FS138 (Image 2). The three key features that define this ReachMaster are its abilities to be driven through a standard 30” by 6' 8” door and work at a height up to 138 feet • and do so while delivering floor loading of under 50 psi. These are all keys to the successful application in this facility.

Passing through a door no bigger than the one that leads to your office is pretty tricky. Besides the obvious slender chassis design, there are two distinct features that make this possible. First is the retractable axle system. In Image 3, you can see that on one end the unit rides on a tandem axle with dually wheels. These axles are designed to float but are not independent (Image 4).

Part one of the slandering down process uses hydraulically extended tubes that extend and retract the axles about 12 inches on both sides.

The second step is to remove the outer set of wheels from the boogie axles. This is accomplished with the use of a single screw on locking wheel lug that is removed with the use of an onboard wrench. These are the only axles that you have to fool with as the front-drive-steer axle, shown in Image 5, is fixed and falls within the narrow specifications.

A standard FS 138 weighs in at 19,360 pounds. This varies with options and power selections. For a machine with these reach capabilities to be this light, relatively speaking, outriggers are of course mandatory. Refer to Image 6, and you can see that four substantial hydraulically extended outriggers provide a wide and stable base measuring about 24 feet across. In Europe, where ReachMaster and similar products are used extensively, these machines are generically called spider lifts. I think you can see why. To allow operational flexibility each outrigger can be set in a one of three different positions. This allows a variety of outrigger patterns. Once set in place the on-board computer calculates the appropriate work envelope and limits operation to that area.

Once you are inside or have reached the area from where you intend to work, of course you must first set the outriggers. The standard system allows you to do this only from the lower control station. I will discuss this and a slick automatic system in the next issue. Once your outriggers are in position, not only can you attain a maximum working height of 138 feet but you can also attain 47 feet of horizontal reach • from the centerline of rotation at around 117 feet of vertical height. While the vast majority of the working envelope allows for 440 pounds of unrestricted operation you can squeeze out a few extra horizontal feet of reach with 220 pounds in the platform.

In my next installment, I will discuss the construction of this unit as well as how it operates in more depth.

Part Two

In a lift market that sees tens of thousands of new machines produced each and every year, it's interesting that the development of niche markets has been so slow. Although I see unique products in the market • many of them originally unveiled in Europe • few have succeeded in sustaining a real North American presence. Yet ReachMaster's FS 138, a member of the company's Falcon line, has defied the odds. For a discussion of the niche applications the FS 138 is built for, see Part One.

Just about as specialized a lift as you'll find anywhere, Falcon products are one of only two lines sold in North America that are small enough to pass through a standard doorway and proceed to working heights in excess of 100 feet.

That's exactly the type of solution our FS 138 test unit brought to the table on the new $500 million city hall complex project in San Jose, Calif. Although the machine was not acquired exclusively to accommodate the massive 110-ft glass rotunda, which can be seen in Part One, it was no doubt the catalyst in its purchase.

Before I continue my analysis of this machine, I need to set the record straight. In Part One of this review, I mistakenly indicated that ReachMasters are produced in Belgium. I wish I could blame this error on my own ignorance, but the fact is I knew ReachMasters have always been produced a little farther north • in the beautiful country of Denmark. So if you have been wandering around the Belgium countryside looking for the ReachMaster plant, my apologies.

Because ReachMaster was conducting a series of operator's training classes for the city's staff during my visit, the time that I was allowed to operate the 138-ft working height unit was brief. However, I had plenty of time to observe it in operation, listen in on the detailed training session, and then take a ride to the top of the rotunda. All of this, coupled with the opportunity to thoroughly look the unit over, allowed me more than ample information to come away from the review with a better understanding of how these units perform.

As with all aerial work platforms, the unit is commanded from either a lower control station which can be seen in Image 2 or from the fully proportional upper controls shown in Image 3. At the lower operation station, you have not only the electric controls but also manual controls. You can see them situated horizontally just below the blue and yellow box. These will operate the unit in emergency and over-ride situations. Rare over-ride situations may occur when an outrigger sensor reads that one outrigger has “gone light,” which causes the computer to shut the controls down. This happens when the computer cannot rationalize the proper way to move back into a “safe” position utilizing the electric controls. A wired remote is also a standard feature, which improves visibility of outrigger placement and can assist when positioning the unit in very tight applications.

Although this unit was equipped with the standard 375 degrees non- continuous slewing, I should point out that 360 degrees continuous boom rotation is an option. Another option that should be considered when making an acquisition of this nature is the auto set and leveling outrigger package • a feature this unit did not have but was possibly in line to get in a field retrofit. With this system, the outriggers can be auto-set and leveled at the push of a button from the upper or lower controls. With either the manual or auto-set mode, a slope of up to 8.5 degrees can adjusted out. There are a variety of outrigger patterns. Not only can the length of each outrigger be varied, but the outrigger leg can also be swung horizontally so it is situated at different angles to the chassis. The narrowest is 14.27' X 14.27' with 21.65' X 21.65' being the widest position. I am told that in the mid-position, which is about a 19' X19' footprint, it can operate in about 80% of its work envelope. This all sounds complicated • and it could be • if it were not for the microprocessor that reads the outrigger footprints and enables the proper work envelope to match that pattern.

A great feature of the FS 138 is its double articulating jib (Image 4). Each section is about 10 ft in length and has a range of motion of about 180 degrees vertically. What is really impressive is that they can work independently of each other. This standard feature even allows about 10 ft of negative reach capability. To add to this flexibility, the all-aluminum platform has 180-degree of rotation horizontally. If required, this lightweight platform can be easily removed. You can see the two pins in Image 5 that lock the platform into position.

It only stands to reason that you would want to utilize an investment like this as much as possible. Accordingly, these units can be fitted with a variety of supply lines to do just that. Note the large reels on either side of the boom, as shown in Image 6. These supply water, air, and 120VDC power to the platform.

Most ReachMaster's run solely on DC power. What makes this particular unit unique is that it came equipped with an optional Lombardini diesel engine (Image 7). From here on out, it's important to note that all units with the diesel option will be equipped with a Kubota V155-T 4 cylinder diesel engine. That power plant is a 1.498 liter displacement and produces 36.7 hp @ 3,000 rpm

This is not a hybrid • that is to say where the engine powers a DC gen-set that in turn powers a DC pump motor. It is a true bi-energy setup where there are two individual and isolated power sources. Of course the IC system is intended for use outdoors, moving the unit long distances or in any situation where DC power is exhausted (and AC is not readily available for recharging).

When it comes to transportation, moving a ReachMaster from one facility to another is actually much easier than you might think. Using the outriggers, all you have to do is raise the unit off the floor, which can be as high as a standard truck bed, and back your flatbed trailer or truck underneath. Once you are in proper position, lower the unit back down, and you're ready to secure it for travel.

It was more than 10 years ago when I was first exposed to a ReachMaster. Although similar in many ways, that product wasn't nearly as refined as the unit I saw on this visit. The design of this machine is so much more compatible with other aerial products in both operation and more importantly service areas. This is not to say that if you can service a more traditional boom lift that you will be able to jump right on this product and figure it out. By its very nature, it is a little more sophisticated than other products. Nevertheless, with the proper training and support, which ReachMaster has provided in the states for more than a decade, this shouldn't be a problem. It is exciting to see a product with such highly specialized capabilities and features become accepted in the U.S. marketplace.

You can find out more about ReachMaster at www.reachmaster.com.

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