Along came the spiders
After years of being niche products, tracked booms have gone mainstream. Dan Jenkins looks at some of the current drivers for adoption and product development trends.
The tracked boom has become an integral part of access rental fleets, thanks to its unique, problem-solving properties. Low ground pressure, a compact frame, and impressive working envelopes make it the machine for jobs that other aerial lifts simply cannot do. OEMs continue to push the boundaries of the crawler-mounted boom’s capabilities, in key areas such as weight, working height, and performance.
JLG recently launched bi-energy versions of its two biggest compact crawlers, the X26J+ and X33J+. Mirco Negri, product management co-ordinator for JLG in the EMEAIR region, says, “This gives the customer the flexibility to use lithium power or the diesel engine. Our objective is to offer a really versatile product, especially for those bigger units, which need a lot of power. For example, when working outside you can utilise the diesel engine and optimise use of the battery power for indoor operations.
“Our customers have been asking for this functionality. The larger machines like the X26J+ and X33J+ are specialist products so there are a limited number in the market. This makes it even more important to be versatile so that you always have the best propulsion system available for the customer. Also, for these larger units, the additional cost of adding the diesel engine is relatively low compared to the overall cost of the machine. It makes financial sense to the customer.”
JLG remains focused on compact dimensions across its entire range. “Compact crawlers are definitely appreciated for their compact transport dimensions and we are leading the market here,” says Negri. “We are also a market leader for the most compact outrigger footprint, which is vital for working in really confined spaces.”
Platform Basket’s latest model is the 43T is the largest machine in its range. It provides a 43.2m working height, and outreach of 13m with a maximum safe working load of 330kg. Outreach can be extended up to 17.3m with reduced platform capacity.
Carlo Molesini, managing and sales director for Platform Basket, says, “One of the main reasons for this development is that there is a demand for this equipment right now in the telecommunications and power generation sectors.
“It is a robust machine intended for off-road and rough terrain work. In the Middle and Far East there is a lot of demand for taller booms to take care of the skyscrapers and this type of equipment is suitable for those applications as well.
“One of the advantages we highlight is the capacity in the basket of 330kg, for three people without any working height restriction. We recognise that equipment must be as versatile as possible, so you can replace the platform with a winch attachment and use it as a material lift. We strongly believe that the spider lift must be versatile and solve problems other equipment cannot.”
CMC Aerial Platforms has recently launched its F Series of spider lifts, all with hydraulic controls instead of joysticks. “This is quite an old school approach, but it means the machines are very reliable,” says Alessandro Mastrogiacomo, export sales director. “With fully proportional hydraulic controls you can still ensure very smooth boom movements. And it is very easy for rental companies and their end users to operate. In the morning they can collect the machine, go to the job and start working straight away.”
New additions to its S Series range include the S23, a 23m working height machine with a double pantograph boom configuration. This provides up to 12.4m of outreach from a machine weighing 3000kg, meaning it can be towed by a driver with a standard European driving licence, as the total weight including the trailer is less than 3500kg.
“We are also introducing two new models next year, maintaining our position as having one of the biggest ranges in the market at the moment. We believe that you need a comprehensive product range in order to meet all your customers’ needs,” says, Mastrogiacomo.
Imer has just launched the new IM R15 DA, 15m dual articulated tracked boom. This is a compact machine with 7m outreach and 230kg unrestricted safe working load throughout the working envelope. The first diesel powered machines will be delivered into the UK at the end of the year while a lithium battery powered version will be available early in 2021. The company has also appointed industry veteran Richard Tindale to support direct sales of both tracked and specialist scissors and booms into multi-location hire companies throughout the UK.
Rob Cavaleri, regional training, safety and compliance manager for rental company Manlift Middle East, says that demand for tracked booms is growing in the Gulf.
“Demand has increased in the last few years for operations in airports, malls and events,” he said. “The UAE has predominantly been a construction market – but non-construction has really matured and that has led to increasing demand for spider lifts. The awareness of the capabilities of spider lift MEWPs has been raised by the rental companies operating out here, as well as by IPAF.
“I think that there is a lot of potential for further development of this market. In Qatar and the UAE, demand for aerials was always driven by heavy construction before. Now it is facilities management industrial applications and the entertainment sectors, which really suits spider lifts.
“Architects don’t very often consider maintenance work at height when designing buildings, so spider lifts come into their own when access is tight. They can do the job where a standard MEWP cannot.”
Manlift is also a Teupen distributor in the UAE. “We sell a lot of spiders, it is a big part of our market for these machines,” says Cavaleri. “If you take a shopping centre for example, it probably needs three or four MEWPs to cover all of its access needs. They might buy two and rent the others as required. However, a spider lift might cover 80% of those needs, which is a huge saving and advantage for the end user.”
The company recently refreshed its rental fleet, investing in new Teupen tracked booms. It also runs some JLG spiders and some Omme Lift telescopic tracked machines.
“We love the Teupen range, but we will also be acquiring more JLG spiders. Teupen is a premium product, which offers a lot of features and benefits. When you compare them model by model, they are often lighter than their competitors. That is very important for a lot of spider lift applications. However, now the big boys like JLG are in the game, I expect even more very exciting things from them in the near future.”
Manlift has also completed in further training for its sales team, as well as the technicians responsible for its spider fleet. “Spiders have their idiosyncrasies, so we have invested in more OEM training and product training for our commercial teams so that they can talk about spiders in an even more informed way when they’re in front of their customers,” says Cavaleri.
Like many other rental companies, Manlift is keen to see tracked booms continue to evolve. Cavaleri says, “What we would like to see from the OEMs is more standardisation across upper and lower controls – the difference is often quite pronounced on spider lifts.
“Also, we would really like to see far easier emergency lowering systems. When you go to use emergency lowering on a spider, it often involves several steps. Unless you have had IPAF training on spiders or are very familiarised with the controls, you will struggle. They need to simplify that process.”
Different manufacturers have approached this challenge of simplifying the control systems in different ways.
Introduced at Bauma 2019, Leguan’s 135 NEO is the first joystick operated machine in its range. Jori Mylläri, export manager, says, “All key boom functions as well as driving the platform is controlled by the same joystick. All the boom movements are optimised to be performed simultaneously, which makes reaching the targeted spot in height fast and efficient.”
The 135 NEO also has some intelligent energy-saving features. “The start-stop function of the 230 V electric motor makes sure that the spider lift is energy-efficient, and when powered by the Honda petrol engine, the automatically adjusting RPM control keeps emissions to minimum,” says Mylläri. “In addition, the spider lift constantly optimises the maximum allowed outreach and required hydraulic pressure according to the location of the work platform and the platform load for higher energy efficiency.”
Key specifications include a 13.4m working height, 250kg platform capacity, maximum outreach of 7.1m. The 135 NEO weighs 1650kg, which makes it a top performer in its weight class, while it also has compact transport dimensions of 1940mm and width of 890mm.
Omme Lift sees the importance in striking a balance between the benefits of Big Data and simplicity for the user. CEO Axel Thøgersen says, “Ommelifts are well-known for their user-friendly and simple controls, and this continues to be a focus when we are developing new lifts. We also see a growing demand for digitalization and telematics for testing, surveillance, service, tracking, instructions, and long-distance trouble shooting. Also, we are working on more integrated features to manage and monitor unit operation.”
Imer has a similar philosophy. “The Imer View GPS diagnostic and management feature on Imer platforms not only enable distributor and factory engineers to monitor and analysis any error codes while the user is still with the machine, but for hire companies can restrict the operation to defined geographical locations and limit functional performance – for example if a 19m machine is hired as a 15m machine,” says Richard Tindale.
One of JLG’s key selling points is commonality of controls across its compact crawler range. “We get really good feedback from our customers about the consistency of the controls,” said Negri. “In fact, that is one of the powerful arguments for buying JLG compact crawlers. One remote control can operate any of the models, which makes life easier for technicians as well as operators. For operators, it means they are immediately familiar with different models within our range.
“On top of that, there is automation. Traditionally, compact crawlers are not the easiest of products to operate. The fact that you now press one button to automatically set up, even on a slope, makes a huge difference. And the same for the reverse operation – it is more user-friendly and also much safer,” says Negri
He continues, “Accidents were happening most often during the stabilisation process of setting up the outriggers. Now it is automatic, because the software is properly pressurising all of the outriggers. It is quicker and safer for the end-user and the rental company.”
CMC’s philosophy has always been to keep the controls common across its products. “The experience is the same on all the machines,” said Mastrogiacomo. “It is a big help to rental companies and end users, because they are always familiar with the product. That is how we are growing sales by 40%.”
Sales have grown by 40% year-on-year, as CMC expands its product range and its global dealer network. “We primarily work with dealers because we believe it is the best way,” added Mastrogiacomo. “Of course, you can make the first sale to a new customer, but all the subsequent sales are won by your aftersales service for that first machine. A customer needs the aftersales support and spare parts availability that a dealer can provide.”
The fastest-growing European markets for CMC include the UK, Germany, and its homeland of Italy. In the former two, progress is linked to its dealers such as Tracked Spider in the UK, run by Russell Woodward. In Italy, CMC has a network of regional dealers, managed by its domestic sales manager.
“The UK is a good example of why we are growing so fast,” says Mastrogiacomo. “Russell has a great understanding of the market and some very loyal customers. Our product combined with his experience and level of customer care is a really good mix. Our dealers are helping us to unlock new markets, but you also need the right products for that market.”
The UK remains one of the key markets for compact crawlers. Access specialist Nationwide Platforms has steadily grown its spider fleet over the past four years and now has more than 130 units offering working heights up to 31m.
Alexis Potter, director of specialist vehicles and tracked booms, says, “The fact that spiders with tracks remove the need in many cases for specialist ground protection systems can provide a faster and more cost-efficient solution whilst maintaining excellent safety standards.”
The company has tracked booms at five hubs across the UK, which it says makes it the only spider supplier in the UK to offer a national service from a regional depot network.
“Within our fleet we have equipment from most of the industry leading spider manufacturers,” said Potter. “The majority of our core fleet having been provided by Hinowa from Italy and the larger units from the German manufacturer Teupen. Both of these companies are known for their global specialism and excellence in the manufacture of spider units.”
UK access rental specialist Elavation Platforms has placed an order with Access Platform Sales (APS), for Hinowa platforms worth over £1million. It is the biggest order APS, Hinowa’s UK and Ireland distributor, has received for the Italian-made tracked platforms in 2020. Elavation’s order includes the Hinowa TeleCrawler13, the first spider platform with all-electric drive motors.
Dan Gonzalez, Elavation Platforms’ operations manager, says, “We’ve been operating Hinowas for many years. They have excellent working heights and reach, are very light and compact, and they’re well-built and reliable. They’re also packed with performance and safety features liked by our customers.”
Potter feels that making tracked booms more user-friendly has played a key role. “In recent years, big developments have been made to ensure spider units are easy and efficient to operate which has certainly increased their popularity in the UK market,” he says.
JLG sees demand evenly spread across Europe. “For our customer base, compact crawlers are complementary products for their existing range,” said Negri. “They help to meet specific customer needs and those needs are the same almost everywhere in Europe. They are becoming quite popular for maintenance activities in malls and hotels. Another important factor is the reduced ground pressure, for working on delicate surfaces such as the floors of religious buildings like churches and mosques. Very often they are not just the best solution but the only solution for efficiently performing working at height.”
The main areas of focus for Platform Basket are Europe, Australia, the USA and China. “We are probably number three in terms of worldwide market share, but year by year we are growing our share in all our key markets, having targeted to become number one in the near future,” says Molesini.
Mastrogiacomo says that CMC has been market leader in the USA for several years. “We are also working hard to develop the European market and are starting to see very good results in different countries across Europe.”
Sales to rental companies have been impacted by the pandemic, as larger rental houses deferred some or all of this year’s proposed fleet investment to next year. “They reduced their investments somewhat, but it remains a very important part of our business,” said Mastrogiacomo. “We continue to focus on developing products that are ideal for the rental sector.”
When it comes to tracked booms, Imer is focused on western Europe. “Imer’s key markets for tracked booms are currently Germany, the Netherlands, and France, where the high-quality engineering is particularly appreciated,” says Tindale. “These countries, and the Netherlands in particular, are especially interested in the IM R19SA lithium battery powered machine because its zero-emission operation. The Netherlands have driven the development of the lithium version of the new IM R15 DA, with substantial pre-orders for this model.
“It is fair to say that Imer are not volume market leaders at this time but increasingly rental companies are valuing the high quality build and competitive pricing relative to current market leading manufacturers. The UK is also a growing market for Imer with sales so far primarily to end users but it is anticipated demand from rental companies will increase as the company concentrates on supporting this area of the market through 2021.”
Finland, Norway, Western and Central Europe and Australia are the top markets for Leguan. “We are market leader in Finland and Norway in spider lifts because Leguans are considered weatherproof and fit for also for Nordic conditions,” says Mylläri. “In Australia, we are the market leader in the outdoor electric network maintenance market due to the market’s best all-terrain capabilities.
“Another successful market segment for us the painter companies in the Alps region especially Switzerland, where the spider lifts are often used on uneven and difficult terrain.”
One area to watch closely in North America is insulated tracked booms for working around power lines. Platform Basket, in co-operation with Trackedlifts, its official importer in the US, was the first manufacturer to produce a fully insulated tracked boom – its 22m working height machine with insulation up to 46kV. “This project was for the USA, but we have now started to market it in China as well,” says Molesini.
“It is different to competitors because it is fully insulated, both upper and lower sections. Most others insulate the basket only, but in an emergency situation it is very difficult for people on the ground to recover the person in the basket. In the USA the truck-mounted booms used for power lines are fully insulated so we wanted to offer the same from a spider lift.”
Omme Lift recently launched its first fully insulated tracked boom, the 2650 iRX-46kV, which meets category C of the new ANSI A92.2 regulation. All sections on the boom, which has a 26.5m working height, are insulated with Waco fibre glass sections. Omme has shipped the first diesel-battery hybrid units to the USA. Other features include a hydraulic tool circuit, variable-width undercarriage, and a deployment ability on slopes up to 40% or 21.8deg.
CMC is currently testing a prototype S23 insulated to 46kV, designed for working close to power lines. “Our original plan was to introduce this new product in November, but we had to stop work during lockdown for two months, so it will be introduced a little later,” says Mastrogiacomo.
Manlift’s Cavaleri also believes that design improvements could yield further productivity benefits. “The Achilles heel of spider lifts is their inability to travel at a faster speed when in the transport position,” he said. “We can get from A to B in a wheeled MEWP much quicker. However, with the onset of electric wheel motors, we will see faster transport speeds for spiders.”