April 20, 2021
Aerial work platforms (also known as man lifts) are critical to reach certain areas on job sites. Their usage has grown dramatically over the decades. Learn more about lifts, and how to rent or buy a lift.
Construction job sites often require crew members to access hard-to-reach areas at elevated heights, both indoors and outdoors. Over the years aerial lifts (often referred to as "lifts", "man lifts", "manlifts", "JLG" or "Genie") have become the favorite cost-effective choice for getting the job done.
Aerial lifts were not common on most sites several decades ago. Safety regulations, technology improvements and more advanced machinery solutions have led to the strong adoption of aerial lifts. The outlook for the aerial lift industry is very positive — Grand View Research estimates that the industry will grow 6% per year between 2020 and 2027, to reach $17 billion in sales.
Aerial lifts can be grouped into the following categories:
Powered lifts typically use diesel or electric batteries as a power source. Electric power is better suited for indoor applications to prevent a buildup of harmful fumes indoors. Some lifts offer a hybrid option to run on both diesel and electric.
Boom lifts elevate a worker (or workers) in a small bucket or work platform in the air. There are several types of boom lifts, all of which have different reach capabilities and specifications. Most boom lifts have a wheeled base that is capable of moving over a wide range of ground conditions.
Some boom lifts have a track base that is capable of handling rough terrain. Other boom lifts use stationary legs and outriggers (this type of lift is often referred to as a "spider lift" or "atrium lift").
Boom lifts can be divided into two primary categories based on the way the arm operates:
Have straight arms and offer a long reach. The arm is always straight, and the base is able to rotate. The arm movement is similar to a telescope, where it extends and retracts in one direction. Telescopic boom lifts are a good choice if you need a far or high reach and your space has plenty of room to access the point.
Some larger telescopic boom lifts have a jib extension near the platform, which provides the boom lift with some articulating movement.
Also known as a "knuckle boom lift" and "cherry picker", the articulating boom lift arm has several joints and is capable of more flexibility when compared to a telescopic boom lift. Articulating boom lifts tend to be better suited for accessing hard-to-reach areas because they have more ways to maneuver and access the area (telescopic boom lifts can only extend into the area while articulating boom lifts can approach the area from many different angles).
The arm acts sort of like a finger (has multiple joints). An articulating boom lift's reach tends to be shorter than a comparable telescopic boom lift (all else equal). Some articulating boom lifts have a jib extension that can provide an extra 6 feet of extension in any direction.
Boom lift tires can vary depending on the application and intended terrain. Wide flotation tires are best for sandy and soggy conditions. Solid rubber tires are puncture-resistant (a perk on job sites). Some tires are non-marking, which is important for finished floors and sports arenas.
Scissor lifts often feature a wide platform that extends vertically. The extension mechanism features a series of cross-brace supports that function similar to a scissor to extend and retract the platform. Scissor lifts are very popular for indoor applications.
Scissor lifts are very stable and can handle heavy loads. Some lifts can handle up to six average-size adults.
Rough terrain scissor lifts operate similar to basic scissor lifts, but they typically have more rugged tires and support extensions to stabilize the base. Rough terrain scissor lifts can be used with a greater variety of outdoor terrains.
Vertical lifts, also referred to as "push arounds", are smaller lifts that extend vertically and often are designed for only one person. The platforms tend to be narrower than scissor lifts, as well as lighter and less expensive.
Some vertical lifts are able to drive, enabling the operator to move through a warehouse or pathway. Vertical lifts are typically used for lighter industrial applications. The vertical reach of vertical lifts tends to be lower than scissor lifts.
JLG (brand owned by Oshkosh Corporation) and Genie (branded owned by Terex Corporation) are the two largest brands in the access space right now. People at job sites often refer to aerial lifts as the "JLG" or "Genie", similar to how people refer to tissues as "Kleenex" — the brands have become synonymous with lifts. Haulotte, Snorkel and Skyjack are major players in the space.
You should consider the following items when deciding the proper lift for your job:
The decision to rent or buy is a personal decision that will depend on your preferences, financing, and ability to store and maintain the equipment. Some people prefer the hassle-free option of renting, while others prefer the benefits of long-term ownership.
Lift rentals are very popular because it offers flexibility, a variety of equipment and zero maintenance obligation. Major rental companies including United Rentals, Herc Rentals and Sunbelt often allocate between a quarter and half of their annual machinery spend just to aerials.
Rentals rates are typically based on a daily, weekly or monthly term. Longer-term rentals tend to be cheaper on a per-day basis. It's important to note that you will often incur transportation costs to and from the rental company.
If you plan on using your lift often, have the space to store it and the means to service it, then buying might be a better option for you.
All images are from JLG.com