What are the different types of powered access equipment available

To many people not in the know, powered access machinery can remain a bit of a mystery until a small construction project at work or home leaves us scratching our heads for practical access solutions.

On an industrial level, powered access machines are the backbone of most construction projects.

A series of unprecedented recent events have resulted in considerable unexpected market growth.  A March 2022 article in International Rental News Retail revealed that sales of construction and earthmoving equipment recorded a 10.4% increase on the level of sales seen in January 2021, with companies within the industry reporting that powered access rental is booming.

There are a number of reasons for this growth including the current construction boom due to housing demand and the knock-on effect of the pandemic, with many businesses either taking advantage of work from home regulations to carry out building maintenance, adapting their businesses to new regulations, or carrying out new warehouse builds to deal with the logistical changes brought about by the shop-from-home revolution.

A little background on powered access machines.

Powered access machines have been around for a while, with early versions of the scissor lift being utilised in Sweden in the 1920’s and earlier. 

The first boom  lift was patented by Walter E. Thornton-Trump in 1952 and would be followed by Charles Larson’s 1963 patent of the scissor lift, although the design is attributed to John W. Parker of California.

These machines began to gain traction for their commercial and industrial applications in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and their market penetration has grown steadily since then.

Today there are a number of specialised powered access solutions used for different jobs, however the basic principles remain the same with the boom lift and scissor lift being the two main basic designs available with a number of variations. For low level powered access, personnel lifts offer a safer, more practical alternative to ladders.

Types of powered access machines.

Let’s have a look at the main types of powered access equipment and the different features available to suit different types of project.

The Boom lift or cherry picker:

You may remember this machine from the last time your council hung up the Christmas lights in your town. The Boom lift was the first “powered access” machine to be popularised, the principle of a basket on an extensible boom may evoke images of 1950’s American fire trucks,

Nowadays boom  lifts are available with a number of variations, including telescopic boom lifts (where the hydraulic boom extends outwards on itself), articulated boom lifts and boom lifts with varying ranges of motion. These machines are available with different power sources including diesel, electric or hybrid models. The power source will be indicative of the machine’s suitability for indoor or outdoor work. Differences in the chassis and features of these machines will also suit them to rough terrain or indoor environments.

The world’s largest boom lift is the Snorkel 2100SJ with a working height of almost 66 and an outreach of 33.5 metres; this impressive machine is probably overkill for most small painting and decorating projects, and is more likely to be seen on high reach projects on power plants or repair work on tall buildings or on silos. This machine does, however, illustrate the growing need for high reach powered access machines for increasingly complex applications.

The most notable varieties of boom lift are:

  • Differentiated by power source: 

With diesel typically providing greater power and more independence from recharging, diesel machines are usually prepared for outdoor work and will include features such as 4WD (four wheel drive) and 4WS (four wheel steering), rough terrain outdoor tyres and greater gradeability.

That said, many new models of diesel-powered machines incorporate Diesel Stage V engines.  The particulate filtering systems used in these machines makes them suited for use in well ventilated indoor areas as well as for use in Clean  Air Zones.

Electric machines are usually suited to indoor work or work in places where charging points are available. These machines usually feature non-marking tyres in order to preserve delicate floors and may offer more narrow chassis options as indoor work frequently involves working in tighter spaces.

Hybrid or bi-energy machines are usually designed to be used both indoors and outdoors and combine features for both settings.

  • Differentiated by boom type:

Telescopic “Straight Stick” boom lifts consist of a basket mounted on a hydraulically operated arm or “boom”. This arm reaches outward and upward.

Articulated boom lifts have a greater range of motion, allowing them to work “up and over” obstacles. This is facilitated by the machine’s design, which incorporates a number of hinged or “articulated” sections, which offer a greater range of mobility.

The most typical applications you will see for boom lifts are work at height that requires mobility without the need for the operator to take up large quantities of heavy materials, so wiring projects or inspection works on buildings are a good candidate. 

Articulated boom lifts are a slightly different story, as they allow work at height but also provide a horizontal elevated “outreach”. You may see these machines in use for glazing and cladding projects where the basket needs to be positioned up and over an obstacle.

In these situations heavy materials are often lifted up to the boom lift operator by means of a crane or roto-telehandler.

The scissor lift:

Similar machines were already in use in the 1920’s, although the elevation mechanism worked on a different principle. The scissor lift is an upwardly extending platform positioned on a wheeled base and elevating thanks to the extension of crossed, hinged metal sections.

Nowadays scissor lifts are frequently used to replace scaffolding on short duration projects as the elevating platform allows workers to carry out their work at different heights on a building (for example, painting several stories) then be driven along to repeat the process a few metres along.

Scissor lifts have a huge number of applications. Available for both indoor and outdoor work (with indoor models usually being electric or hybrid and outdoor models being diesel powered), the large scaffold-like platform on scissor lifts makes them a great option for taking up heavy and/or bulky materials such as cladding for buildings, pipework, material for electrical installations or general construction materials.

Scissor lifts are typically differentiated by their suitability for indoor, outdoor or combined use. As with boom lifts, this usually bears relation to the power source, with diesel powered machines typically being equipped for outdoor work incorporating features such as being wind rated, incorporating roug-terrain tyres and including 4WD and 4WS.

Electric scissor lifts are typically equipped for indoor and low emission environments, featuring non-marking tyres to maintain the integrity of floors. And, as with boom lifts, hybrid and bi-energy machines are designed for a combination of indoor and outdoor work.

Having said this, modern diesel scissor lifts equipped with Diesel Stage V engines are suitable for work in well ventilated indoor environments and clean air zones.

Both scissor lifts and boom lifts are hired with their working height in mind. When hiring a boom lift outreach is also an important concern, whereas scissor lift hire takes into account the machine’s weight bearing capacity, the platform width (especially when working in warehouses, between racking and in other reduced spaces) and the machine’s capacity to drive at height or at full height.

Low level access machines or personnel lifts:

Another form of popularly used powered access equipment is low-level access machines, popularly known as personnel lifts.

Personnel lifts are small, mobile platforms, designed to offer a safer, more mobile option to ladders.

These are popular for maintenance work in many buildings.

With increasing build sizes and the demands currently placed on the construction industry, powered access is here to stay.

Powered access machines have become a key player in a vast range of industries, for all types of maintenance and installation work. Machines are continually being adapted to meet the demands of increasing building sizes, stricter safety regulations and stricter environmental policies.

If you have a project that requires work at height and you would like to know more about powered access solutions, why not speak  to X-Hire today? With a range of scissor lifts offering working heights of up to 22 metres, and boom  lifts reaching working heights of a towering 47.7 metres as well as a range of low level access solutions, X-Hire have the perfect access solution for your projects.

Get in touch today on 01943 355 0890 or click here! Our friendly team will be more than happy to assist with your enquiries.