One of the primary reasons for using aerial lifts and cranes in the tree care business is to increase efficiency and productivity. Recent innovations show manufacturers are focused on making this equipment even more efficient and productive.

Terex, for example, has been focused on making its equipment easier to operate and to work on, key themes the company hears from its customers in the tree care business. “Obviously, cost, quality and delivery are always mentioned. But one of the things that’s resonated with us is how many people have mentioned that they need reliability and simplicity,” says Joe Caywood, director of marketing with Terex. “For some tree companies, their equipment can be spread out all over the country, or they may be way out in their own service territory, where they have to find a local hydraulic shop for maintenance or repair work. So the simplicity of the equipment design is important.” For example, designing the hydraulic system in a simple, straightforward manner so any qualified shop can work on the unit and replace seals or cylinders helps get equipment back on the job faster, he stresses.

In the commercial tree trimming segment, employee turnover can be high, Caywood points out: “So, as we design our equipment, we try to make it as simple as we can, with commonality of control layout – keeping as much commonality across the products as we can so it’s easier for an operator to safely work out of that bucket truck and reduce the learning curve so they can get up to speed and be productive for the company.”

Caywood says these days more equipment owners are paying attention to maintenance costs and asking, “What can I do as a primary owner of that product to reduce the number of times that it has to come in for scheduled maintenance?” He notes that Terex has worked to enhance components, such as maintenance-free leveling chain, that extend regular preventive maintenance schedules. It also means keeping things simple and visual to speed the process of the daily walk-around, adds Caywood. “We try to make sure the operator can walk around and hit all their checkpoints with everything easy to see, so they don’t have to take something apart or look under a cover to see it.”

It’s not always the complex mechanical systems that can make a big difference. On its XT series lifts, for example, Terex has redesigned the work platform covers to boost performance. “We heard from customers about covers being damaged, so we’re developing new processes with our covers to change the way they are molded during construction to make the material thicker when it’s drawn over the molds to provide more durability,” explains Caywood. “And we’re looking at how to reduce catch points when the bucket is being maneuvered in and around branches by making the shape more contoured and rounded. It’s an example of how you can increase productivity with something as simple as a cover.”

Terex is also integrating new features into the body design of the aerial lifts. One example is antitheft storage. When they stage equipment for jobs, some tree care companies put valuable items such as chain saws in the basket, and then put the boom up in the air to prevent theft. A boom interlock feature has been incorporated to keep trucks from being accidentally driven when the booms are still up.

Reduced maintenance requirements and costs have also been designed into Versalift’s VO-255/260-I series aerial lifts. For example, the lifts require no mandatory rebuilds, which saves service time and reduces reliability in the field. Torque stripe is also used on all critical fasteners, making it quicker and easier for operators to tell if all bolts are properly fastened during routine walk-arounds. These units also come with available 10-foot elevators, providing a maximum working height of 75 feet 10 inches.

Last year, Altec introduced its LR7 series, a completely redesigned aerial device for the tree service industry. “The LR7 provides more platform capacity, as well as additional articulation for the boom,” says Andy Price, tree care market manager with Altec. “We also upgraded the leveling system, which is now a lifetime leveling system, so it never has to be changed. And we also took out the majority of the grease zerks on the machine; there now is a total of just five grease zerks that an operator has to be concerned with on the complete aerial device. That represents a pretty big difference as far as both daily and lifetime maintenance.”

Altec also made a number of changes to the chip dump package that’s frequently paired with its aerial devices. “We moved the ladder box and the pole pruner box from the street side to the curb side, which keeps the workers away from traffic,” explains Price. A skid-resistant surface was also added on the cab guards as a standard feature, again with the purpose of promoting operator safety.

The LR7, which is available in several different boom configurations and working heights, both with and without elevators, also includes an integrated locking system on the box, which locks multiple points on both sides of the compartment with a single latch. “We also went to barn-style doors, which eliminates the center post. So if you’re putting something long, like a chain saw, into the box, you don’t have to work around that center post,” adds Price. Finally, a horizontally mounted front bumper cone holder was added, providing an easily accessible place to store traffic cones so they don’t have to be thrown up into and retrieved from the chip dump or taking up space in the box when traveling between job sites.

These may seem like simple changes, but they represent a big improvement in the day-to-day use of the equipment. “If you’re the person out there using it every day, you appreciate those little things,” he states.

Taller trends

Beyond specific features, one consideration buyers seem to be looking for is greater height. “The trend over the last few years has been an increased interest in elevators,” says Caywood. “We manufacture 55 and 60-foot devices. We’re seeing a higher percentage of customers who are opting to put a 10-foot lift under the aerial, which gives them a regular aerial device, and then when they need it they get an extra 10 feet of working height.” He says conversations with customers reveal that one reason for this trend may be the changing wording of some utility line clearing contracts in the industry from “minimum line clearance,” which is a radius, to “sky to ground,” which requires a greater clearing height.

“People are always asking to go higher. I think if we had a lift that went up 500 feet, somebody would ask for one that goes up 510 feet!” jokes Price. “We definitely have seen a trend of customers going more from the 56 or 57-foot aerial device to adding the elevator, which is giving them that extra 10 or 15 feet of working height.”

Along those same lines, Price notes an increased interest in cranes from the tree service industry. “It used to be a customer group that we rarely sold cranes to, but increasingly we’re seeing cranes being purchased by tree care companies,” observes Price. “A crane does two things for them: First, it increases productivity. For example, with one pick you can take the whole top out of an 80 or 90-foot oak tree and lay it down in the yard or a street to cut it up. You’re obviously much more productive cutting it up on the ground than someone who’s hanging from ropes or even working from a bucket. Second, and most important, it increases safety, because you’re keeping workers on the ground versus putting them in the air.”

Price believes cranes will continue to be used more and more frequently in the tree care industry. Of Altec’s various crane offerings, he says the 38-ton crane is the most popular choice within this segment, because it provides the right combination of capability and maneuverability. “You’ve got the ability to tackle just about any tree that you’re going to need to tackle. But you’ve still got a chassis length and turning radius that you’re going to be able to get into most neighborhoods where you’re working.” When you get bigger than a 38-ton crane it’s usually best to conduct a reconnaissance drive of the roads to be sure the crane can get to the job site, he notes.