The client base for mast-climbing work platforms (MCWPs) is growing. The machines, automated access platforms that lift operatives with their equipment and materials to their exact working position, are commonly used on high-rise buildings, where they deliver impressive productivity benefits compared with traditional “tube-and fittings” scaffolding.
How impressive? Well, IPAF research suggests that trades such as bricklaying show a 30% to 50% increase in productivity when workers use MCWPs, while time savings of up to 80% are possible for erection and dismantling.
There is now growing demand for MCWPs in more specialist sectors, according to Angel Ibanez, IPAF’s global representative for MCWPs.
“Mast-climbing work platforms have been used in the off-shore industry and others, such as paper mills and steel mills. They have many applications and are more efficient and safer than scaffolding,” he explains. “But they have to be promoted properly in the industrial sector. Since the recession, many rental companies that previously focused only on construction have decided to diversify and have started paying closer attention to this kind of equipment.”
It’s not for everyone
“If a rental company can think outside the box, they can offer solutions for industry. Mast climbing work platforms are very flexible, and adaptable to various shapes and sizes,” Ibanez explains. “At the same time, in terms of business, the industrial sector is open to paying higher prices, so pursuing this market can be beneficial for rental companies.”
He continues, “We’re seeing applications for MCWPs in markets such as big civil engineering jobs, where they’re used on complex refurbishment projects such as chimney repairs. We’ve also seen the machines on ‘starchitect’ projects, which use singular designs and therefore require bespoke access solutions.”
Ibanez points to AGF Access Group’s work on Montreal’s 3.4km long Champlain Bridge, where MCWPs were used alongside hoists and other forms of powered access.
“MCWPs can be adapted for these projects, though it does require a high level of engineering expertise,” says Ibanez. “Generally, the modular design of MCWPs means they are easily adaptable, according to the height and width of the project.”
Ibanez says MCWPs offer an extremely safe way of working but must be properly installed and used.
“In terms of the responsibility rental companies are assuming, they must pay a lot of attention to the training of the technical installers and the workers,” he says. “All those aspects still need to be more developed. In the North American market, there’s still huge room for growth.
Obstacles to adoption
In order to make a successful go of supplying mast climbing work platforms, Ibanez suggests rental companies need to be specialized with a strong technical background. They must be properly trained, and must know exactly how to approach the final customer, offering not just a machine but a complete solution for specific building.
“This is challenging because most rental companies willing to get into this business need to make an investment in hiring technicians or engineers,” he states.
“Another issue with MCWPs is that operators think they’re easy machines to use, so complacency can be a problem,” says Ibanez. “They’ll sometimes forget about projections from the building. Operators also think they can modify the machines.
“Overloading is another area of concern. Every machine comes with a load chart which operators must follow. But sometimes it’s ignored,” he says.
Accidents with MCWPs are not common compared with other forms of access, but IPAF is trying to learn about what the root causes are when they do happen.
“Operators can submit information confidentially using the IPAF website, which we will share with the MCWP sector,” Ibanez says. “Many accidents are not reported, as companies don’t want the publicity, but it’s how you learn.”
The maturity of MCWPs markets varies around the globe. In Northern Europe, manufacturers have recently developed much larger MCWPs, with capacity ranging from 1.5 to 10 tons, and working platforms that may be 158 feet wide. Extensions up to 6.5 feet are available, allowing access to facades with projections such as balconies.
The maximum working height is around 984 feet. Italian and Spanish manufacturers produce lighter equipment, with platforms typically between 10 and 98 feet wide, and capacity from 661 pounds up to 3.5 tons.
In North America, gasoline-powered MCWPs have load capacities up to 10 tons, and can be 148 feet long. The fastest growing regions for MCWPs are the Middle East, China and South East.