Safety & Sustainability: The 2024 Aerial Industry Report

Rental editor Jonathan Kozlowski asks industry leaders about the status of the market and what heights the year may take us.

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Rental connected with a handful of aerial lift industry leaders representing the mobile elevated work platform and telehandler markets. We inquired about the year's outlook and some insight into the trends of the machines themselves. Rental spoke with MEC during ARA 2024. 

Rental: What is the state of the aerial lift industry as part of the rental market? What is your outlook for 2024? Are you optimistic about the economy?

Steve Kiskunas (SK), Product Manager — Telescopic Handlers, Manitou: Right now, we are still seeing very strong demands for telescopic handlers going into rental. We’ve seen numerous years of strong growth. One of the influences we see here is that the supply chain challenges of past years have led to numerous consecutive years of consistent growth versus one year or two where things saw a big increase then faded away in subsequent years.

2024 will be a strong year for rental with the scope of projects that are underway. The industry itself seems strong, and there’s still high utilization among the rental businesses that we work with, which will lead to more equipment sales into that market.

Brian Rabe (BR), Product Manager — MEWPs and Forklifts, Manitou: Demand is definitely up. Utilization in almost every segment we’re seeing is moving in the right direction as well. So we fully expect things to continue to go in a positive direction, and depending on how the election season plays out and the ongoing focus on development, it could be even higher than expected. That is a positive trend for everything related to rental.

David White (DW), President, MEC Aerial Work Platforms: Aerials is probably the single biggest component of the construction rental business. Aerial is obviously strongly-driven by large mega projects. There are these mega projects going on in North America that are driving a lot of demand (data centers, semiconductor manufacturing, battery plants, auto plants) Construction is also up. Between the two is putting a lot of demand for aerial lifts.

Lenny Polonski, All Access EquipmentLenny Polonski, founder, All Access EquipmentAll Access EquipmentLenny Polonski (LP), Founder, All Access EquipmentAerial lifts represent a fast-growing segment of the rental industry, with further expansion a near-certainty. The versatility and cost-saving benefits of CMC Tracked Aerial Lifts make them extremely attractive to customers already familiar with their features, as well as to those who are effectively enlightened about their advantages and functionality by rental centers. The positive impact to operational overhead is significant when compared to alternative MEWP options available today.

Fairly optimistic. There are factors that might cause some to worry about instability – it’s an election year, there are plenty of ongoing events both globally and domestically that could impact the supply chain, and one can never completely accurately predict economic trends – but the actual metrics are very positive: consumer spending grew in 2023, as did overall income and savings; manufacturing investment has reached historic highs; job growth is stable, with a low unemployment rate; and inflation has decelerated. Some post-pandemic tailwinds will likely fade in 2024, but overall I’d say the outlook is good, especially for our industry.

Rental: In what ways have the engineering and the technology of these systems been more sustainable? How has the aerial lift machine itself changed in recent years?

BR: As we look at any innovation, you have to look at it both from the perspective of ‘is there a prevailing interest for it in the industry’ and ‘is there a functional use for it’. The biggest example of that right now is electrification. Mobile elevating work platforms are actually well-suited for electrification because it’s not a production-level action or movement those platforms are making. These are all reasons why Manitou has been at the forefront of battery technologies and hybrid designs. Site infrastructure, in terms of being able to charge battery electric equipment, will still be a consideration, but we definitely see the movement happening in that direction. This leads to great things like lower fuel costs, lower lifetime service costs, etc.

As it relates to mobile elevating work platforms, we see the trend for rental businesses moving towards really paying attention to total cost of ownership. That can be as simple as easy serviceability and parts availability so that each machine spends more time onsite working instead of being down or back at the shop. We’re making it easy to identify codes so that diagnosis happens much faster, ensuring you’re back up and running sooner. We’re focusing on parts availability and easy access to those parts. And while that’s a clear uptime advantage, there is also a sustainability play: down equipment requires the movement of trucks, numerous trips back and forth to the shop or the jobsite or the rental business. Each of those movements has a cost. That is an often overlooked element of total cost of ownership: lowering/minimizing movements has a great effect on reduced fuel costs for trucks, less wear and tear and engine hours on trucks, and savings in labor. It’s not always just about the machine.

LP: Ever-expanding safety features, along with upgraded automation and user-friendly controls continue to enhance the value of these highly adaptable, efficient lifts. Components such as wireless radio remote controls, automatic self-leveling, and automatic turret centering translate to a safer work environment – and, significantly, less potential liability for users or rental companies. Simply put: this is some of the most reliable, innovative, and powerful equipment on the market today. CMC Tracked Aerial lifts are helping skilled technicians to accomplish arbor work, maintenance, and construction tasks at elevated locations with a greater degree of safety and capability than ever before.

As with virtually all equipment across most platforms – and this extends well beyond, but certainly includes, our industry – innovation that reduces cost and carbon footprint continues to evolve and expand. Aside from traditional gasoline engine propulsion, most CMC Aerial Lifts also have the option of plug-in electric motors for exhaust-free use indoors, lithium-ion batteries, or hybrid gas + lithium power sources.

DW: I think there's there's a continual push or strive for more productivity. One of the new machines that we offer this year [referring to the 3232E Slab Scissor Lift], the previous offerings in the industry required the use of an outrigger, which compromised its productivity. The product we developed achieves the stability requirements without the use of the outriggers. There's constant push and request for machines to be more productive [and] improve efficiency on jobsites.

Gary Crook, Vice President of Engineering, MEC Aerial Work PlatformsGary Crook, Vice President of Engineering, MEC Aerial Work PlatformsMEC Aerial Work PlatformsGary Crook (GC), Vice President of Engineering, MEC Aerial Work Platforms: People are constantly trying to solve the return on investment. Particularly during COVID, the price of materials to manufacture machines increased at a greater rate than the rental rates that are able to be achieved. And so MEC are offering many different solutions on ways that makes the machine more valuable and therefore it can command a premium rental rate. Some examples from us are sustainabilitysomething we've dedicated a lot of resources. Safety is another one that we've dedicated a lot of energy towards. Those two driving forces have defined our place in the market: innovation directly related to sustainability and safety.  

DW: Containment is a good example.

GC: Indeed, is a really simple example. When specific job sites wanted absolute zero tolerance for any leaks out of a machine, the standard practice was to wrap a plastic tarp underneath. It was really archaic, quite frankly sort of a placebo. For the first few hours, it looks like it would hold any drips of oil. [But,] we all know that once it's been driven on the floor for a few days, you'll get holes. It's a complete waste from the cost of this diaper, the cost of the skilled technician installing it, and then the complete waste that after a period of time it really is completely useless and put into landfill. There were so many levels of waste…we recognized that as an industry challenge and pain point so we came out with a system (now a U.S., Canadian, and European patent) for an integrated leak containment system with some trays that will capture any oil leaks and indeed the volume of oil in the little miniature reservoir of the machine. So if there were to be an oil leak, it's complete confidence that it won't find its way down to the floor. That's one example.

Another safety challenge that plagued our industry for decades is that when people needed to reach up into a tight overhead area they would stand on the midrails. It's dangerous because then the rails are only up around your knees and the inherent risks of that. I think most people are just trying to do their job quickly and aren't aware of the personal risks they put themselves at in trying to do that job quickly. We wanted to offer a system whereby they could achieve the task very quickly by a safe method. We called that system Extra Deck, a patented feature, whereby there's a step that adds 20 in. of platform height. You can immediately pull it down, held up by magnets, elevate this guardrail structure that comes up to the standard 43 in. of height, and a fourth guardrail that you can insert into place. And now you've got this elevated, fully protected, workspace that you can go out through a ceiling panel and work in a completely safe manner.

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Rental: Where are these innovations being driven from?

LP: Development is moving at historical rates, clearly. Advancement in today’s climate is exponentially faster than in any previous era in this industry and as new technologies evolve, those innovations, in turn, lead to yet additional breakthroughs. From our standpoint, it’s not so much a question of, “Where are innovations coming from?,” but “Where aren’t such enhancements coming from?” The capabilities of CMC Aerial Lifts today are truly astounding when compared to equipment from previous generations, and there’s virtually no limit in terms of where we may progress in the future.

BR: Innovations are being driven by the application. We have a lot of machines that are being delivered with welding packages, which protects all of the hoses, puts a generator set on there, and allows that user to put a welder right in the basket safely for use onsite. Also, generators in general – there’s more tools every day that are being used that require a lot more power than just a battery pack can deliver. We see a lot of basket kits, glazer kits for hauling up glass and windows, pipe cradles, fall arrest kits, and similar packages. As people find new applications for these machines, we see the demand grow every day for new accessories that will help them in their work. And we’re working with rental businesses to ensure that they have these assets because that will help them with customer retention.

We’re hearing a lot about demands for additional versatility to these product lines. In mobile elevating work platforms, for instance, we’ve really focused on adding capabilities that make control movements and work more efficient and easier. Whether that’s true multifunction control and operation thanks to our multiple joystick controls and hydraulics, or our off-roading capabilities for working on jobsites of all terrain types — people are really seeing how you can save time each day with more versatile work platforms. It's not just a dumb lift platform anymore. We are innovating these machines into intelligent people elevation products.

SK: I would say that there are two major things, not related to one another, that rental businesses are looking for as it relates to telehandlers — both of which influence how we bring these solutions to market. The first is avoiding diesel exhaust fluid and diesel particulate filters. Emissions control solutions for rental businesses need to be kept simple because of the varying skill and knowledge levels of the people who are going to be operating the machines. And, when not handled properly, that leads to downtime and repair costs. For these reasons, we’ve focused on making sure that performance and capacities even at our lower horsepower machines, 74 horsepower and below, are dynamic in a way that helps you get the work done without worrying about emissions solutions.   

We’re also seeing that the rental industry really understands and embraces telematics. It’s a great way to see where your machine is, how many hours are on it, where it is at in its service cycle. It provides a great customer service opportunity: if you notice that a machine has been sitting idle for a number of days on one customer’s jobsite, and another customer is inquiring about that style of machine, you can connect with your customer to see if you can pull it off rent to solve another customer’s need. This technology helps rental companies keep track of their equipment, know when it’s time to perform service, and coordinate service repair teams to deliver that service work in a timely fashion. Telematics allows rental businesses to manage their fleet more effectively.

GC: Quite frankly, from the customer. From the demand of project managers that are on jobsites. It's those opportunities and pain points that become our catalysts for innovation. It comes from safety summits. It comes from the close interaction with customers. Many times there'll be comments made in a show by customers and that can start the chain of events that leads to an innovation.

Rental: Any final message or comments for rental companies?

LP: When it comes to CMC Tracked Aerial Lifts, the return on investment is typically significant for rental centers that make these purchases. Once potential customers are made aware of the multiple benefits of today’s available options from CMC, they’re likely to realize that the product is precisely what they need. All Access Equipment stands behind each of our extensively product-tested CMC models. This equipment has been proven to be reliable and easy to maintain, plus our phone technical support team is just a call away, should any problem or question arise. We look forward to partnering with all interested rental companies!