This year, we witnessed several innovations in the mechanics truck market that could have a big impact on how you spec trucks. Weight remains a critical concern as every pound saved on the actual truck spec translates into another pound of available payload.
“Weight reduction allows operators to carry more tools and/or reduce the wear on truck components such as brakes. It also limits the chance of getting overweight tickets,” says Tim Davison, senior product manager, Stellar Industries.
Manufacturers are trying to reduce weight through advanced designs. “We have taken to engineering our cranes with weight savings in mind by using multiple steel thicknesses, removing components from the housing and utilizing new designs for smaller, lightweight components,” says Ian Lahmer, marketing director, Venco Venturo Industries.
Service Trucks International reduced body weight by using nontraditional materials and enhanced finite element analysis (FEA) of structures to determine where increased strength is or is not needed. “Careful consideration of all of the added systems to a service body, and being able to accurately calculate tare and operating weights while quoting to the customer, are very important in building a package that meets payload expectations,” says Walt VanLaren, president, Service Trucks International.
There are many ways to design weight savings into mechanics trucks. “Because Auto Crane started with the crane design first, we developed the Titan body to the crane, allowing significant weight savings [over] other manufacturers who added steel to a service body to make it work for a crane,” says Aaron Rayner, marketing management, Ramsey Industries. “This keeps the Titan bodies and outriggers competitive on overall weight, even when compared to aluminum bodies.”
Over the last several years, there has been increased use of lightweight materials, particularly aluminum, for components such as doors, compartment drawers and, in certain cases, the bodies themselves.
This year, Stellar Industries introduced an aluminum telescopic service crane, the EC3200 Aluminum. “Weight reduction is the biggest advantage to this crane,” says Davison. “We have reduced the weight of our crane by over 30% by utilizing extruded aluminum booms. Weighing just 500 lbs., the EC3200 Aluminum is nearly 200 lbs. lighter than our nearest competitor. This allows fleet operators to reduce the weight of their trucks, giving them the potential to carry more payload, or even downsize their truck chassis.”
The aluminum crane meets the same criteria as its steel counterpart. “Because we have to meet ANSI B30.5 design criteria whether the booms are steel or aluminum, the EC3200 Aluminum matches the performance of the standard EC3200 made with steel booms,” says Davison. “As for long-term durability, we went the extra step of anodizing our aluminum booms to improve wear resistance. This surface, under our testing, actually performed as good or better than steel booms.”
The introduction of the aluminum crane model builds upon Stellar’s experience in manufacturing aluminum truck bodies. The company has 25 years’ experience with aluminum tire service bodies, and rolled out the TMAX Aluminum Series of mechanics truck bodies in 2017.
“Stellar is the first mainstream North American crane body manufacturer to develop an aluminum mechanics body,” Davison states. “We still maintain a steel subframe and crane supports. However, we created aluminum sidepacks to cut weight and drastically reduce corrosion. The key to our design has been to use steel where we need the structural advantage, but aluminum where it performs well.”
Weight savings are substantial. “We save customers anywhere from 800 to 1,400 lbs. of weight depending upon the body size,” says Davison.
Light Up the Night
LED lighting technology is making it possible to efficiently and reliably light up critical areas on the service truck. Since much of a technician’s work tends to take place after the sun sets, lighting up the work area and lighting up tool drawers increases safety and efficiency during evening and early morning repairs.
“LED lighting advances have happened at a very rapid rate, making the ability to offer staggering amounts of lumens with minimal current draw very easy compared to not many years ago,” VanLaren points out. “In addition to body lights, Tiger cranes can be equipped with a LED boom tip light, which automatically centers a field of light over the load.”
LED lights are rapidly gaining acceptance. “With the ever-expanding development of the less expensive, low power usage LED lighting technologies, there are numerous type lights and lighting systems — such as bar lights, magnetic portable lights and crane boom tip work lights — that are available from several manufacturers,” says Lahmer.
A truck’s compartment lights often don’t provide adequate light into drawers when opened. To address this issue, American Eagle introduced the American Eagle Drawer LightBar, which adapts to current and future drawer systems. The loose parts kit consists of the Drawer LightBar, loose wire end for connecting to the truck, an LED light strip and simple assembly instructions.
Telematics Permit Productivity and Proactive Maintenance
Connected technologies are now migrating to the mechanics truck market. “One of the main advancements includes the incorporation of CAN-based electrical systems into service bodies for enhanced control functions and logic for onboard equipment and telemetry systems,” says VanLaren.
Auto Crane is introducing telematics on its NexStar crane management system. It will help maximize productivity; provide proactive maintenance on cranes and accessories; track power units and compressors; monitor equipment to help increase the focus on safety; see the equipment status in real-time; and view historical data to help fleet managers optimize their equipment on future builds.
“NexStar Connect allows fleet managers to see if the crane is being used safely and how it is utilized,” says Rayner. “This allows the fleet manager to verify the crane is the right size for the type of jobs the service tech is performing.”
Information feeds seamlessly into third-party telematics modules that are already integrated into mechanics trucks. These include systems from Ford Telematics (Telogis-Verizon), VisionLink (Caterpillar-Trimble), Fleetmatics, Geotab, FleetBoard and AirIQ. The information enables you to:
Track crane utilization
- Maximum and average capacity
- Number of overloads
- Time of use
- Outrigger deployment
- Track maintenance
- High idle hours
- Air compressor hours
Monitor auxiliary power units
- Real-time status
- Troubleshooting assistance
Crane Technology Evolves
Electric crane technology has carved out a niche in the mechanics truck market.
Take Venco Venturo Industries, which has introduced a new variation of its ET12KX-P — a 3,500-lb. electric-hydraulic service crane with a fully powered boom extension up to 16 ft. “The winch is operated by an electric power unit mounted to the service crane, but also includes hydraulic-powered boom elevation, boom extension and crane rotation,” says Lahmer. Hydraulic functions are driven by a self-enclosed hydraulic pump system. “This allows the crane to be installed and hooked directly to the battery as opposed to purchasing a separate PTO to run all the hydraulics of a full hydraulic crane.”
Electric-hydraulic service cranes do not need installed hydraulic lines driven by a PTO, thereby making these cranes an easier, less time-consuming install.
The Venturo ET12KX-P features proportional controls, which give the operator precise load control functions including rotation, elevation and extension. “Many smaller electric cranes do not include full power boom extension and/or proportional controls due to the on/off function of many electrical systems,” says Lahmer. “Venturo has offered proportional control for many years in conjunction with the hydraulic service crane. Starting last year, it has offered proportional controls with the ET12KX-P and plans to expand those across the entire electric-hydraulic crane line.” This allows for small, fine movement of the crane load when needed.
“Because smaller cranes have low capacities, there are few hydraulically-driven winches that are as cost effective as electric winches, making the smaller 12-volt electric-powered cranes a more cost-effective alternative for customers that have lighter loads to be moved,” says Lahmer. “Electric-hydraulic cranes are usually a less expensive alternative to the fully hydraulic cranes due to the wiring, hoses and overall structure of the crane.”
Venco Venturo’s line of electric-hydraulic cranes can pick up anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 lbs.
Larger loads and constant duty cycles are still better served by fully hydraulic proportional cranes. “Electric-hydraulic cranes have electric winches and are considered to be ‘occasional duty use cranes’,” Lahmer comments. “While electric winch run times vary by model, they typically fall in the two to five minutes of constant, not letting off the power switch run time. Most electric winch movement run times are just a few seconds, which allows for most crane uses to be done in plenty of time under the two- to five-minute window.
“However, electric winch cranes typically should not be used when constant, long winch run times are involved,” he cautions. “A good example of this would be pulling and service of below-grade water pumps, which can often be 50-plus feet below grade.”
Crane control technology in the service truck industry is playing a substantially more important role in new product development. One of the biggest impacts has been the development and acceptance of Programmable Logic Control (PLC) systems. These European-style control systems give the user greater control and safety features by using multiple sensors and user feedback functions with proprietary logic programming.
“Starting this year, Venturo will now offer the Venturo Logic Control (VLC) crane control system on its hydraulic crane line,” says Lahmer. “This control system gives all hydraulic cranes a standard proportional control with wireless remote, which gives real-time data of lifting loads, angles, pressure settings and vehicle grade alignment data. This technology gives operators full controls that are beneficial in both safety and efficiency.”
Features of the VLC system include vehicle stability/grade indications, overload protection, wireless or CAN communication and multiple alerts and displays utilizing lights, controller vibrations and screen text. Multiple safety and capacity alerts warn operators of a malfunction or overload.
The VLC system features four types of alerts:
- LCD display screen text
- Transmitter handle vibrations
- Green/yellow/red alert light located on the underside of the boom
- Corresponding lights on the wireless receiver
Stellar Industries touts the benefits of its advanced crane controls. “Control systems for cranes have improved to give more precise crane movement, as well as provide feedback to the operator on crane performance and lift data,” Davison points out. “The Stellar CDTplus system gives operators real-time, visual and haptic feedback such as the exact weight they have on their boom, how far they can move the load and how close they are to an overload situation.”
Control is the name of the game with service truck cranes. “Auto Crane was first to introduce the open-center hydraulic control system to the service crane market,” Rayner states. “NexStar allows independent speed control simultaneously on all functions, allowing load maneuvers in tight spots where a simple lift is not possible.”
The crane control technology is simplifying precise lifts. “Tiger Cranes uses a proprietary control logic, Auto II Speed, on its hydraulic cranes that automatically reduces the maximum operating speed once a load is sensed,” says VanLaren. “The full resolution of the control is retained in this reduced speed setting, giving the operator a higher range of fine motor control to be able to safely place the load. Load percentage indication on the remote control gives the operator instantaneous feedback on how close they are to the max load they can lift for a given operating position.”