Let the crane take the strain

Date: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Regulatory concerns are prompting the manufacturers of tail-lifts and cranes to develop a new breed of lighter, larger and more innovative products, reports Steve Banner

 Reducing the weight burden that tail-lifts impose on LCVs is more important now than ever, says Richard Short, sales director at Penny Hydraulics. Regulatory concerns are prompting more and more operators to drop down from 7.5t to 3.5t. They want to make the most of the lower payload capacity a 3.5-tonner offers so every kilo that can be shaved off its unladen weight is of benefit; and that includes cutting the weight of any ancillary equipment fitted.
“We’re reducing the weight of the tail-lifts we produce by making greater use of high-tensile steel – high-tensile is stronger than ordinary steel which means less can be used – and paying closer attention to the way they are designed,” says Short.
Among other things, that involves avoiding using material in areas where it is not required. To achieve this goal the company is making extensive use of its computer-aided design and finite element analysis facilities, says Short.
“Paying close attention to this area has for, example, allowed us to cut the weight of the wheel-lifts we supply to ATS Euromaster from 99kg to 65kg,” he says. They are used by its mobile tyre fitters.
But it has not resulted in higher prices being paid for Penny products he states: “While the material we’re using is more expensive than what we used previously, we don’t need to use so much of it.”
Short stresses that putting its tail-lifts on a diet has not affected durability. That is always a risk, and one that makers need to guard against, says Tipmaster MD, Matthew Terry. As well as building tipper bodies, Tipmaster sells the Tommy Lift along with the Swift Lift crane.
“If we’re honest about it, the Tommy Lift is a bit heavier than some of its competitors but it can take a lot of punishment,” Terry says. “That’s vitally important because tail-lifts take a real hammering every day of their working lives.”
Tail-lift makers are also being asked to increase the capacity of equipment. That is especially the case where tail-lifts intended primarily for accessible minibuses are concerned, given the widespread use of heavy electric wheelchairs.
“We’ve gone from 250kg being the popular capacity choice, to 300kg, to 350kg, and now to 500kg,” says Giovanni Vullo, sales operations controller at Ratcliff Palfinger. “We’ve seen a move to bigger platforms too, with some customers specifying platforms that are 1,500mm deep and 900mm wide.”
Ratcliff Palfinger recently launched the RTP range of internally mounted tail-lifts. Capacities of either 400kg or 500kg are available with a choice of single-piece, vertically split or horizontally folding platforms.

Safety and health

Health and safety concerns are having a major influence on the way in which Penny’s products are designed says Short; an influence that is affecting all manufacturers in the sector.
“One development we’re going to have to get to grips with is the prospect of regulations that will require all vehicle-mounted hydraulic cranes with a capacity of over 1000kg to be equipped with interlocking support legs,” says Short. It will not be possible to operate the crane unless the legs, which are there to aid stability, are deployed first.
Penny Hydraulics makes cranes with maximum working loads of up to 2000kg. They are all available with remote controls so that users can operate them at a safe distance.
All the extra equipment now being offered, the different sizes of platform that can be specified and the different materials that can be used in their construction has resulted in a staggering amount of choice for tail-lift customers.
“We can offer around 100 different versions of our 500kg-
capacity lift,” says Ian Forman, MD of DEL Equipment. With a side-mounted lift called Load Mate capable of raising 250kg among its recent launches, DEL is part of the Cargotec group, which also owns tail-lift maker Zepro and crane maker Hiab.
Forman believes the trend in favour of cutting weight has been around for at least the past decade as the unladen weight of LCVs has progressively risen and their payload capabilities have fallen.
The stress on weight-loss and safety does not appear to be hampering innovative approaches to design. EasyLoader of the Netherlands, for example, has developed a 400kg or 500kg tail-lift for panel vans with a platform that folds away into the roof when not in use. The lower-capacity model weighs no more than 150kg.
Short says that sales of cranes and tail-lifts are buoyant at present. “The factory is working six days a week to fill orders,” he reports. But he sounds a note of caution: cutbacks in local authority spending are bound to affect demand, he believes, although it is difficult to yet judge how extensive their impact will be.

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