Fleet Innovations for the Utility Industry -- Focus on a Customer-centric Product Approach

To deliver solutions needed in the field, utility equipment manufacturers and suppliers over the years have focused on introducing and promoting products with rapid-response capabilities. Significant improvements in ownership and operating costs, as well as utilization, have been made in the past decade.

Aug 11th, 2014
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By Joe Caywood

To deliver solutions needed in the field, utility equipment manufacturers and suppliers over the years have focused on introducing and promoting products with rapid-response capabilities. Significant improvements in ownership and operating costs, as well as utilization, have been made in the past decade by manufacturers/suppliers working directly with fleet managers. A customer-centered approach is focused on helping utility crews get every project done safely, quickly and at the lowest cost of ownership.

By engaging with fleet managers to develop innovative product concepts, as well as incorporating these concepts into their crews' everyday work practices, a customer-centered approach focuses on four main ideas: 1) safe work practices, 2) equipment spec'ing and availability, 3) return on investment (ROI), and 4) productivity-getting work done efficiently. As industry providers continue to solicit customers' feedback and opinions on equipment innovations, a better understanding of what fleet managers need is gained. It also allows these providers to develop better solutions to meet those needs. To be valuable to fleet managers, each equipment innovation must be focused on improving jobsite conditions, saving on operational costs, and delivering a real return on investment.

This approach has already been incorporated into several utility truck-aerial work devices and digger derricks-product designs and service offerings available in the industry, including:

· the use of hybrid technology,

· new standards for right-sizing equipment, and

· new product concepts for working on slopes and around utility poles.

Hybrid Technology

In the past few years, reducing fuel consumption, diesel exhaust emissions and noise pollution on utility trucks or digger derricks has been a popular topic within the industry. In this business, utility trucks and digger derricks don't drive many miles-they often sit idle while workers service utilities, such as power lines. In a year, utility equipment can use more than a thousand gallons of fuel and produce more than 10 tons of pollution, all while sitting still. To respond to the fleet managers' demands for cleaner and quieter work environments, utility equipment manufacturers have looked for ways to incorporate hybrid technology into their machine designs.

Hybrids for utility trucks should be designed differently than the technology used in hybrid cars. Utility truck hybrid systems not only need to save fuel and reduce exhaust emissions, but also allow operators to function in a relatively quiet work environment-a benefit for noise sensitive job sites.

Designed to reduce or even eliminate the use of fuel for the work done while the utility truck is sitting still, one hybrid technology used on utility trucks now uses stored energy from the system's rechargeable batteries to power the non-propulsion functions of the vehicle-a plug-in, electric design. Utility trucks equipped with this type of hybrid technology can work for hours without crews needing to start the vehicle engine. It also reduces a range of pollution produced from diesel fuel and eliminates the noise from an idling engine normally used to run the hydraulic system, as well as reduces disruption to a utility company's customers and crews. And, because hybrid systems can reduce the engine idle hours on the job site, the result is fewer oil changes, lower fuel consumption, as well as a reduced amount of times an engine will need to go into re-gen mode.

A significant advantage of this type of hybrid technology is that it can be retrofitted on existing utility trucks, which can help fleet managers "green up" their fleet at a reduced capital investment vs. purchasing a new unit. Not only is this a less expensive option, but it's also a faster way for fleet managers to meet their companies' green initiatives.

Right-sizing Equipment

The work utility trucks do is too valuable to have the wrong size truck on a job. In an increasingly competitive bidding environment, it is important that fleet managers be able to spec utility trucks, particularly digger derricks, to complete the jobs these trucks are tasked to perform, on time and on budget.

Most fleet managers use their digger derricks for digging holes and setting poles throughout the majority of the workday. Throughout the evolution of digger derricks, various methods have been used by fleet managers to compare the working capacities of different models built by different manufacturers. Early on, digger derricks were compared by their capacity rating with the booms fully retracted and fully elevated, but because these are not practical working positions, comparisons had to evolve to better reflect how these utility trucks were being used.

Traditionally, the design of a digger derrick requires an emphasis on either the digging capacity or lifting capacity, so most comparison methods have included:

· Winch capacities-a comparison of the styles and capacities of winches used with digger derricks,

· Lifting capacities-a comparison of digger derricks that accounts for both the boom strength and the capacity and style of winch, and

· 10-ft. radius lifting capacity-a "working" comparison developed in the early 1980s that considers a truck's ability to lift loads within a 10-ft. radius from the centerline of truck's rotation.

It is important to understand the differences of these more recent specifications and comparison methods because they often do not give fleet managers a full account of a digger derrick's capacities. None of these comparisons, for instance, take into account a truck's in-the-hole (ITH) digging and out-of-the-hole (OTH) lifting capacities. To select the correct digger derrick for the job, the truck should be able to dig a hole and set the pole without the need to reposition the digger derrick. This means operators need to consider the lifting capacity within a 10-ft. load radius of the truck as well as the digging and lifting capacity out of the hole. One tool that keeps fleet managers from selecting a digger derrick that takes too long to complete tasks because the truck is undersized or is oversized and expensive is a new standard recommended in the industry, the Work Zone Capacity comparison. The object of the Work Zone Capacity standard is to match these capacities to the job.

The Work Zone Capacity standard reflects the boom's lifting capacity and accounts for the digger derrick's auger digging and lifting capacity. These capacities need to be close to ensure the truck is able to lift the auger, while full of material, out of the hole. For digger derricks designed to maximize working capacity in the digging zone, the Work Zone Capacity gives fleet managers the confidence to select a truck properly sized to perform all the jobs it is tasked to do.

Innovative Product Concepts

For aerial utility truck crews, working on a slope is reality on many jobsites. It is a fleet manager's job to ensure these crews are set up with equipment that can successfully work on an incline without compromising the crew's safety or productivity.

One new tool to help crews when working on slopes is a tilting pedestal system for aerial utility trucks. This system allows for operation on slopes up to 20 degrees to accommodate the need for real world truck positioning, while decreasing stress on the rotation gearbox when rotating up the hill and set-up time because it eliminates the need to crib the outriggers. Utility trucks equipped with a tilting pedestal system allow operators to save time during the set-up process by being able to situate the truck on terrain that is outside of the recommended degree of slope without having to dig out or build up for proper leveling.

Other benefits of a tilting pedestal system include keeping the work platform level longitudinally, boosting productivity, and creating less fatigue for the operator having to maintain balance. The aerial utility truck is also able to operate in its designed configuration, and the cylinders are rated to independently support the rated load.

Another tool fleet managers should consider for aerial utility trucks is a telescoping option to increase the trucks range of motion. This type of option is designed with an additional platform arm that rotates up to 215 degrees, in addition to the 180-degree platform rotator, making it possible for operators to reach both sides of the utility pole without having to re-position the truck-expanding the truck's work area. A platform lifter option enables operators to get additional working height from an aerial work truck, and the platform can wrap around the utility pole during operation for increased access from one truck set-up.

With all the challenging demands of the utility marketplace, increased understanding of ownership and operating cost, as well as utilization, fleet managers must work through several scenarios when making equipment-purchasing decisions. As every utility fleet manager knows, the secret to being successful is to equip crews with the right equipment to match the application-because a utility fleet is just an expense if it's not working efficiently and effectively. Equipping fleet managers with tools and innovations to better make these decisions is the responsibility of every utility industry manufacturer and supplier.

About the author: Joe Caywood is the senior product and marketing manager for Terex Utilities, a leading supplier of digger derricks, aerial devices and auger drills for the utility industry. Caywood has a BS Mechanical Engineering degree and has worked in capital equipment manufacturing for the past 17 years in a variety of leadership roles.

For more information about Terex Utilities or other products, click here to go to Utility Products’ Buyers Guide.

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