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What’s New in Cranes?

Cranes elevate sign companies to new heights.

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Does the prospect of owning a new lift crane thrill you? If so, you’re probably a veteran sign installer.

For most of us who work in the sign industry, cranes don’t rate as exciting new technology. We may be more attracted to large-format, digital-imaging equipment, new developments in coatings chemistry or the latest in solid-state lighting. But, for the true sign professional, cranes stand tallest.

As any good sign professional will remind you, ground signs don’t get much attention. Only a good crane can elevate them to greater heights.

Cranes offer ultimate durability, so you probably haven’t evaluated cranes for some years now. Good news: There are significant new developments. Purchasing a crane involves more than solely determining requisite load lift and reach. At least a dozen brands encompass this increasingly competitive market sector. Venerable names include Elliott Equipment Co., Phoenix, |2431| and Wilkie Mfg. LLC. Baker, Grove, JLG, |2427| and National are also very recognizable.

For starters, each manufacturer offers dozens of base models with lift capabilities up to 20 tons and reaches of more than 150 ft. (For an extensive overview of sign-crane models and specifications, see "Cranes Equipment Survey" in the Installation channel of www.signweb.com, and also the overview of aerial installation trucks and cranes, ST, November 2001, page 106).

Customized add-ons from crane manufacturers offer many options. Various choices are available for truck cabs, beds, bucket/platforms, tool boxes and power, plus all the bells and whistles. Additionally, formerly optional improvements, such as full, hydraulic operation, have become virtually standard, as have prospects for remote control.

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Today’s crane purchasers demand versatility. According to Darrel Wilkerson Jr., vice president of sales for Wilkie Mfg. Inc. (Oklahoma City), most sign companies want equipment capable of several tasks. This is, in part, due to the challenging economic environment. For maximum efficiency, sign companies want cranes that not only lift, but provide aerial service as well. Increasingly, cranes are ordered with platforms and buckets, often for two men. Occasionally, a lift is custom-ordered with an even larger platform or basket.

Yet another factor is at work: the increasing demand for lifestyle conveniences. Alton Herring of Herring Sales (Houston) echoed Wilkerson’s observations about versatility. Herring owns a full-service, sign-supply distribution company and counts 40 years’ experience in crane specification and sales.

According to Herring, today’s cranes are much more "user-friendly" than those of even five years ago. Sign installers want combination crane/personnel lifts and a blend of bucket and crane, and most manufacturers offer them. These newer, sturdier baskets self-level and rotate 360°. Crews can reach signs with confidence and ease.

Buyers also want remote control, continued Herring. At minimum, they want to operate the crane from the truck deck or work basket. An increasing number of cranes are sold that can be "zapped" into action, almost like clicking TV channels. They can be operated from off the truck or extension. They can literally be controlled from across the street with a hand-held device. The newer cranes are more convenient, as well as safer.

Jim Glazer, president of Elliott Equipment Inc. (Omaha, NE), took Herring’s observations even further. "Customers are much more interested in operator enjoyment these days," said Glazer. "Within the sign industry, good help is in demand, and shop owners are doing things to make the experience of operating the crane more pleasurable." Popular options include trucks with air-cushion ride, stereo audio systems, air conditioning and automatic transmissions.

Herring agreed, "There’s been so much change in the last several years that the older cranes are fast becoming obsolete. They’re less desirable."

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Wilkerson adds that most cranes are now powered off the truck’s electrical supply. Wilkie sells very few gas-engine models.

Today’s models offer more controls and tool fittings in the basket. Popular ones include 120V power outlets, welding leads, torch fixtures and even pressure-wash attachments.

Customers also want personalized vehicles. Truck beds, bodies and tool boxes can be modified or custom painted. The gleam of shiny tool boxes fabricated from aluminum or stainless steel has noticeably increased. As one might imagine, this is especially so in "rust belt" states. But more and more, the desired benefit isn’t just weather resistance, but curb appeal.

Safety first

All interviewees noted sharp demand for enhanced safety features on cranes. New materials, faster and less-expensive microprocessors and general improvements in manufacturing precision have effectively provided this.

For example, rectangular, steel-tube cross-sections have generally replaced old-fashioned round tubes. As previously mentioned, these provide additional structural rigidity. With an increasing demand for two-man baskets, rectangular tubes more effectively deter tube twisting. Also, larger-diameter tubes more easily accommodate hydraulic cylinders within the tube.

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Newer cranes have such built-in electronic sensors and controls as warning lights inside the truck cab dash. These lights switch on if the crane is not properly cradled. Sometimes an audible indicator is also included. These features make it very unlikely an operator could drive off with the crane boom extended.

Glazer mentioned another crane-safety feature, a load-moment indicator, which is a computerized device that senses the crane’s load and angle. If the operator inadvertently attempts to use the crane outside its design parameters, the sensing device limits the crane’s function until brought within "safe" conditions. $image2

Additionally, Elliott cranes feature anti-tube-lock devices, such as those required by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for other crane applications. For cranes larger than 85 ft., proximity switches limit unsafe horizontal extension.

Greater safety and versatility, combined with increasing design sophistication, has dramatically improved the lifetime ownership cost of new cranes. They’re simpler, typically require less maintenance and spend more hours in actual service.

However, these benefits come with higher purchase prices. Today’s cranes may be listed as high as $250,000 with all the options. Lower-end cranes start at approximately $50,000, which, 15 years ago, might have purchased a fairly large, well-equipped crane. Huge price variations, even within one line, reflect the type of truck, outriggers and special options.

Used cranes…caveat emptor!

New cranes’ sticker-shock potential may tempt you to consider buying second-hand equipment. Although many crane operators provide prudently refurbished equipment, buying used cranes on the open market must be approached with caution. Alton Herring shares his experiences.

"There’s a fair amount of cranes on the re-sale market, but not many good ones. Manufacturers of new cranes typically have some inventory of trustworthy, reconditioned used ones. But, if you’re considering buying a used crane from a private party, make sure you do your homework. There’s a lot at risk."

Crane-operation legal liabilities have dramatically increased, which is certainly reflected in crane-use insurance premiums for sign companies. If an accident occurs, company insurability could be extensively damaged.

Herring advises that potential buyers research used cranes. Check out seller’s-use records. Check back with the original manufacturer. Make it a condition of purchase that the original manufacturer check the records. Then get it reconditioned, ideally by the original manufacturer. Lastly, obtain from that manufacturer a written statement of the crane’s suitability.

With increasing requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other safety-monitoring organizations, new cranes must be certified. Herring suggests the same approach be taken for any crane purchase, whether new or used. The more evidence of certification, the better. This applies to cranes, tubes, cables, operating parts, etc.

Today’s myriad variables make crane purchase a complicated decision. Despite increasing legal liabilities and higher purchase prices, a crane’s purchase signifies a growing sign company. The good news is, significant help is also available. Start with the crane manufacturers. They’ll be more than happy to help you.

Crane Manufacturers and Suppliers (This is a partial list.)

Baker Equipment
Richmond, VA
(800) 446-2610 or (804) 864-6824
Fax: (804) 342-6866
www.bakerequipment.com

Elliott Equipment Co.
Omaha, NE
(402) 592-4500
Fax: (402) 592-4553
www.elliottequip.com

Giuffre Bros. Cranes Inc.
Milwaukee
(414) 764-9200
Fax: (414) 764-8180
www.giuffre.com

Herring Sales Inc.
Houston
(281) 443-4694
Fax: (281) 443-4648
www.herringsales.com

Hiab Sverige AB
Södertalje, Sweden
www.hiab.com

Hydraulic Machinery
Tampa, FL
(800) 683-5438
Fax: (813) 621-1560

Phoenix Corp.
Ottawa, KS
(800) 527-3910 or (785) 242-1584
Fax: (785) 242-8322
www.phoenixaerial.com

Radocy Inc.

Rossford, OH
(419) 666-4400
Fax: (419) 666-8041
www.radocy.com

USA-Lift LLC
Miami
(305) 883-0967 or (877) 443-4347
Fax: (305) 883-0969
www.usa-lift.com

Van Ladder Aerial Equipment
Clarks Grove, MN
(888) 887-5847 or (507) 826-3709
Fax: (507) 826-3814
www.vanladder.com

Wilkie Mfg. Inc.
Oklahoma City
(405) 235-0920
Fax: (405) 236-3324
www.wilkiemfg.com

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