When it comes to lifting equipment, the electric utility industry tends to be more concerned about form and function than fancy bells and whistles. While technology is definitely playing a bigger role with today’s equipment, aerial lift manufacturers have provided a bottom-line lift by improving versatility and increasing efficiency.
Also known as service buckets, trouble trucks are typically built upon a Class 5 chassis. Nowadays, bigger demands and bigger trucks have led to aerials that deliver bigger results.
“Electric utilities are being asked to do more, so they are naturally looking for more flexibility and performance from their trouble trucks,” says Joe Caywood, Director of Marketing at Terex Utilities. “Traditionally speaking, you were typically looking at a 40- to 45-foot working height. Now you’re seeing trouble trucks approaching a 55- to 60-foot working height while maintaining a smaller and more flexible chassis.”
With a chassis like the Ford F-600, International CV, or GMC 6500, lift manufacturers have been able to deliver larger booms, more payload, and better side reach. “Now a trouble truck could handle some larger jobs itself without having to call in a larger truck as backup,” Caywood says.
The next class is what Caywood refers to as a “distribution truck” such as a bucket truck with a 50- to 75-foot working height. These trucks are tasked with heavy work such as line maintenance, pole replacement, and new construction.
“The industry has been trending away from wooden poles to composites and concrete,” Caywood says. “Additionally, as the industry has gone to smart grids and hardening, you’re seeing larger transformers. The distribution class of equipment must be designed to handle these heavier weights, higher working heights, and overall increased demands.”
Unlike trouble trucks, the chassis of a distribution truck has generally stayed the same (33,000-pound GVWR). In this distribution class, Caywood says the big change relates to electrification.
Launched in June 2022, the Terex EV Aerial consists of a Terex Optima 55-foot aerial mounted on the International eMV Series all-electric Class 6 chassis. This configuration provides a 60-foot working height, 135-mile driving range, and a full workday of bucket operation. Caywood says this machine leverages two proven technologies: the eMV Series electric truck platform and the HyPower SmartPTO by Viatec. With simple connections to the hydraulic system, SmartPTO electrically powers all hydraulic functions of the aerial. (More on electrification later.)
The transmission truck class starts at a 75-foot working height. According to Caywood, the most common working height is around 100 feet, although specialized lifts can reach considerably higher.
“On the one hand, you have lift trucks like Terex’s TM Series which is a heavy-duty, high-capacity bucket truck,” Caywood explains. “But the contractor segment wants to be able to work up to 115 feet, but also work down to 60- or 75-foot distribution poles when they have to. This is where a sub-class of telescopic transmission aerials such as our Transmission TL aerials on hydraulic lifts come into play.”
At the higher end of the spectrum, Elliott Equipment’s E-Line Utility Transmission Aerials start at 120 feet and range up to roughly 240. Jim Glazer, President and CEO of Elliott Equipment, says utility professionals appreciate the smooth operation.
“As you get higher into the air, smooth operation becomes even more important,” Glazer says. “So we’ve made that a priority with our E-Line models, developing some proprietary controls and boom designs that contribute to the smooth operation.”
Glazer says end-users also appreciate the unique outriggers found on Elliott’s E-Line machines. EZ Crib outriggers are out-down outriggers, but provide an additional 30 inches of penetration.
“This significantly reduces the number of cribbing workers need to use at the truck level,” Glazer explains. “That takes a lot of time out of the setup. It also saves workers’ backs because lifting those heavy, cumbersome ground boards is a lot of work.”
The E-150i is Elliott’s newest E-Line model. “This is like the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of transmission aerials, as it essentially does the work of five machines,” Glazer says. “Transmission repair and maintenance will increasingly need to be done while the line is hot. In these instances, high insulation is needed. An insulated machine designed to work at those heights (roughly 150 feet) sits idle 90% of the time because it is typically only used during emergencies. With our E-150i, we have a patent pending design that lets users interchange different attributes at the boom tip.”
For instance, when the E-150i is placed into an articulated mode, the operator can plug in a steel boom. “That lets you get into some unique areas because the machine also has the over-center capability of 60°,” Glazer points out. “You can go underneath a line and shoot up, as opposed to the typical articulating machine where you have to poke in from the top-down. A third option is to plug a 500kV fiberglass boom into the receiver. This allows the machine to be used in 90% of applications where it normally couldn’t be used.”
Elliott Equipment’s HiReach Aerial Work Platforms are smaller than the company’s E-Line models, starting at roughly 45 feet and ranging up to roughly 130. Glazer says they are a popular choice in rail, catenary, and substation applications.
“Our HiReach machines have material-handling capabilities not only at the main boom but also the platform,” Glazer points out. “This allows the utility professional to lift other things and move transformers around. It’s almost like having a second set of hands.”
Similar to Elliott’s E-Line aerials, the HiReach models feature larger work platforms. Compared to some models in this class, they offer double the work area in terms of square inches.
“A two-man bucket truck typically has a 24”x48” platform, whereas our HiReach machines are 40”x60” or so,” Glazer says. “That extra room allows operators to carry materials with them and move more freely. To further improve productivity, our platform has an open railing. That allows you to work up and down, unlike with a traditional enclosed bucket where you can’t access anything below the waist.”
The M87 is one of the newest options in the HiReach line. Glazer says it has become particularly popular for wireless tower work. It features an 87-foot working height, 77-foot side reach, and material-handling capability. Glazer says those are impressive specs, especially considering how the M87 is mounted on a non-CDL chassis.
When it comes to substation work, Caywood says a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) can be a good alternative to a trouble truck when vehicle footprint poses a challenge – if the MEWP is designed correctly.
Historically speaking, a MEWP featured an all-steel platform, steel fly jibs, and all-steel lift structures with no insulating rating. Traditional all-steel aerial work platforms do not provide dielectric protection and have differences in potential from the chassis ground to the boom tip that require specialized work practices and grounding.
“Terex Utilities looked at the challenges in this type of application and engineered them out of the machine,” Caywood says. “We’ve taken what we’re good at – which is fiberglass for insulated and isolated work practices – and applied it to a Genie Z-45 XC. The Z-45 SUB is purpose-built as an insulated device to support substation work.”
The Terex Genie Z-45 SUB features fiberglass jib sections and a fiberglass platform with a swing gate. While the platform and controls do have conductive components, they are electrically separated from the metal boom and structure carrier.
Glazer thinks the utility industry will continue to move toward vehicle electrification over the next few years. The irony is that the electric utility industry is in the process of building the infrastructure needed to allow for the widespread migration toward electric vehicles, including things like bucket trucks.
“We’re waiting for things to mature a bit more with the commercial chassis before going too aggressively toward electrification,” Glazer relates. “In the meantime, we’re more focused on developing boom design improvements and putting people into the air.” That said, Glazer sees the incorporation of battery packs to power boom functions as a legitimate opportunity across truck lift classes. “This is the next step for Elliott Equipment,” he adds.
As touched on earlier, Terex Utilities has already brought an all-electric lift truck to the market in the distribution class. Distribution is a practical place to start due to the predictability of this application. Many distribution trucks undergo the day-shift operations and return to a depot at night where they can be recharged.
That type of predictability is not characteristic of a trouble truck. Nonetheless, Caywood thinks electrification does have potential in the trouble truck class. Hybrids that offer diesel fuel as backup power have merit.
“Going full electric in the trouble truck class might take some time, though,” Caywood points out. “We’ll probably have to wait for the next evolution of battery technology and flexibility with charging from home and other depots to meet the needs of this application.”
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