RER: What impacts did COVID-19 have on your company as an aerial equipment manufacturer and on your customers?
Elvin: As for all aerial equipment manufacturers, the pandemic had a significant and immediate impact on demand as it took hold globally in early 2020. Towards the end of 2020, we did see demand for new equipment begin to recover, predominantly in markets which most effectively managed the COVID-19 situation, and I am pleased to say that this has continued into 2021. The biggest challenge that our industry now faces is related to constraints within the supply chain as well as rising costs across the board.
For our customers, depending on the market, the pandemic resulted in some temporary closures and massive reductions in business. This was particularly prevalent in markets where construction projects were halted for extended periods, even if the rental companies themselves were designated as ‘essential’ and were able to continue operating. The business impact was reduced in markets where construction was allowed to continue throughout the pandemic, although most rental companies lacked the confidence to invest in new equipment.
What new equipment enhancements or developments has your company come up with in the past year?
Snorkel unveiled a large number of brand-new aerial lifts at CONEXPO/CON-AGG in March 2020, including a preview of the world’s largest telescopic boom lift, the 2100SJ. I am very proud that we have been able to maintain our product development activity throughout this period, and that progress has been more or less uninterrupted, with the exception of some associated vendor delays as a result of localized lockdown mandates.
During the past 12 months, we have begun production on the Snorkel S4740E electric slab scissor lift launched at ConExpo and have commenced deliveries to customers globally. We have also continued the development and testing of our new twin-deck, rough terrain construction scissor lift families with first two S4390RT models currently on the production line in Henderson, Nevada. In the UK and New Zealand, we recently commenced production of five new lithium-ion-battery-powered compact rough terrain scissor lifts, which takes our current zero emission rough terrain family of lifts to eight, with a ninth model due to launch in September.
Development and rigorous testing of the Snorkel 2100SJ has been ongoing since ConExpo and the latest version will be shown at The ARA Show 2021 in Las Vegas in October. We have also been working on a brand new 60-foot articulating hybrid boom lift that will be launching later this year, which is designed with the tradeshow sector in mind.
Any new safety enhancements or new safety products or accessories?
There are a number of new safety innovations on the Snorkel 2100SJ which have been designed to protect the operator while working at extreme heights, as well as improve the overall operator experience.
The 2100SJ is equipped with a wireless handheld pendant at ground level, enabling remote machine control that allows for safe loading and unloading on a transport trailer. The additional pendant complements the standard toggle switch controls located on the lower control box. In the platform, a secondary upper control pendant allows the operator to face to working area for precise platform positioning at height.
Both the lower and upper control panels include a 7-inch color LCD screen, which displays a brand-new multi-lingual Snorkel user interface featuring clear operator communications, such as the pre-start procedure in a visual checklist format and service reminders.
In the platform, user-friendly, all-proportional controls provide a smooth and simple operator experience, with three joysticks – one dedicated to drive functions, one dedicated to all boom functions, and one dedicated to jib boom functions. Haptics have been incorporated into its upper controls, which provides the operator with a joystick vibration experience that becomes proportionally stronger to warn the operator as they near the boundaries of the envelope, to avoid sudden stops when working at height.
We have also developed a dual redundant emergency descent system, as well as other methods, to return the operator safely to the ground in the event of a full electrical system failure at the chassis and platform.
Safety remains at the core of everything that we do, and our hope is to be able to expand some of these new safety concepts into other models in future.
There is more interest and growing in electric, battery-operated machines and other alternatives to diesel these days. What is your company’s strategy in regard to electric machines, electric drives, hybrids and alternative fuels?
We are seeing growing demand regionally for environmentally friendly equipment that meets the increasing regulations and targets for noise and emission reduction. For the most part, this demand has centered around the need for zero emission alternatives to diesel-powered equipment for rough terrain applications.
To address this need, we developed a robust electric power solution which uses powerful lithium-ion batteries to replace the diesel engine in Snorkel mid-size rough terrain lifts to provide a completely zero-emission and low noise solution that can operate both indoors and out. The lithium-ion battery technology that is used in the Snorkel lithium-electric products is proven to deliver the same or better performance than the diesel equivalent, but with many other additional benefits such as reduced noise, zero dust generation, zero maintenance and lower operating costs.
We initially launched this solution on the Snorkel Speed Level in late 2019 and have since expanded it into five compact rough terrain scissor lift models, as well as a compact rough terrain telehandler. Later this year, we will be commencing production of our first lithium-powered rough terrain articulated boom lift, which will expand the lithium-powered family of products to nine models.
Leak protection systems have been a positive development in recent years? Do you expect other similar safety features?
Leak protection systems can be beneficial in terms of helping to protect the work environment from possible hydraulic leaks and are a preferable option to the use of traditional diapers. However, when looking at the aerial industry as a whole, we see a long-term trend towards the integration of more electronic components, such as utilizing electric drive rather than hydraulic drive. As electric drive, and other electronic systems, become more popular, and therefore more cost competitive, we expect to see less hydraulics used in aerial equipment, which ultimately reduces the risk of hydraulic leaks and need for leak containment systems.
At Snorkel, we already offer some models with electric drive as standard, such as the Snorkel A38E, TM12E and TM16E, and plan to offer our customers with a choice of electric or hydraulic drive on our electric slab scissor lift line, as we do already on the new Snorkel S4740E.
New ANSI standards have allowed larger loads on boom lifts. What other trends do you expect to see in the near future?
As part of the new ANSI standards, overload systems are now required on most aerial lifts. While this does not necessarily mean that the lifting capacity has increased, it does mean that operators are restricted from overloading the platform, which in real terms may mean that they find they can lift less materials to height than perhaps they did on units without an overload system.
This will likely lead to contractors requesting increased lift capacities on aerial lifts as a standard. We have already seen a number of OEMs, including ourselves, start to offer increased lift capacity on 40 foot and 60-foot telescopic booms, and we believe this will be a continuing trend. It is worth noting that due to the pandemic, it has taken significantly longer for the new ANSI-compliant units to enter the market and as such, many jobsites and operators may not have yet experienced the new overload systems and other ANSI-compliant changes.
Widespread usage of telematics has been a positive development. What are some of enhancements your company has made in telematics and similar technology?
As announced last year, the Ahern Family of Companies, including Snorkel, have partnered with Trackunit for its telematics integration and solutions. All telematics-capable Snorkel models are now available globally with a harness that enables the quick install of the Trackunit telematics module, and Snorkel offers a range of subscription programs to its customers worldwide. We will be officially launching our telematics program, Snorkel OnSite, at The ARA Show 2021.
Are there particular features that customers are asking for in the evolution of aerial equipment?
Relating to the new ANSI A92.20 standards, electric slab scissor lifts are one of the most affected product categories, predominantly due to the new guardrail height and changes to wind loading requirements. While the supply of the new ANSI-compliant units to the market has been delayed due to the pandemic, we are anticipating that customers will look for solutions to some of the challenges presented on the new units, such as the need for folding guardrails on smaller electric scissors lifts, and systems to enable outdoor operation for machines which do not meet the new wind loading requirements.
Our approach to achieving compliance was to develop solutions which also overcame these issues. We launched the Snorkel S3019E in 2019, the first electric slab scissor lift with a sunken scissor stack to eliminate the need for folding guardrails and developed a new ‘variable tilt’ solution to address the wind loading requirements. This means that all Snorkel electric slab scissor lifts, from the S3215E to the S4732E will allow you to elevate indoors or outdoors, rated at wind speeds up to 28 mph, until you reach a certain height limit, which is based on the current incline on which the unit is situated. This improves the working envelope of these lifts at elevated heights up to 70 percent of the maximum platform height.
From a global perspective, the continued adoption of increased safety standards and the widespread acceptance of technology in all aspects of life is driving increased utilization of electronics in the aerial lift sector. This allows for more advanced operator communication through digital interfaces, which can deliver an improved operator experience.