Interviews with Aerial Manufacturers, Part 1: Intuitive Technology

Sept. 15, 2021
Aerial manufacturers talk about supply chain pressures, rising costs, digital transformations, new product developments and advances in safety.


Matthew Elvin, CEO, Xtreme Manufacturing & Snorkel

Chad Hislop, senior director, product management, Genie

Justin Kissinger, marketing manager, Hy-Brid Lifts

Ken McDougall, president, Skyjack

Simon Meester, president, Genie

Frank Nerenhausen, president, JLG

Jolene Parisio, director of marketing & business development, Sinoboom

RER: What impacts did COVID-19 have on your company as an aerial equipment manufacturer and on your customers?

McDougall: North American customers saw a dip in the rental market in 2020 – similar to 2008-2009 recession levels – led by weaker construction rates due to COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns. Despite the pressures our customers faced, we saw how helpful they remained in their communities through stories they shared with us as part of our “We Rise” charity campaign. We received many heartwarming “everyday hero” stories from our customers through the campaign and crowned two winners with a brand new SJ3219 DC scissor lift. Construction rates are on the rise again and the global economy is reopening which is creating more positive impacts on our customers.

COVID-19 has allowed Skyjack to interact in new ways with customers through platforms like webinars and SKYWORLD Live, our first self-hosted virtual trade show that ran in February. In addition, Skyjack used the COVID-19 slowdown period in the industry to ensure our practices are as lean as possible and we optimized a number of our products with customer feedback in mind. 

As an OEM, Skyjack was impacted by the pandemic-induced disruptions in global supply chains which had significant repercussions on build rates. There was a major steel shortage throughout supply chains in 2020. For a lot of OEMs like Skyjack that has meant uncontrollable commodity pricing and updated projections based on fluctuating prices. Skyjack had to strike a balance in how those fluctuating costs were absorbed throughout its supply chains. We’re also closely watching how manufacturing labor shortages – further exacerbated by the pandemic - are impacting the industry and how the U.S. government’s ongoing investigation into unfair competition practices by Chinese MEWP manufacturers will impact Skyjack. The good news is that Skyjack is already seeing orders for next year. This backlog of orders has allowed Skyjack to forecast demand in future years for the very first time.

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.

Meester: COVID-19 had a significant impact on our industry and our customers in 2020, as it did on many industries, and on our personal lives and daily routines. This year, even as our industry is beginning to recover, we are continuing to face challenges, such as supply chain shortages and freight. But that isn’t unique to Genie, or even our industry. Throughout all of these challenges, the Genie team has come together to solve problems and find ways to continue delivering the quality equipment and parts, and reliable support our customers expect and need from us — I am particularly proud of our team for that.

Nerenhausen: As the COVID-19 health pandemic rapidly impacted the global economy, we took quick, decisive actions to protect the health and safety of our employees, our customers, and our business. Not unlike others, this was unchartered territory for us.

We made the decision early on to gear up for an unpredictable period, with a sharp eye on the long-term health of the business, which included protecting and retaining employees and managing supplier and customers relationships to sustain a reasonable inventory in preparation for an eventual recovery.

In what appears to now be the backend of the pandemic, this combination has proven successful. We were able to ramp up quickly when demand rebounded, without a sacrifice to the product quality or service customers expect from JLG. 

The combination of focusing on our people, our suppliers and our customers, while remaining fiscally responsible, has resulted in company performance above what we’ve seen reported by others in the industry.

That said, we face continued uphill battles. Supply chain constraints continue to be a challenge and raw materials costs continue to climb. With the U.S. inflation rate hitting a 13-year high in recent weeks, both manufacturers and all those who are part of the rental industry ecosystem are experiencing unprecedented pricing pressures. We continue to work closely with both our suppliers and our customers to navigate this period with as little disruption and impact as possible.

Parisio: Sinoboom entered the North American market in February of 2020 during the ConExpo show in Las Vegas – right as the crisis was hitting on a global scale. So, obviously, this was a challenge in itself as we were limited in visiting and listening to customers -- which is really vital for us and allows us to show the Sinoboom difference in the aerial lift market. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Sinoboom remained committed to the North American market, and although those first initial customer interactions were limited due to lack of tradeshows, events, and in-person visits, we were able to connect to customers virtually. We see a lot of business opportunities, especially in the digital world, going forward that came out of the pandemic. Due to the limited personal contact, the pandemic propelled new digital transformations for many businesses. For some, this digital transformation was out of necessity to keep businesses up and running the best they could. As often happens in times of crisis, COVID-19 brought forward new efficiencies in the way we do business, and the way rental does business and we will embrace many of those changes going forward.  

Kissinger: The unique circumstances presented by COVID-19 pushed us to do business in different ways that remain part of our strategy today. To address our customers’ needs for greater flexibility, we created additional training resources like videos and Zoom calls. This ensures that even when we cannot get out in person, our customers get the support and training they need. Our online offerings have also expanded to include parts ordering and a used equipment section, so our customers have access to what they need, when they need it.

What new equipment enhancements or developments has your company come up with in the past year?

Elvin: 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.

Meester: This is an area where Genie, as a team, has a lot to be excited about and proud of. Over the last year, we have introduced new boom and scissor lifts and a new 10k telehandler that lower the total cost of ownership, while delivering on performance, quality and reliability.

In early 2020, we introduced our S-60 and S-80 J boom lifts, which have the capacity and reach for nearly all work-at-height jobs and provided the added benefits of a simplified design for easier maintenance and fewer replaceable parts, which lowers the total cost of ownership. The J booms are the perfect complement for our Xtra Capacity (XC) booms, which are the go-to equipment for heavier-lifting applications, and our FE hybrid booms, which offer versatility and high utilization because they can work indoors and outdoors, and in all-electric mode deliver quiet and emissions-free operation.

And then last November, we introduced our new electric drive on all of Genie slab scissor lifts. These new scissor lifts have been extremely well received by our customers because they are ultra-efficient, performance-oriented with improved gradeability, and need less maintenance when you compare them with hydraulic drive scissor lifts. We followed up this launch by introducing two new micro scissors, the GS-1432m and GS-1932m, in May. Our new micro scissors use the same E-Drive technology, and are shorter and lighter, which means they can reach jobsites other bigger scissor lifts can’t access.

We also introduced a new telehandler for the North America market. The GTH-1056 is our biggest, strongest telehandler yet. The design has been optimized to provide more lifting capacity at max height and a stronger boom and chassis design while also improving serviceability and reducing lowering the total cost of ownership. When we launched the GTH-1056 in February, we also introduced our new, long-life Enduro A/T tires, which are a hybrid-all terrain tire exclusive to Genie. These tires deliver one-third longer wear before replacement is needed, reducing ownership costs.

Nerenhausen: We are always looking at ways to deliver greater value to our customers, and much of this comes through the introduction of new models with advanced features and technologies.

Some of our most recent product introductions include the world’s first all-electric scissor lift, the JLG DaVinci lift, as well as a completely redesigned line of engine and electric-powered rough terrain scissor lifts, two lightweight micro scissor lifts, the 1030P push-around lift, the eight-story lift height 1075 telehandler, the 2733 high-capacity telehandler and our smallest telehandler to date, the SkyTrak 3013.

In the boom category, we have introduced a full line of high-capacity models over the past year and will go into production with our 670SJ self-leveling boom lift this fall. We believe this self-leveling boom technology will be an industry game changer, much as the original boom lift developed by our founder John L. Grove did 52+ years ago.

I’ll talk a bit more about some of these products throughout my responses, but in this response, I’ll focus on how JLG is advancing ground level technology to improve operator comfort and safety at height.

Over the years, we have observed that working on uneven terrain is a common job site challenge. Some of our most recent product development efforts on JLG scissor lifts and boom lifts focused on finding solutions to help users work more confidently in these situations.

On boom lifts for example, self-leveling technology allows the machine to continuously and automatically level itself on slopes up to 10 degrees at full height. This eliminates the oftentimes cumbersome and time consuming need to grade the work area or crib the machine prior to beginning work, allowing the user to get closer to the work area quicker.

Our new RT/ERT Scissor Lifts feature LiftSense, a standard feature that shows an operator the maximum height they can achieve before elevating based on side-to-side and front-to-back tilt, as well as the current capacity in the platform, which removes the traditional guesswork that often results in having to descend and try again. Additionally, QuickLevel Advanced on RT scissor models automatically levels the machine on side slopes up to 4.5 degrees, while still allowing you to drive at full height under certain conditions.

All of these ground level features deliver tangible value to our customers through improved onsite efficiencies and safety enhancements, while eliminating customer pain points.

Parisio: As a new entrant to the North American market, Sinoboom has focused on introducing our full scissor product line, especially our electric drive scissor lineup to customers. Our first priority was to build customer relationships, listen and gain feedback from customers -- and the things we learn from those ongoing conversations will certainly drive future product improvements. We are proud to bring to the North American aerial lift market enhancements on our scissor line which cannot be found on any other scissor lift. Sinoboom’s scissor lifts come standard with unique bumper rails. These bumpers are mounted on the machine chassis and prevent paint and decal scratches. The machine finish is also protected by our electrophoresis primer treatment. Sinoboom’s unique process of using a specific pigment paint mix combined with an extreme temperature oven to cure the paint has led to less rust and corrosion over time. Also, we are receiving a lot of positive feedback on our maintenance-free batteries, which have proven to be a very popular feature on our machines.

Kissinger: A significant development for us in the last year was a complete redesign of our products to meet ANSI A92.20 standards in a way that maintains efficiency for the user. One requirement of the new standards was an increased railing height. When other manufacturers needed to incorporate folding rails to fit a unit through standard personnel doors, we didn’t. Our industry-leading low stowed height allows our lifts to fit through standard doors without fold-down rails, enabling contractors to efficiently move to the next location without wasting time folding down the rails and setting them back up.

We are continually developing and enhancing our lift lineup, primarily focused on improving safety, incorporating environmentally friendly options, and coming up with unique solutions to increase operator efficiency on the jobsite. We are working on some developments that we look forward to releasing later this year.

McDougall: Skyjack launched five new products in the past year: the SJ20, our new vertical mast lift with a 20-foot platform height, full electric drive, and wind rating; our SJ3013 micro scissor with a working height of 19 feet designed to easily access confined spaces; Skyjack’s largest rough terrain scissor lift, the SJ9664 RT; our new 40-foot and 60-foot booms that employ less than 25 hp engines to deliver the same on-site job performance as higher-powered units; and our redesigned TH Series telehandlers with lifting capabilities from 5K to 12K. 

In designing all our new products, we kept our customers’ return on investment top of mind. For example, our redesigned TH Series telehandlers incorporate greaseless bearings, a high-pressure filter, a tilt compensation cylinder configuration that better distributes the load improving reliability, and a steel engine cowling that’s highly durable for better on-site protection. These features reduce the amount of maintenance required for end users, increase the longevity of the equipment, and therefore have a positive impact on customers’ overall cost of ownership. The redesigned TH Series continues to employ trademarks Skyjack telehandlers are known for like SMARTORQUE technology that’s engineered to require no DPF, no DEF, and no active exhaust aftertreatment, FLEXCAB design so operators can easily transition from open to enclosed cabs, a yoke-mounted lifting READYHOOK, and industry-leading Rear Axle Stabilization system, which increases stability and provides job site flexibility with 3-mode operation.

Any new safety enhancements or new safety products or accessories?

Hislop: Genie has always led the industry when it came to putting people at height safely. Some past examples include our Lift Guard Contact Alarm or added time-outs on our lift/drive choice for our scissor controls. We also were the first to offer an easy-to-bolt-on Fall Arrest Bar and the Lift Tools Access Deck, which provide safe alternatives for performing work outside of the platform, or in hard-to-reach areas that require access above or beyond the platform floor. Going forward, you can expect Genie to continue delivering machines, options and accessories that allow our end users to continue working more efficiently, safely. 

Nerenhausen: We talked about new product introductions above but didn’t touch on our connected solutions platform team. This team was founded in 2018 and is dedicated to developing technologies and applications that provide valuable data to facilitate business growth and advance job sites through sophisticated, yet simple-to-use technologies that seamlessly integrate with JLG machines and in some cases beyond the JLG product portfolio.

This level of perpetual innovation, like that of our founder, is driven by an insatiable curiosity and a drive for engineering excellence that empowers JLG to explore unchartered territory to develop the cutting-edge solutions, that when combined with equipment, improve the value stream for our customers and theirs. 

Some of our latest rollouts from this platform team include JLG Mobile Control, our Augmented Reality App and our Advanced Battery Monitoring System (ABMS).

JLG Mobile Control offers remote control of select model scissor lifts through a mobile phone and the JLG Mobile Control App. Mobile Control allows the user to guide the stowed scissor lift from a distance with their phone, without the need to tether to the machine. This allows them to maneuver around obstacles, to position it into areas with low clearance and to load or unload it from a truck without the need for an operator in the platform or walking next to the machine.

Our downloadable Augmented Reality App has five modules including machine visualization, kit visualization, operational guidance, a decal viewer and inspection assistance. The visualization tools allow the user to choose the right equipment and/or accessory for the job by placing and moving a virtual machine or accessory onto a machine in an actual work environment. The operational guidance and decal viewer help users understand the machine controls and decals in their local language, while the inspection assistant provides historical inspection data specific to the machine.

And last but not least is our new Advanced Battery Monitoring System. This system provides concise, actionable data that fleet managers can use to ensure fewer worksite interruptions and improve project completion times. The new system, designed for electric scissors and boom lifts analyzes the machine's battery charge and usage, while providing superior diagnostic information on the battery and charger system. Components include a new Smart Charger, which logs the charge history and details on the machine controller, and a Mobile Control hardware module that provides wireless connectivity and interaction, allowing the user to access the data with a handheld analyzer tool or through the JLG Mobile Control App.

The continuous evolution of equipment through innovative, integrated technologies, will make MEWPs and telehandlers more intuitive to use and operate. These technology advancements will certainly play a part in building the next generation of brand loyalists, though core machine quality and productivity remains as important as ever. 

Parisio: We are always pursing continual safety enhancements and improvements for Sinoboom products. But, honestly, our focus over the past year has been preparing and training customers on the ANSI A92.20 standard changes. We believe this to be a top priority in the North American aerial lift market today. These new standards can be confusing and will drive different operational changes to meet them, regardless of whether you are a manufacturer, rental house or operator. We knew it was important to readily partner with customers in answering their questions and support all questions regarding these new standards.

Kissinger: We incorporated a number of safety enhancements based on the new A92.20 standards. In addition to the higher rails, there were other safety features that prevent the lifts from being misused, such as load sensing systems. User safety has always been a priority for us, and we continue to explore additional safety solutions for real-world applications.

McDougall: Yes, I was particularly pleased when we launched our Secondary Guarding Lift Enable (SGLE), an option to reduce the risk of inadvertent machine operations. Like all the best ideas it was simple, cost effective, and pragmatic. For use on vertical masts and scissor lifts, it’s designed so the machine only lifts when both the joystick enable and tamper-proof secondary enable button are activated. If either of these switches is released, the lifting functions will immediately stop. It keeps the operator’s body away from railings, which reduces the risk of entrapment. 

Skyjack continues to keep an open line of communication with its customers around safety by publishing materials on its website that help owners, operators, and end users create safe work environments. In addition, all Next Generation Skyjack products come fitted with ELEVATE Live that provides operators with machine documentation like emergency lowering procedures, visual pre-check guides, battery health and familiarization videos; these helpful resources enhance machine safety and promote safe use.

Elvin: 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?

Parisio: Since Sinoboom is a global manufacturer, we have already seen the trend toward electric aerial lifts in many other regions – notably Europe – and have substantial experience with that technology. Our product development team has been working aggressively on these types of alternative fuel innovations, and this can be seen in the Sinoboom electric products that we have already launched in other regions around the world. We expect demand to grow for energy efficient machines in North America and look forward to bringing these proven products to North America as soon as customer demand dictates it.

Kissinger: Electric lift solutions are our company’s DNA. We have been on an electric lift path since we were founded in 2004. From the very beginning, Hy-Brid Lifts has always employed electric drives and steering, believing them to be the best drive for the access market. Users continue to notice the benefits, as well — like fume-free and quiet indoor operation, less risk of fluid leaks, proportional drive, reduced maintenance, and more power to climb inclines.

Our strategy is always focused on developing electric lift solutions and features built from customer feedback to maximize uptime and productivity on jobsites.

McDougall: We have seen sustainability drivers increase, particularly from Europe and it’s important to note that activity in that regard is picking up in North America. I foresee that in a very short period of time, specification data and sustainability data will have equal billing in the sales process. The key is that sustainability solutions offer equal practicality to today’s machines and do not take away from on-site performance. Skyjack’s SMARTORQUE is an example of the first of these. SMARTORQUE uses an optimized balance of engine horsepower, torque, and hydraulic performance to enable smaller engines to deliver the same on-site job performance as higher-powered units while reducing total cost of ownership.

There is growing interest in electric, battery-operated machines and other alternatives to diesel, but it’s important to note that not all job sites have the infrastructure to support large-scale charging. Many of the newer technology options still rely on diesel-powered generators to charge the machines, which ends up reintroducing more emissions. Nevertheless, the trend is meaningful and Skyjack is active in exploring these sorts of configurations that will meet the sustainability demand and offer pragmatic, simple, and reliable solutions.

Elvin: 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.

Meester: As we look ahead, certainly there is a strong trend toward electric and hybrid machines as the technology continues to become more advanced and cost-effective, and as increasingly stringent jobsite requirements demand a shift away from more traditional diesel machines.

I mentioned above that just last November, we launched E-Drive on our entire lineup of slab scissor lifts and on our two new micro scissors, and over the past five years or so, the number of FE hybrid lifts we offer also has increased five-fold. Electric and hybrid are already an important part of our strategy, and it will be an increasingly important part of it as the need for quality clean, quiet, efficient equipment continues to increase globally.

Nerenhausen: We believe there will always be a place for engine powered scissor lifts, and while we don’t see IC powered lifts going away anytime soon, we are seeing an increase in demand for electric powered lifts. Impending Stage 5 engine regulations in Europe require a diesel particulate filter on all machines, which will add both cost and service complexity. This will further propel the momentum towards battery-operated machines.

You asked about our strategy regarding electric and hybrid machines. While we won’t disclose our strategy, we will say that our organization has been offering electric, battery-powered and hybrid lifts for decades, and we continue to be heavily vested in advancing electric technologies.

This is probably most evident in the release of our new DaVinci all-electric scissor lift, the first fully electric model of its kind. It is a progressive, environmentally friendly solution that comes just as demand is building for electrified products. Every component of the machine is optimized, allowing it to be powered with a single lithium-ion battery without a compromise to performance. It even recovers energy while the platform is being lowered, which contributes to a 70-percent decrease in power consumption and a longer battery life per charge. And it’s single lithium-ion battery is expected to last 120-plus months, so owners should never have to replace a battery during the machine’s lifespan.

Visitors at Bauma 2019 and ConExpo 2020 received a sneak peek at our boom-centered electrification efforts, and while telehandlers are a bit further behind due to their primary usage outdoors, the JLG G5-18A was outfitted with an electric, battery-powered concept engine at ConExpo 2020 to be sure we are ready when the customers and applications are.

[The participants continued to discuss safety enhancements, upcoming trends, what customers expect, telematics advancements and more. See Part 2 coming shortly at]