Weather, Re-Fleeting Generate Growth

Nov. 1, 2011
A surge in natural disasters and the necessity to re-fleet by rental companies continues to drive growth and technology of generators.


Pam Meyer, Subaru Industrial Power Products equipment sales manager

Marc Leupi, Wacker Neuson product manager, utility

Dave McAllister, Magnum Power Products vice president of business development

Chuck Westhofen, Atlas Copco factory product manager/GenMaster

Todd Howe, Doosan Infracore Portable Power generator product manager

Robert Walsh, Chicago Pneumatic Construction Equipment product manager portable energy

What is driving the growth of the generator market — particularly for the rental channel?

Meyer: The amount of natural disasters we've seen, especially this year, has certainly brought to light the value of generators, and increased rental demand. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, a lot have occurred this year and in recent years. Unexpected weather also seems to create an increase in demand and we've experienced some volatile weather the past few years. In terms of the end-user/homeowner audience, many choose to rent, either to prepare for an upcoming event or get them through the current one.

Weather aside, aging fleets are requiring many rental center operators to replace older equipment.

Leupi: The market growth has been significant this past year due to re-fleeting by the rental companies and significant growth in certain end-user sectors like oil/mining. As our world gets more digitalized, there is a corresponding growth in demand for electrical power, which will continue to drive more demand for mobile generators in the medium to long term.

Walsh: The rental industry is driving growth in the generators market, especially with larger machines in the 100-kW range. End users prefer to rent generators, as opposed to purchasing them, because they don't want to deal with the issues associated with maintenance costs and depreciation. That drives operators to rent generators, and rental companies continue to be our largest customer base for that product line. As costs associated with implementing Tier 4 regulations drive up the price of generators, large rental companies may be able to more easily absorb those costs, which will likely bolster the rental market for generators even further.

How much more of a factor is sound attenuation than it was, say, 10 years ago? Is this an area of continuous focus for your engineers?

Meyer: Customers are absolutely interested in quiet generators, and the manufacturers have responded to that demand, and really have made them as quiet as they possibly can.

Sound reduction will always be a factor for our engineers, absolutely. Anything that can be done to make them quieter, engineers are going to be looking into that. As of where we are right now, there are just those ambient noises that exist. So if there are new advancements that come about, say a new foam lining that completely suppresses noise, you can bet engineers will be on top of it. On the other hand, we as manufacturers also have to consider the threshold in terms of just how valuable it is to reduce noise by a few decibels. If we provide a quieter, yet more expensive unit to the rental centers, we want to be sure customers are willing to rent it for a slightly higher price tag over the generator a few decibels louder.

Leupi: Sound attenuation is important but with engineers at most generator OEMs focused on building the next Tier emissions engines into their product line little effort appears to be focused on this area as evidenced by the relative stability of most generator OEMs' sound levels over the past five-plus years. In fact, to meet the requirements of hotter-running Tier 4i engines in the larger power outputs it may well happen that sound levels actually increase, as meeting the cooling requirements for T4i trumps maintaining current sound decibel levels.

McAllister: Acceptable sound levels appear to range anywhere from 65dBA to 68dBA for gensets under 250kW. 68dBA remains the most often quoted sound level on bid specifications. New technology and creative airflow management have led to improvements but sound reductions below 62dbA can drive costs up as cabinet materials, designs and additional cooling strategies are applied.

Westhofen: Noise will always be a factor in generators and construction equipment as a whole. OSHA and other local standards push us as manufacturers to design and build quieter and more efficient generator sets.

How will new Tier 4 emissions regulations affect the performance of new generator models?

Leupi: Besides a very significant drop in emissions, especially particulate matter and NOx (Nitrogen Oxide), these engines will be running hotter.

McAllister: There is very little overall performance change with the new Interim Tier 4 engines. There have been slight increases in fuel economy. Engine speed response has improved especially during block loading conditions. The end result is better and more consistent output power quality. Interface controls provide users with feedback on emission device status with little to no interaction required.

Westhofen: So far we're seeing positive performance from the new IT4 engines. The use of variable-speed fans actually allows for improved fuel economy and decreased noise levels. The increase in heat produced has challenged our engineers to maintain overall performance.

Howe: Protecting the environment by reducing noise levels and water ingression, as well as increasing fuel efficiency, are top of mind for generator manufacturers in moving toward Tier 4 final.

Tell me about the sophistication of the control panel on your latest generator models. What are the benefits of these features to rental companies and their customers?

Meyer: Our generators are built with professional-grade control panels. One of the biggest features offered on our control panel is the hour meter. That's crucial for rental companies, as it tracks hours and maintenance intervals. Preventive maintenance is key in long-lasting, profitable equipment.

Another feature we offer, this one benefitting both the rental companies and customers, is automatic idler control. Because it reduces engine speed, it contributes to a longer engine life — a bonus for the rental company.

Leupi: Wacker Neuson recently introduced a brand new digital controller on all its mobile generators which, while maintaining the simple one-switch operation, provides significantly more data on engine and generator performance. The amount of data now available on larger later-Tier engines (T3 +), which are mostly electronically controlled, is amazing. Wacker Neuson has fully interfaced the engine controller with its new genset controller allowing for very detailed service menus improving speed and accuracy of service diagnostics. Also, the controller has an event log that can track up to 30 event types giving the rental company significantly more and better information when problems arising during a rental.

Howe: Controls on new generator models have been simplified for easy operation, and connection panels are made more accessible for improved safety and convenience. An operator-preferred analog control panel is common across all of the new Doosan generator models, which simplifies control and monitoring, and features remote start/stop capability as standard.

Describe some new features and benefits generator users can expect from models coming in the next five to 10 years.

Leupi: Probably the biggest change will be sharing of digital information via telematics including location, performance and output information. This remote monitoring capability will give rental companies much better real-time information on generator status allowing many problems from the simple, like low fuel, low oil, etc., to the complex to be identified and addressed way before they turn into an expensive service problem or middle-of-the-night service call.

McAllister: Telemetry is a growing area of interest for users that require immediate real-time information via computer or phone. There is a level of comfort when you can view the status of equipment running critical loads hundreds of miles away. Service dispatching can be proactive for both routine and emergency maintenance.

Westhofen: I believe we'll see more paralleling on smaller units, perhaps down to 100 kW. Controllers will continue to get smarter and manage more aspects of emissions control. Noise and environmental considerations will be enhanced, and user and maintenance interfaces will be continually improved.

Walsh: In addition to fewer emissions, quieter and more fuel efficient generators will continue to permeate the marketplace as Tier 4 regulations take effect. Those advancements will be intertwined with even more user-friendly control panels and displays, which together will lead to all-around better-performing sources of power.