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Ken Pozehl, maintenance mechanic at McWhorter Technologies in Carpentersville, Ill., had a problem. Along with outside contractors, the maintenance department was responsible for keeping the specialty chemical manufacturer, which produces resins for the paint industry, operating 24 hours per day. But he was short on equipment.

"One straight boom and some ladders just weren't enough equipment to keep the plant going," he said.

The Carpentersville plant is spread over a 24-acre variable terrain site with a maze of mechanical electrical piping connecting 12 processing buildings. While the piping is extensive, it consists mostly of horizontal runs that are generally no more than 30 feet above ground level on pipe racks. To reach the pipes inside the buildings, the maintenance crew was using ladders or hand rails on the side of tanks. A 60-foot telescoping boom was used on the outside but was too wide and had too large a turning radius for inside use.

The maintenance department works an eight-hour day and then rotates responsibility for "off hour" emergency calls once every six weeks. Since the plant operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the schedule means the maintenance crew can be called out at anytime - even during bad weather.

The need for equipment has long been a topic among members of the maintenance department. While the telescoping boom was marginally acceptable for overhead work on the outside, using ladders inside buildings was not acceptable at all. Some of the overhead work requires brute strength to loosen tight fitting bolts or to relocate heavy pipes. For that type of job, workers needed a more solid base than ladders could provide.

"When you are torquing bolts on a pipe flange 30 feet in the air, you want both feet on a stable base that you can depend on," Pozehl says. "It's really important when you're called out at some early morning hour in bad weather. Then, all you are thinking about is getting the job done safely and efficiently so that you can go back home to bed. It's no time to be thinking about where to put your feet when the operation of the entire plant may be in your hands."

Another problem was that workers had to transport and set up the ladders in each location they were needed. Once a ladder was in place, it was still tiring to use it. Each use of a different tool meant another trip up and down the ladder.

Almost all the work is done with electrically powered tools, such as impact wrenches, grinders and saws. Ladders meant that workers had to have access to an electrical outlet every time the tools were used, and then they had to run an extension cord to the ladder and up to the work location.

The solution to McWhorter's access requirements was provided by National Lift Truck of Elmhurst, Ill., where McWhorter had been renting its straight boom. National arranged for a long-term lease of three aerial work platforms. McWhorter's maintenance department is now using a 26-foot scissorlift, a 46-foot articulated boom lift and a 60-foot telescoping boom with an 8-foot articulated jib.

All of these machines have electrical outlets at their platforms, so the days of running long extension cords to power hand tools are past. Climbing up and down a ladder to get the right tool also is no longer necessary because the platforms provide plenty of room for the required tools.

The 26-foot scissorlift has a 32-foot working height, which is enough to reach almost all the interior piping, and plenty of space on its platform to move around. Even though it has a 1,000-pound platform capacity, Pozehl does not expect he will ever need that much. He said that the most he ever put on it is a 300-pound gate valve that he and a co-worker installed.

The features he likes best are the 48-inch overall machine width and the 8-inch inside turning radius. The narrowness helps navigate sections of the warehouses where finished resins are stored in stacked 55-gallon drums. It sometimes seems to Pozehl that overhead work is always located in areas where access is obstructed by drums. With its narrow width and tight turning radius, the scissorlift can be driven down aisles to reach the work spot without having to take the time to move rows of stacked drums.

Another feature of the scissorlift that aids access is the 3-foot rollout deck that can extend over obstructions to reach the work.

The articulated boom with its 52-foot working height gets the most use at McWhorter. It features an overall width of 59 inches and has a 24-inch inside turning radius. Zero tail swing adds to its usability in the confines of some of the processing areas.

Along with its ability to be driven throughout almost all areas of the McWhorter plant, the 24 1/2-foot horizontal reach makes the articulated boom popular. Maintenance can reach out and over obstructions to get where they n eed to be. The 5-foot articulating jib adds to maneuverability because it rotates from 65 degrees above to 75 degrees below horizontal.

As with the scissorlift, power comes from rechargeable batteries, which led McWhorter to establish a new policy for battery-powered lifts that is carefully followed. The individual who last uses any of the machines must leave it plugged into the nearest 120-volt outlet. The result is that the machines are always recharged and ready to use regardless of the time of day.

The outdoor workhorse of the three lifts is the telescoping boom. For this machine, McWhorter chose dual-fuel power. While it generally runs on gasoline and is used outside, it can be switched to propane fuel when brought inside some of the processing areas.

The flexibility of the machine is what makes it such a valuable tool for McWhorter. Important for traversing the McWhorter site, particularly during the northern Illinois winters, is four-wheel drive with an oscillating front axle.

Overall safety with the aerial work platforms started the day they were delivered. National Lift Truck sent two trainers with the lifts. They conducted a two-hour training session and then stayed for hands-on practice and to answer questions. Everyone who was there for the session had signed in so that a permanent record of everyone's training was established. McWhorter officials also decided to install fire extinguishers on all the lifts' platforms.

Good quality aerial work platforms and consistent service from a rental company have enabled McWhorter Technologies to work smarter, safer and more efficiently.

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