A Big Boom Theory

June 1, 2004
Many of today's office buildings are built around open areas with atriums and skylights that allow natural sunlight to reach indoor landscaping. As beautiful

Many of today's office buildings are built around open areas with atriums and skylights that allow natural sunlight to reach indoor landscaping. As beautiful as they are to the eyes, they can be a real challenge when it comes to maintenance. Just ask Mark Witkowski Sr., facilities engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Witkowski was responsible for handling a unique maintenance problem at Lockheed's building No. 157, a five-story structure with an open atrium that soars more than 100 feet above ground level. Although Lockheed crews normally handle most of the maintenance needs around the building, when the ceiling areas in the atrium needed repair and repainting, Witkowski called on the experts at Superior Coatings located in nearby San Jose.

During an initial meeting to review the job, Superior Coatings' president, Hector Arrellano, discovered it was a lot more complicated than simply repairing and repainting the ceiling. First, they had to reach the area. Compounding the problem of reaching 100 feet above ground was the limited access to the atrium. The largest entry point leading to the atrium floor was a hallway measuring a scant 10-feet wide by 9 feet, 6 inches in height.

Because of the ceiling height and limited access, Arrellano's first thought was to use scaffolding to reach the overhead areas because it could be brought into the atrium in small sections. He issued RFQs, but when the quotes came back he was shocked. The cost for erecting and dismantling the scaffolding was $118,600, a huge amount considering Superior Coatings only needed to use it for two weeks. Plus, scaffolding would take an additional two weeks or more to erect and dismantle so the atrium area would be unusable for more than a month, a situation that was unacceptable to Lockheed since the holiday season was approaching and the atrium area was needed for a variety of functions.

Arrellano thought that there had to be another option so he contacted Matt Malone from Ahern Rentals in Fremont, Calif., to see if he knew of any other way to do the job. Malone had more than 15 years experience renting and selling aerial work platforms and Ahern Rentals owns one of the largest aerial rental fleets in the country. Arrellano figured that if Malone couldn't come up with an alternate solution, chances were there wasn't one available.

Boom lifts are available from a number of manufacturers that were capable of reaching the 100-foot-plus ceiling height. The problem was that none of those machines would fit through the 9-foot, 6-inch overhead clearance area in the hallway leading to the atrium. The shortest machine available was still 10-feet high overall. Then Malone had an idea. “What if we took the wheels off?” he asked. “Then it might fit.”

After reviewing the specifications of various machines, and measuring the overall height of them with their wheels removed, Malone determined that the 135-foot platform height JLG Model 1350SJP without wheels was only 9 feet, 1 inch from the floor to its highest point. It appeared that this machine could physically fit through the hallway and easily reach the ceiling. Now he just had to figure out how to do it.

Malone called on Markus Leaverton of Bigge Crane & Rigging for advice. Leaverton said if Ahern's crew could maneuver the JLG machine into the receiving area outside of the hallway, they could remove the wheels, set the boom lift on roller dollies, place steel plates on the floor, and slide the machine down the hall and into the atrium. After careful measuring it was determined that the overall height of the machine, roller dolly and steel plate was 9 feet, 5-1/2 inches total. With ½ inch clearance to spare, it would work.

On move-in day, Chris Turnwell and John Recio from Bigge Crane & Rigging, along with John Toste and Dan Rapaport from Ahern Rentals, joined Malone and Witkowski to help move the machine. After unloading the unit on the dock, the diesel-powered machine was hooked up to a Magne-Grip Exhaust Venting System and driven into a 30-foot wide by 60-foot long receiving area. Taking advantage of the boom lift's four-wheel steering feature, the unit was turned 90 degrees to face the hallway, the wheels were removed and the machine placed on the dollies.

After much careful maneuvering and positioning, the team was finally ready to move the boom lift down the hallway and into the atrium. The move was accomplished using a Hyster 5000-pound forklift to slowly push the dolly-mounted boom over the steel plates while it was being “steered” by slightly moving the front dolly. As the machine moved down the hallway, the steel plates under the dollies were repositioned in front of the machine.

Everything went as planned and after only seven hours from the time the boom was delivered to Lockheed's loading dock, it was in the atrium, fully reassembled and ready to operate.

Because of the greater reach of the JLG Model 1350 SJP boom lift, the Superior Coatings crew was able to easily perform all of the necessary repairs and repaint the atrium ceiling over a two-week period. When they were finished, the machine was removed from the atrium in the same manner in which it arrived.

Using the boom lift instead of scaffolding saved Lockheed Martin more than $100,000 in equipment rental costs alone and it provided many other benefits besides the obvious cost savings — the work was completed in far less time, there were no huge scaffolding structures on the floor that prevented the use of the atrium during construction, Superior's workers didn't have to climb up 10 flights of stairs each time they went to work, and they worked in a safer environment since the boom lift's platform was completely surrounded by a protective guardrail.

Innovative solutions to problems like this are available when you combine knowledgeable people with creative thinking. A determined and committed team working together can have a huge impact on any project. The next time you have a job that's a little out of the ordinary, don't look for an ordinary solution — look outside the norm. It could be worth $100,000 or even more.

William Hindman is CEO of Industrial Marketing Services, Des Plaines, Ill.