Whether or not they say it, a rental customer's needs are often reduced to a few simple words: Make it work and make it last.
If the generators you rent don't consistently fit the bill on both counts, then it may be a good time to evaluate exactly what you want out of your gensets. In this era of disposability, assessing the quality of generators is an ongoing challenge.
Breaking it down When acquiring generators for your fleet, use time-honored guidelines that address durability, reliability and safety. Establish standards you expect your gensets to meet or surpass, and factor in cost as it relates to initial purchase and anticipated repairs and maintenance.
Among the features and benefits to evaluate are these:
* What about the engine? How well is the engine going to perform day after day and week after week? Does it feature an automatic idle control or automatic oil alarm in the event that oil drops to an unsafe level? An automatic idle can provide critical protection against inconsistent power surges.
* Does the frame have what it takes? The generator is going to receive some rough treatment. It will be tossed in and out of trucks, slammed down on hard surfaces and exposed to the elements.
Generators designed for homeowners often differ greatly from those for commercial users. The frame's durability can guide buyers in distinguishing whether it will stand the test in the commercial market.
* Does your equipment center provide sufficient power range? Gas-powered generators may be the most popular units, but how deep does your inventory go into diesel? If customers are happy with a certain brand genset, they may use the same brand on a bigger job. Many rental companies find it wise to prepare to meet potentially greater needs for power.
* Are warranties important? Many major manufacturers offer warranties of one year or longer for systems and components. Consider the value of a warranty from the perspective of possible maintenance and the demonstrated faith the manufacturer has in the integrity of the system.
* The value of steel gasoline tanks is consistently pointed to as a key feature of many gensets. The reason: Durability. Others, however, assert that strong plastic is equally resilient. Decide for yourself when considering the type of end-user and factor in weather conditions that can impact the performance of certain tanks.
* Are you comfortable with key features? Noise level, appearance, LCD displays and wheel kits are among the most important features to examine. Make sure the control panel is positioned to maximize efficient usage. Keep in mind the needs of your customers, and seek generators that will appeal to their needs.
* Will repairs be painless? Some units are easier to repair than others, so take the time to determine the level of accessibility and complexity in making repairs.
Introducing lines Kohler, John Deere and Wacker are among several manufacturers who have recently released new lines of generators. Multiquip, meanwhile, has recently added one generator, a 9700 kilowatt unit, to its gasoline line to meet increased demand in that range.
Kohler's new ROZK line includes 13 generator sets, ranging from 20 to 170 kilowatts. One set is rated at 115 kW, considered by Kohler to be a level that will be especially appealing to the on-site power industry.
Meanwhile, Wacker has introduced five mobile generators designed to provide single- and three-phase power for construction, commercial and industrial applications.
John Deere enters the new year with a generator line that features four new units. Charlie Durand, manager of training and information services in the handheld and portable equipment area, said that market research among homeowners and contractors drove development of the products."We asked them what they liked about existing units and what they didn't like," says Durand. "We wanted to know what added value to a job and what met their needs for performance. We then ranked the most important features."
Deere ran focus groups, in which contractors and other customers gathered for narrowly focused discussions on the merits of gensets. Participants pointed to low noise, length of running time and cost as among the most important issues.
Beyond Y2K Many manufacturers acknowledge 1999 was a good year for gensets. A surge in purchases by homeowners drove generator sales to an all-time high. In fact, it is highly unlikely that sales in 2000 will reach such lofty levels.
Nevertheless, increased demand has sparked greater awareness of generator usage. "It brought into focus the convenience of portable power. We plan to go out and use that momentum to our advantage," says Trey Brown, marketing manager for outdoor power equipment, Makita USA, based in La Mirada, Calif.
As for Multiquip Inc, which is one of the biggest players in the generator market, demand may ebb and flow, but staying the course of quality seems to be a long-living company ethic. Larry Savitz, the operations manager for the Carson, Calif.-based MQ Power division, says overall quality continues to separate and define one generator from another. Thus, knowing what to look for in a generator will never go out of style.