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Types of Aerial Lifts: An Aerial Lift Buyers' Guide

Aerial lifts appear in any industry where accessing hard-to-reach places is a common occurrence. This includes manufacturing, warehousing, emergency services, and construction.

Like a forklift, aerial lifts allow you to access high areas. The difference is the aerial lift's ability to maneuver around and over obstacles. Add-ons, like stabilizing legs and buckets, improve employee safety.

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What are the Types of Aerial Lifts?

Aerial lifts come in three main types: boom, scissor, and vertical personnel lifts. Understanding each type helps you choose the right one for your needs.

What is a Boom Lift?

There is more than one variety of boom lift, and each has its own applications. An articulating boom lift, also known as a knuckle boom, has articulated arms (meaning that they bend), improving maneuverability around obstacles.

You find articulating boom lifts most often in utility work and plant maintenance, where workers often need a safe, reliable way to move around obstacles to perform their duties.

The arms of a telescopic boom lift are long and extendable. They can reach lengths up to 120 feet, but do not bend. Sometimes called straight or stick booms, a telescopic boom lift is typically found on a construction site where access to upper stories is necessary.

A trailer-mounted boom lift is exactly what it sounds like: mounted to a trailer and towed to a work site, as opposed to being driven by an operator.

Boom lifts reach heights up to 126 feet, but it's more common to see ranges between 20 and 50 feet, with a weigh capacity of 500 pounds.

Fitting a boom lift with a jib adds both height and the ability to move the bucket either up and down or side to side.

What is a Scissor Lift?

Scissor lifts are more limited as to height, but include a larger platform and greater lifting capacity, making them a popular choice in industries such as window cleaning and auto repair, but also when performing industrial repairs.

The use of a platform extension increases horizontal reach, and platform heights extend between 19 and 50 feet. Lift capacity is between 500 and 2,500 pounds, though the average user requires no more than 500 to 1,000 pound capacity.

What is a Vertical Personnel Lift?

The name of this one is self-explanatory, as it's used to lift and lower workers. This lift is smaller, with average platform heights between 12 and 50 feet, and lift capacity at approximately 300 pounds. However, larger models allow two workers, plus tools, on the platform.

What Powers an Aerial Lift?

When choosing an aerial lift, power is important. It affects not only purchase price, but also operation and maintenance costs.

An electric lift is your best bet for indoor use, since there are no fumes and easy access to power. You might also choose a hybrid, which uses both electricity and fuel (typically either propane or diesel). The hybrid uses its liquid fuel source for powering up the machine and acceleration, but switches to electric when idling.

Liquid petroleum or propane are good choices for remote job sites, especially since transporting canisters or tanks of fuel is simple. Diesel fueled-engines get the most power, and you find them most often when the terrain is rough or uneven, or when you require greater weight capacity or working height than the average.

Typically, you pay less for an electric model both at the time of purchase and in operating costs. Of course, when buying an aerial lift, cost has little to do with whether you choose an electric, LP, propane, or diesel-powered model. It all comes down to what type of machine fulfills your needs.

Additional Aerial Lift Considerations

Maintenance is a key component of ensuring the maximum lifespan of your machine, so don't neglect it. You need to change the oil and hydraulic fluid regularly, as well as have the unit inspected annually.

Before buying an aerial lift, research the manufacturer. Companies tend to earn their reputations, so pay attention to what previous buyers say. Make sure the machine you choose not only fulfills your requirements, but also fits within the restrictions of your facility. This means looking at overhead clearance as well as ensuring doorways and aisles are wide enough to accommodate the lift.

Finally, if you decide to buy a used model, either avoid units with modifications or have a certified mechanic inspect them to ensure the machine is sound. Finally, look at whether the odometer or hour meter matches the look of the machine. The seller may have replaced it and you need to know how old the machine really is.

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