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How to Choose the Right Aerial Lift for Your Job

How to Choose the Right Aerial Lift for Your Job

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Aerial lifts — also known as aerial work platforms — are a type of equipment you can use to work at above-ground heights. They are more stable and accommodating than a ladder, yet more mobile and temporary than scaffolding. By using an aerial lift, one or more workers can take their tools and supplies with them and complete a task from the safety of the elevated platform.

There are several types of aerial lifts, and you can find them across many industries and applications. For example, you might use an aerial lift:

  • To install or fix power lines
  • To wash high-story windows
  • On film production sets
  • For forestry and landscaping
  • While collecting fruits, vegetables or tree nuts
  • When installing, repairing or adjusting overhead signage
  • For building maintenance and construction
  • For warehouse organization

With so many possible uses, it is essential that you know how to choose the right aerial lift for your job or project. Keep reading to learn more about the most common types of aerial lifts and how to choose the best one for you.

Types of Aerial Lifts

Although all aerial lifts function similarly, there are a few different kinds to consider when choosing the right type of aerial lift for your project. Three common types are boom lifts, scissor lifts and vertical personnel lifts.

1. Boom Lifts

Boom lifts are very versatile and easily adaptable to most workspaces, particularly those outdoors. For example, boom lifts are what firefighters use to extinguish second-story flames and rescue cats from trees, but you can also use one to complete everyday tasks like painting the side of a building. Boom lifts can move horizontally or vertically, eliminating the need to re-lower and reposition continually. This convenience can help you save time and complete tasks far quicker.

Two types of boom lifts include:

  • Articulating boom lifts: Articulating boom lifts — also called knuckle lifts — have several joint-like sections that extend up the boom arm. These joints allow the arm to bend, offering a greater range of movement than a telescopic lift.
  • Telescopic boom lifts: Telescopic boom lifts — which you might know as stick or straight boom lifts — look similar to articulating ones, but they do not have bendable joints. Instead, they have straight arms that extend upward and outward from the base. Due to the design, telescopic booms are usually very stable.

Towable variations of both telescopic and articulating boom lifts, often called cherry pickers, are usually small enough to haul with a utility truck.

2. Scissor Lifts

Scissor lifts use a series of metal, accordion-like bars to raise the platform directly above the base, making them suitable for vertical projects. Scissor lift platforms range in width and can be narrow or wide. You can also pair some scissor lifts with a horizontal extension deck to access more work area. Because these lifts move straight up and down, they make for a very stable work platform and can handle heavier loads, though they are not as capable of reaching challenging areas. Should you need more weight support, you can get a scissor lift constructed out of even stronger bars.

Scissor Lifts

The two main types of scissor lifts include slab and rough terrain:

  • Slab scissor lifts: Slab scissor lifts utilize a small base, making them ideal for small or indoor spaces. They are intended for use on flat and solid surfaces, like a concrete floor.
  • Rough terrain scissor lifts: Just as the name suggests, rough terrain scissor lifts are a good option if you’re working on rugged outdoor terrain. Most rough terrain lifts come equipped with additional features that allow them to adapt to different outdoor conditions, like extra-tread tires or four-wheel drive.

3. Vertical Personnel Lifts

A vertical personnel lift — also called a vertical mast lift or man lift — is different from boom and scissor lifts because the work platform is designed to accommodate one worker at a time. Though sizes and weight capacities vary, most personnel lifts are compact and lightweight for easy transportation and set-up. For this reason, they are often the go-to lift for small-scale indoor projects, such as interior building maintenance.

Two types of vertical personnel lifts are:

  • Self-propelled personnel lifts: Self-propelled personnel lifts, also called atrium lifts, have a built-in power system that allows the user to drive the machine around the work area.
  • Push around personnel lifts: With a push around lift, or manual lift, the user must physically relocate the machine themselves by manually pushing or pulling it from place to place.

4 Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Aerial Lift

To choose the right type and size of aerial lift, you need to consider the terrain and layout of your work location, the height you need to reach, the size of your workspace and the maximum capacity you require.

1. The Work Location

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing the best aerial lift for your project is the location you’re working in, including:

  • Indoors vs. outdoors: If you’re working indoors, you need an aerial lift that is small enough to fit through any door or entryways and leaves plenty of clearance between the worker and ceiling. If working outdoors, choose a weather-safe aerial lift that extends to the correct project height. If using electric, remember to secure a power source before beginning.
  • Obstacles: Whether indoors or outdoors, there will likely always be some type of obstacle to maneuver around when setting up your aerial lift. Possible things to consider include slopes, narrow turns, tight aisles, sleep inclines and trees. Make sure you choose a lift that is capable of navigating any obstacles you might encounter.
  • Terrain surface: Note the surface of the terrain. If you’re working outdoors, is the ground hard and rocky, or is it covered in turf or mud? If indoors, is the work area flat and smooth? Understanding the terrain will help you choose which aerial lift and tires to choose. You should also factor in the total weight of the lift, user and supplies and calculate whether or not the terrain can handle that weight without damaging the ground or floor.

2. The Height You Need to Reach

Calculate the maximum height you need your aerial lift to reach. While each lift has its own dimensions, some types of aerial lifts are better suited to certain heights than others. For example, most one-person vertical personnel lifts will not be able to reach as high as an articulating boom lift.

3. The Size of Your Workspace

If indoors, the size of your workspace includes the measurement between the floor and the ceiling, the width and height of doors or other entryways and the total square footage of the area where you will be using the lift. Don’t forget to calculate in any low-hanging items, such as lights or beams, as well as any obstacles.

You should also calculate how much space you or a worker will need on the aerial platform itself. For instance, if you’re installing something large — like a window or ceiling panel — you might require more space on the platform to move around and store your tools. Smaller, more narrow platforms are better suited for tasks that do not require bulky equipment.

4. The Maximum Capacity You Require

By carefully calculating your required lift capacity before choosing your aerial lift, you can save yourself the time and frustration of returning or replacing an undersized lift. It will also help you avoid wasting fuel on oversized equipment. To determine how much weight you need your aerial lift to accommodate, consider the following:

  • Number and size of workers: How many workers are going to be on the work platform at once, and what are their approximate weights? This information is critical for determining the maximum capacity you require, as well as the size of the platform you choose. It’s also important to factor in the height of all workers, as this could change the available work area if indoors.
  • Tools and equipment: Weigh the tools, supplies and materials you plan to use on the aerial lift and add it into your total required capacity. Remember to account for any heavy safety clothes or gear you or other workers will wear while on the lift.

Electric vs. Diesel Aerial Lifts

Aerial lifts can be either diesel or electrically powered, and you should choose an energy source depending on the area where you’re working and the level of power you require. Consider these other differences:

  • Electric aerial lifts: Electric aerial lifts are often lighter than their diesel counterparts, and operation is quieter. While they do not emit any fumes, you are limited to working in areas where an electrical outlet or power source is nearby to keep the lift charged.
  • Diesel aerial lifts: Compared to electric aerial lifts, diesel lifts are often faster and more powerful. Because of this durability, diesel units are louder than electric lifts. When using a diesel aerial lift, you must work outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, as the fumes are toxic.

Why You Should Rent an Aerial Lift

Once you know which aerial lift is best for your needs, you have another important decision to make — buying or renting. The choice comes down to a few different factors:

  • How long you plan to use the aerial lift
  • Whether you plan to reuse the aerial lift, and how adaptable the lift will be for future applications
  • What your start-up and maintenance budget is

With these considerations in mind, renting an aerial lift is often the best option for you or your business. Rentals allow you to experiment with different aerial lift types and uses to complete one-time tasks or projects that require multiple types of equipment. Aerial lift rentals are also a great way to get a feel for the equipment before buying.

Why You Should Rent an Aerial Lift

Advantages of Renting an Aerial Lift

One of the most significant benefits of renting over purchasing is that the initial investment cost is lower, making it great for those who need to get started on a project quickly with a smaller budget.

  • No commitment required: Use an aerial lift to complete your project without committing to the cost and logistics of long-term storage and transportation. Once you finish your job and return your rental lift, you don’t have to worry about depreciating market value or resale.
  • You can try different lifts before choosing one: If you know you want to add an aerial lift to your fleet but aren’t sure which type is best for your daily operations, renting a few different models before making your final decision is a great way to get a feel for the capabilities of each one.
  • Less responsibility: Renting alleviates you of the obligation to repair and maintain your aerial lift. Although general upkeep is good practice, the owning party will handle all major fixes and upgrades. They will also be responsible for securing insurance on the machine, freeing you of the extra paperwork and financial commitment.
  • No upfront investment: If you’re a new or small business, finding the capital for a large upfront investment isn’t always possible. Though some rental dealerships require deposits and the rental fee, you’re only paying to use the machine for as long as you need it, which results in a much smaller investment. For many business owners, renting makes all the difference between getting access to an aerial lift or being forced to pass on a promising job due to lack of equipment.
  • Easier compliance: The rental dealership will ensure the aerial lift remains up-to-code on all safety and environmental regulations, including fuel leaks and functional emergency features. This saves you the time, training and capital required to do so yourself, plus you can have peace of mind that you’re always within compliance.
  • Increased marketability: Aerial lifts are versatile machines, and adding a rental to your fleet is a great way to make your business more marketable. With an aerial lift, you can meet more demands and needs across various industries and sites with ease.
  • Enjoy flexibility: The rental market for construction equipment is booming, so you should have no trouble finding an aerial lift that meets your project needs and has built-in features to help you save time and money.

For a one-time project or temporary use, rentals are an excellent way to cut costs without sacrificing the performance you need.

Find Aerial Lifts at Louisiana Cat

If you’re unsure which aerial lift is right for the job, give Louisiana Cat a call at (866) 843-7440 or contact us online. With years of experience and a vast inventory of both new and used Cat® equipment, we can help you make the best decision for your business or project. Visit us online to browse our inventory of aerial lifts for rent, or find a Louisiana Cat location near you.

Find Aerial Lifts at Louisiana Cat