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October 2013 Tackling Trouble Areas

Handling Hard To Reach Areas

Boom lift basics: What they are, what they do and how they should be chosen.

October 09, 2013
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Inside and out, boom lifts effectively and efficiently meet overhead challenges, safely placing people and materials in hard-to-reach spaces that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Common on construction sites, they also improve productivity when used as part of plant and facility maintenance programs.

What They Are

Generally speaking, a boom lift is a piece of equipment designed to take workers to elevated heights, moving vertically and horizontally, depending on the model, for plant maintenance, retooling and changeovers, warehousing, inspections, remodeling and general contracting.

The variety of tasks they can help perform is matched only by the various styles and sizes of booms that are available to end users, beginning with how the lifts are powered.

Electric-powered boom lifts tend to encompass the smaller, more compact units.

Usually powered by a rechargeable battery pack, these units do not need to be plugged into a power source, increasing freedom of movement around a job site.

The fact that these booms operate quietly without emitting exhaust fumes makes them the boom of choice for indoor applications.

Their platform heights range from 30 to 60 feet.

Larger combustion-powered booms using gas or diesel fuel offer platform heights as high as 150 feet and lend themselves to commercial construction and other outdoor applications.

Different Configurations

In addition to power sources, boom lifts vary by configurations.

When especially far horizontal reach is required, end users frequently turn to telescopic booms.

Using hydraulic cylinders, these lifts slide straight out, like a telescope, to provide additional length.

They also have the ability to rotate 360 degrees, although their tail swing can limit rotation in crowded job sites.

The other major category of booms is articulating boom lifts, named for the joint or knuckle that enables the boom to bend and reach up, over and sometimes even around obstacles, including machinery, assembly lines, shelving, ductwork, partitions, etc.

Like telescopic boom lifts, articulating booms can rotate 360 degrees, but their horizontal reach is usually not as great.

They tend to be more compact and can be electric or combustion-powered.

Articulating booms can be mounted on trailers for easy towing to a location or around a job site; they can also be track-mounted.

Compact crawler booms can pass through doorways and other spaces with limited access or provide accessibility on sensitive floors or other areas requiring low ground-bearing pressure.

Another boom lift, the mast boom, is a vertical lift with a jib that can reach up and over obstacles in tighter spaces than an articulating boom.

These mast booms, along with other electric-powered lifts, are popular choices for plant maintenance, enabling operators to check sprinkler heads and alarm systems; change light bulbs; clean windows; work on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment; paint; and hang seasonal decorations and signage.

A Number Of Uses

Outside, towable articulating booms have proven invaluable in accomplishing any number of maintenance tasks.

Marlin Van Zandt, operations manager at Snow Valley Ski Club in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, found this out when he purchased a towable boom to change light bulbs that are 45 feet off the ground on the club’s 12 light poles.

Until recently, Van Zandt approached this challenge using either a small utility machine or a self-propelled lift and bucket that he rented.

As Snow Valley continued to expand and add new light poles to its grounds, the lift no longer provided enough height to safely reach many of the bulbs.

“In addition, it was next to impossible to drive the lift up 150 vertical feet of ski slopes,” Van Zandt says. “So, rather than wait for warmer weather to replace burned-out light bulbs, I began looking for a piece of equipment that we could move into position in the snow and provide the reach we needed.”

Van Zandt purchased a towable boom lift and quickly discovered uses beyond changing light bulbs, including chair maintenance.

“The chairs weigh about 225 pounds each and are very awkward to handle by hand. With this machine we’re able to pluck a chair off the ski lift cable, set it on the ground, service the chair and put it back on the cable,” he says. “Nobody gets a strained back or a pinched finger, which makes everyone happy, and the work gets done faster.”

Van Zandt adds that the boom lift could also play an important role in the club’s emergency planning, providing a way of evacuating a mechanic suspended by fall arrest.

And the uses don’t stop there.

Standing in the bucket, employees at Snow Valley are able to use a snow rake to pull snow off the roof, reducing the time previously required to do so by an estimated 50 percent.

“We’re also looking forward to using the bucket as a platform for a photographer to take photos of skiers during the races we host here,” Van Zandt continues.

Van Zandt anticipates he will continue to find uses for the boom lift, for example, removing broken branches from treetops in the campground the club operates.

The lift’s accessory mounting tray, which accommodates a generator, air compressor or pressure washer, should come in handy if the club goes through with plans to purchase a tent for summer weddings, providing the ability to pressure wash the tent before taking it down and packing it away.

Meanwhile, the boom lift has helped with painting projects.

“In fact, the first job where we used the towable boom lift was not to change light bulbs, but to paint the trim around our building,” Van Zandt notes.“What used to take us one week to paint took us just two days using the new boom lift and eliminated the need to erect scaffolding, which is always a challenge on hilly terrain.”

Scaffolding also takes time to erect and tear down, which is time saved using a boom lift.

And, unlike a boom, scaffolding is stationary, making it difficult to move quickly through a facility performing routine maintenance tasks.

Although ladders are more portable than scaffolding, they have their own set of disadvantages when compared to boom lifts.

To use a ladder correctly, a worker is required to maintain three points of contact, leaving just one hand free to perform a task.

Using a boom lift, the same worker can stand in a platform with two free hands and space for tools and materials, safely tied off and surrounded by railing.

As a result, work can performed safely and efficiently, improving job site productivity in the process.

What To Consider

If a company makes the decision to take advantage of these benefits and rent or purchase a boom lift, the following questions should be considered to ensure the selection of the boom that is most appropriate for the tasks at hand:

  • What is the required reach?
  • Are there any obstacles that need to be reached over or around?
  • Will the boom lift be used indoors or outdoors?
  • How congested is the work area? Will a tight turning radius be required?
  • What kind of power supply is acceptable? Can you use gas or diesel fuel, or will the boom be used in an office, requiring an emissions-free, quiet unit?
  • What kind of access to the work area is available — a standard doorway, garage door, etc.?
  • What kind of surface will the machine work on? Is it soft turf or concrete, level or sloped?
  • How many people need to use the boom, and what tools and materials does the task require? This will determine the platform size required.
  • What types of accessories are available with the boom lift?
  • Does the boom lift manufacturer or rental house offer a comprehensive aftermarket service program?

By carefully answering these questions, a company is more likely to rent or purchase the boom lift that will best meet the facility’s immediate needs.

And in all likelihood, once the company takes possession of the equipment and employees learn to operate it, uses for the boom lift will multiply, improving efficiencies and productivity in ways not anticipated.


Jeff Ford is the global product director at JLG Industries Inc. He is responsible for product management for the aerial work platform products, working with product development and product management teams. Ford joined the company in 1995 and has held a variety of marketing and management roles, including senior manager marketing communications. Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Penn State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Frostburg State University.

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