Editorial: Cleaner, quieter and more connected
A visit to the ARA Show reveals trends.
Just got back from the ARA Show in Anaheim. I don’t always go to ARA. My job is to stay in contact with Canadian rental store operators, not so much the vendors. My inbox is pretty much full of their information 24/7 anyway. However, the occasional visit does serve to get a broader feel for where technology is at and where it is heading.
A lot of manufacturers are making bets on lithium battery technology and not just for light applications. I saw lithium excavators, loaders, stump cutters and lifts – and I’m sure I didn’t see it all. The breakthrough has been in the batteries’ ability to generate comparable power to a combustion powerplant without running out of juice too fast. Most of the OEMs were claiming four hours or more runtime at peak use. That’s probably fine for most homeowner applications but I can’t imagine the frustration for a contractor of the machine dying part way through the day and needing hours to charge up again. Power tools have been able to go completely lithium mostly because the batteries can be quickly exchanged, but the weight and connection to heavier transmissions has presumably stood in the way of this happening in heavier equipment. I don’t know why no one has engineered a heavy battery connection that is as simple as the smaller ones combined with a lifting device to swap the batteries out. Imagine if this could be done for electric cars, with generic batteries available at gas stations. Goodbye to range concerns. No doubt some clever engineer out there will want to email me and tell me why this hasn’t happened. In any event, the lower maintenance, compact profile, complete lack of emissions and quiet operation of the lithium equipment is great. The halving of battery life in cold weather is not. Perfect for small jobs, especially indoors, but not ready for the major leagues on construction sites, in my opinion.
Generators are leveraging digital power control to deliver power longer with better efficiency and more responsiveness to changing conditions. One challenge with rental applications is that the same piece of equipment is going to be put into a wide variety of situations. Sometimes the generator will be used at full capacity, sometimes it will be underused. Sometimes it will run all the time, sometimes intermittently. OEMs are adding more and more software to tweak the way the engine performs to address these various conditions and alert the user to maintenance and faults before they become a problem.
Another way in which equipment is becoming more like our phones is in its increasing connectivity capabilities. Genie is very keen on its telematics package that lets the lift tell you just about everything about where it is, what it is doing, who is using it and when. They even tell you how they feel, with full maintenance schedules, parts lists, fault alert tracking and tracking of battery charge/recharge cycles. The big idea is for the rental store to turn this into a whole fleet management program where your staff can keep all maintenance completely up-to-date while maximizing availability, minimizing down time, tracking usage and preventing theft. SkyJack has similar telematics offerings and is looking to add the possibility of enhancing safety by having the lifts drive themselves. They have noted that most accidents happen when lifts are loaded and unloaded and are working on routines that would see the lifts drive themselves on and off trucks and even through yards and into maintenance bays as required. All this would serve the needs mostly of large stores and large fleets. Which probably makes sense given the ongoing consolidation in the industry and the growth of small mom-and-pop stores into multi-location regional chains.
So the vision of the future is of a rental fleet that runs cleaner, quieter and more connected to your store.