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April 7, 2003 5:00 AM CDT

More than Enough Functionality

The telehandler is a very versatile machine for a jobsite


Telehandlers are more than a long-nosed forklift.
Telehandlers are more than a long-nosed forklift.
Yes, some do look like the proverbial elephant, designed by committee. OK, most look that way. They combine the forklift's forks with the crane's boom and the all-wheel drive — and multi-wheel steering — of a rough terrain forklift. They sneak into small spaces with crab-like wheel movement, extend their reach to five or six floors with telescopic hydraulics, and they lift what needs to be raised, gently placing it with great precision.

They're called telehandlers and they could be a mason contractor's best choice for all-around versatility. In fact, according to Guy Ramsey, an editor at Lift Equipment magazine, "Many jobs once performed by rough-terrain, vertical-mast forklifts are now handled by these more versatile products; and, in some cases, telehandlers are replacing cranes on job sites. The variety of attachments currently available is extensive. In the coming year, we expect to see an emphasis on innovative attachment tools from several manufacturers."

As Scott Cooper, senior project engineer for Caterpillar, Cary, N.C. explains, "Telehandlers allow the operator to lift heavier material higher on the job site with unmatched visibility to the forks. The operator has better machine balance and control, allowing for safer movement around the area. The CAT Telehandler, for example, allows you to have a more versatile machine by using the hydraulic quick coupler to switch tools rapidly, thus increasing productivity. Rotate and side shift carriages allow more flexibility in placing the load without moving the machine. Caterpillar offers a single joystick control system allowing an individual to work three simultaneous functions at one time, enabling the operator to have maximum control over his load and it's placement."

How can a mason contractor benefit from using a telehandler instead of a forklift? David Bristow, vice president of CareLift Equipment, Breslau, Ontario, explains some of the versatile ways. "In addition to the standard use of forks, the telehandler allows the mason contractor to disconnect the fork carriage and attach a material handling bucket allowing multitask flexibility with one machine. The telehandler also offers greater reach heights beyond the limits of a traditional forklift and provides forward reach capability, allowing the mason contractor to place products inside a building. This is a significant feature with telehandlers."

For example, the CareLift Zoom Boom model ZB8044 provides a forward reach of 30 feet with a load rating of 2,000 lbs. without the use of outriggers. In addition to frame-leveling capability, a side-tilt carriage is also a popular option that allows the operator to adjust the carriage side-to-side after the load has been extended without having to re-position the machine

Bristow gives a "shopping list" of operations the telehandler can perform for the contractor. "The operator can pick-up and place mortar from the mixing area to the work site area where masonry is being installed. You can pick-up block and brick from the supply area and move it to the work site for installation. The telehandler can be used in the erection of scaffolding, to pick-up and place materials from the ground to elevations up to five stories high, and even pick-up and place materials from the ground into a building using the forward extension capability of the telehandler. And if you have to, you can use a material handling bucket for sand and gravel movement."

Bristow can speak with confidence on how a mason contractor can use the telehandler because, as he is quick to point out, "CareLift is the only North American telescopic reach forklift manufacturer owned by a masonry company — G&A Masonry of Breslau, Ontario. Since 1962, CareLift Equipment has been designing and building durable, dependable rough terrain forklifts. We have designed our units specifically for the heavy-duty demands of the masonry industry. Zoom Boom telehandlers have a reputation for heavy-duty frames and booms, ease of safe operation, low cost of ownership, and high resale value. This results in greater productivity and a maximum return on investment for the mason contractor."

One of the first telehandlers was introduced in 1964 by Lull, now a division of OmniQuip Textron, Port Washington, Wisc. Lull patented a sliding carriage for the boom that allows the boom assembly to be racked forward or rearward to ease the forks out from the load without the need to move the whole unit. Lull still makes this design, called the PlaceAce, and introduced its latest version, the 944E-42, this year.

When asked what was new about the 944E-42 and the 644E-42, introduced late last year, Steve Kiskunas, product manager for the line at OmniQuip, said, "It's the vehicles themselves. The sliding carriage boom continues, of course, but we've changed the base machine itself. Both of the machines have the horizontal placement system that, for a mason contractor, offers a very strong advantage. It allows them to place material up on scaffolding and withdraw the forks without disrupting the scaffolding or the work zone. The most noticeable change is instead of having the engine in the rear, the engine is now on the side so the visibility for the operator is improved and the capacity characteristics of the machine are also improved with a lower center of gravity."

Kiskunas explains the advantage of the sliding carriage, "At any distance or lifting height you still have 80 inches of forward reach or placement ability. So no matter what kind of work zone you're in and what type of material you're lifting, you always have additional reach on the vehicle. Our machines will lift to 42 feet, but it will also go six-and-a-half feet forward from there; so you've got that extra capacity and reach at every lifting height. You can lift the material up in the air, move forward a foot or two, then come back or forward a quarter-inch. You've got precise placement of the material up in the air, forward and back, where it would be difficult to keep that piece in the vertical position and move just straight forward and back with a normal forklift without driving it. With our system you can park the machine and then precisely place material back and forth."

Also with similar capabilities is the Extendo T-series from Pettibone/Traverse Lift, Baraga, Mich. According to Kevin Walsh, the company's president, "The various Model T units also have a traversing carriage that allows the whole boom to slide forward, but what we believe sets our machines apart from any other is the control system. We have some of the finest hydraulic controls of any forklift. You can imagine, when your boom is sticking up some 40 feet in the air, any movement of the control can be compounded with the distance. That's where the 'featherability,' as our customers like to call it, is very nice to have."

He continues, "Picture it this way: you pull up to a job site, in front of some scaffolding, and you're trying to get a tub of mortar or a pallet of block up to the workers on the scaffolding. With a fixed-boom machine, generally you lift the boom up and shoot it out and you go up above the level where you are trying to land it, and then you drop it down onto the right level. It's easier to land a load if you can simply lift the boom, line it up, and slide the whole package forward. In the first case scenario, with the fixed-boom machine, you're actually bringing a load down and dropping it from pretty high in the air onto a level of scaffolding. With the transfer-style machine, you're simply sliding it forward. So, if you were to make a mistake with a fixed-boom machine, you could potentially jar the whole scaffolding and that gets the workers a little nervous. Or, I've heard of scenarios where it's possible to knock down some scaffolding if you're not careful. With the transfer-style machine, if you're at the wrong level as you're sliding the load forward, the worst you're going to do is bump into the scaffolding, and then you can get back up, raise or lower, then slide it forward again."

Kiskunas discusses another scenario, "One of the great features of the sliding boom system is that when you're up in the air, working on scaffolding, the mason contractor will want to land his material on the wall side of the scaffolding as opposed to the back side of the scaffolding. They'll want to have all the weight on the forward side of the scaffolding so that the scaffolding is leaning toward the wall instead of away from it. In order to do that, the operator actually has to land that material where it's very difficult to see where the forks are. Having the system where you have the horizontal forklift withdrawal really makes a difficult task much easier."

The job site environment is rarely smooth and clear. Rough terrain forklifts have had a strong following because they allow material movement over a variety of landscapes. The telehandler matches that with multiple functions and greater reach. Dave White, product manager for telehandlers at Ingersoll-Rand, Shippensburg, Pa., explains, "The biggest single advantage to a telehandler over a standard rough terrain forklift truck is that you can get a much higher reach with a telehandler. Your average forklift would get you up to about the third floor of a construction site. With some of the bigger telehandlers, like our 1056 machine, you can get up above the fifth floor. It certainly helps in the situation where you have some upper floor masonry work to do. It helps to be able to get up to about 54 foot of reach. For example, we have a practical placement height of 54 feet, and a practical placement load of 6000 lbs. You can move a good amount of material up relatively high, pretty quickly — higher and faster than you can with a forklift."

And if those specifications aren't enough, Ingersoll-Rand (I-R) has a machine with a 56-foot boom and rated capacity of 10,000 lbs. all the way up to the top. And I-R isn't the only company offering longer reach than the "standard" 41- to 44-foot boom. Bristow of CareLift says, "We supply our products to the heavy-duty demands of the North American construction and masonry industry. Our Zoom Boom offers a range of products for the mason contractor from 6,000 to 10,000 lbs with lifting heights from 42-feet to 56-feet."

One of the longest reaches is found on a Pettibone unit. "We believe we have the highest reach in the industry right now," claims Walsh. "It will allow you to land a load at 66 feet. If you get much higher than that it's hard for the operator to see. We've had demand for greater reach, but we don't intend to go much higher than 66 feet. I believe beyond that height, you get into a situation where the customer is going to have to rent a crane."

One feature most telehandlers share is multi-wheel steering. As Cooper from Caterpillar explains, "We offer three modes of steering — crab, two-wheel and four-wheel. This, along with offering a differential lock, enables the operator to work in poor underfoot conditions. A rear axle lock is standard on all of our machines. This makes the machine more stable when lifting the boom above 45-degrees."

When the discussion turns to maneuverability on a job site, one name usually pops up first: Bobcat. And coincidentally, Bobcat, West Fargo, N.D., makes a telehandler. "The VersaHandler TTC — Telescopic Tool Carrier — is a telehandler, we just call it something different," admits Dan Klug, product marketing manager for the Versahandler. "The reason we did that is because our intent with this machine is to market it with an emphasis on multitask versatility instead of just pick and place."

The VersaHandler has the typical features found in a telehandler, including the three different steering modes. "Even though it's a rigid frame machine it is very maneuverable," says Klug. "It has a front-wheel only mode, which is primarily used for high-speed road work where it would operate very much like your car. Then, once you're moving around a tight job site, you can put it into an all-wheel steer mode. This helps give it a very tight turning radius."

Also very helpful on a machine like this, and particularly for a mason contractor, it has crab-steer mode. "That helps the machine move perpendicular to the work site very efficiently," Klug comments. "If the operator is placing brick along a scaffolding, for example, and he needs to move it down ten feet, in the crab-steer mode his machine will always be perpendicular to the scaffolding and the front and rear wheels all turn in the same direction. Again, the axis of the machine stays perpendicular to where he wants to drop the load. That just makes that much easier and quicker to do."

Bobcat, probably because of its years of experience, uses a loader-type steering control. Klug explains, "Many of the traditional telehandlers separate the lift and extend function from the tilt function. That's sometimes a separate lever on a traditional telehandler control. Bobcat uses a loader type control that gives you lift and tilt on one joystick, and our extend/retract is accomplished with a thumb wheel on the same joystick. You're able to lift the boom, extend it, and operate the carriage all at the same time. This is for efficiency when doing bucket work, for example, or working with a grapple. It makes the machine operate most types of attachments very efficiently."

The joystick, common to telehandlers, can be a very sensitive control. Bump it accidentally, and the load can come crashing down. "We have a switch that will turn the joystick off," Klug notes. "So if you want to make sure you don't have any inadvertent movement of the boom, you can turn the joystick off so you don't bump it."

Bobcat has also worked on other safety concerns. "We've added what we call a LORS — Lateral Operator Restraint System," says Klug. "It's a bar on the left side of the operator that covers the door opening and serves several functions. The primary function is to offer the operator some protection from being thrown from the cab in the event of a rollover. You're supposed to have your seatbelt on, but if you don't, this is a secondary restraint system to help keep you inside the cab. When it's in the down position, it also serves as a very effective armrest; it's very comfortable. When you get out of the machine you have to raise this back up into a stored position. When it's in the stored position it locks out the hydraulic controls for the lift, extend and tilt functions, and it also locks out the traction drive."

Accidents? Is there a rollover problem with these machines? "It's unlikely to happen if you have a trained operator," cautions Ingersoll-Rand's White. "It is important that you make sure the people who are going to operate these machines are properly trained and know how to operate them before they climb onto one."

Safety is a critical issue on every job site. All telehandlers fall under a Class 7 designation from OSHA that requires operators to have completed a training course before they operate it. As White says, "The biggest issue that you face with a telehandler is making sure that the machine gets operated safely per OSHA guidelines. Since, by and large, you are lifting heavier materials up higher with a telehandler than you do with a rough terrain forklift, it's important that the operators be certified; that they've gotten the OSHA-required training on the machines so they know how to safely operate them. The biggest thing you have to make sure that an operator watches out for is that the stability of the machine is maintained as you're lifting these heavy loads to higher areas."

Klug points out that Bobcat dealers perform the training on the VersaHandler, so the classes are usually close to the contractor's location. "It's not so much a certification or license as it is proof you've been through the course. It doesn't really say you're certified to operate the machine, but rather that you have gone through the safety-training course. Where it becomes an issue is if there is an accident that is investigated by OSHA. One of the first questions they'll ask the operator is, 'Have you gone through the safety-training course?' You get a card that is proof you've taken the course. In the case of the VersaHandler, it is required by OSHA; on skid steers and excavators it is not required, but we have training courses for those as well."

Caterpillar's Cooper summarizes the functionality of the telehandler: "Telehandlers are not limited to single use anymore. They are very versatile machines that can be used at any stage of construction from unloading materials to lift and place to staging materials and for site clean up all with one machine and various work tools. Mason contractors don't just use the machines for lift and place any more."

About the Author

Tom Inglesby is a San Diego-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous online and print publications. He is the winner of the Construction Writers Association's 2002 Boger Award for Special Reports.


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