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Walking on air: AWPs press new market applications

PMV gathers actors in the aerial work platform sector to discuss the current direction of the market

ANALYSIS, PMV

Vendors of aerial work platforms (AWPs) in developing markets have a pretty interesting job. In many cases, securing a customer involves convincing them to abandon a tried and tested access solution.

AWPs allows quick and easy access to locations that might previously only have been accessible by scaffolding or rope access.

In many mature markets, the AWP sector has reached its peak — driven by safety concerns and subsequent regulation. In less developed markets like the Gulf, where both business practices and regulation have yet to set in, there is substantially more room for manoeuvre.

PMV talked to both providers of so-called ‘cherry picker’ AWPs, scissor lifts and also two providers of truck-mounted platforms to get a feel for the current vogue of the market in the region, as well as its aspirations.

Dubai’s Rapid Access operates from nine depots across all six GCC countries, deploying a regional fleet of more than 3,600 aerial work platforms the majority being manufactured by Genie and JLG with working heights up to 47m.
With a large fleet, a presence since 1996, and representing major manufacturers — Rapid provides a strong bellwether of the market.

Alex Potter, sales and marketing director for Rapid Access Middle East, notes that “2014 was a record year for Rapid – delivering increased numbers of customers, hired machines, and specialist training” and that the growth in the region is “continuing in 2015 and into 2016”.

In 2014, across the Middle East, Rapid provided rental equipment and services to over 1,200 customers generating revenues of $75.6m, and at present, from Rapid’s perspective, the region continues to be won over by the value of aerial work platforms as the “safest and most efficient way” to carry out a wide range of tasks while working and operating at height.

Dorinel Stefaniu, business development for Johnson Arabia, an exclusively rental-based company operating a fleet of approximately 600 AWPs, concurs that “demand has been increasing since the beginning of 2015”.

Stefaniu hints at the early sing of maturation in the market, noting: “For a few years until end of 2014, a lot of clients were looking for the cheapest product irrespective of service that comes with it; this year, that has changed — with a lot more clients willing to shell out more money in order to get a better product with top of the class services.” He adds that, if anything, sales are being restrained by slow payment.

Detailing the key growth areas, and Potter states: “We have seen significant growth in the use of smaller electric scissors and booms during 2015 particularly across the MEP and facilities management industries.”

From the manufacturer’s perspective, Malcolm Early, marketing VP at Skyjack, concurs: “In general, business is good with positive sentiment and confidence among the rental customers that are our target market.

“Skyjack made its name and reputation in scissors — such that today one-in-three scissors sold globally is one of ours. However, in recent years we have extended our product range with both telescopic and articulating boom types.

“The amount of construction and frankly the advanced designs of the buildings means that Skyjack booms have been particularly well received in the Middle East. Their axle-based drive has proven a hit in terms of their ability to cope with rough terrain while remaining comparatively maintenance free.”

Mounting up

Still a comparatively niche market within the regional AWP market, but increasingly popular, are truck-mounted platforms.

Domen Bocker, GM for sales and marketing at the Gorica Group, which distributes truck-mounted Palfinger AWPs in the region, notes: “In UAE, the main market is for electrical scissor lifts and straight boom lifts self-powered by either a diesel or petrol engine.

“Nevertheless, truck-mounted AWPs are making progress year-by-year as customers comprehend all the benefits and especially the range of options: from small pick-up truck mounted units to large AWPs, mounted on a 8x4 truck chassis that can reach up to 100m.”

Bocker notes that truck-mounted AWPs are particularly useful in the municipal sector, where they can readily be applied to tasks such as performing bridge inspections or repairing electrical poles or lighting.

Further down the line, Gorica sees the potential for also pushing truck-mounted product into the construction sector.

Greger Jacobson, owner and chairman of Thor Middle East and another actor in the truck-mounted segment, qualifies: “Business is picking up after a fairly slow start of the year, but we really see good potential in the coming years in this business. Over the course of the year we have developed our offering of truck-mounted AWPs to range from 9m up to 60m.”

Thor also provides electrically insulated AWPs for applications where electrocution hazards exist — a functionality that relates back to the versatility of truck-mounted units for municipal operations.

“Lots of people are only used to the self-propelled aerial lifts, but there is now a growing requirements for truck-mounted platforms in the region,” explains Jacobson.

He notes, however, that Thor is not necessarily simply competing directly against existing products, and indeed is arguably “opening new route to the market”.

Indeed, Jacobson is positive about the AWP segment as a whole.

“Companies are more concerned about the work safety and the professionalism, which is why AWPs have become one of the fast growing sectors in construction, oil and gas, general maintenance,” he explains.

“These sturdy facilitators allow workers to perform their job with higher focus on the job to be done, faster and makes their work easier to reach the heights safely.”

Confirming market supposition, he states: “Use of traditional methods like scaffolding to reach heights is becoming less popular as the safety factor and the speed of the work is becomes more and more important. Just a few years ago, this realisation was limited to construction and oil and gas.”

Showmanship

Crucially, the AWP sector is inherently versatile — applying equally to construction, industrial and facilities management applications, but also extending well beyond these, crossing market segments to play a strong role even in sector such as events and hospitality.

Both Rapid Access and Johnson Arabia are involved in supplying AWPs to event organisers in the run up to shows and exhibitions, and Jacobson comments: “As this region’s tourism segment starts to see a boost, and countries progress towards hosting more and more international events and exhibitions there are a lot of event management companies undertaking projects. There is also momentum in the hospitality sectors, which provides a space for facility management companies.”

And with greater complexity of activity comes greater demand for the latest, most-advanced and best-operated machines.

Jacobson notes: “These projects needs expertise of experienced professionals to achieve the best results and to succeed. The tasks on a construction site that need professional engineers can’t be performed by an unskilled worker; likewise choosing the right tool, like an AWP, improves accuracy.”

Playing nicely

Beyond the obvious safety impact of replacing a scaffolding rig with an AWP unit, the computerised nature of today’s machines also mean that the integrated safety features are also constantly evolving.

Potter, notes: “All of us at Rapid, and our clients, are continuously searching for ways to make working at height safer. With this in mind we continue to develop our industry-leading range of safety accessories, like the SkySiren setup — which mitigates risks associated with operator entrapment.”

SkySiren is a Lavendon Group safety system widely deployed across its global fleet of 21,000 units that involves a pressure sensitive bar in front of the platform controls that deactivates the machine when pressed — anticipating scenarios where an operator working in confined conditions might back the platform into an overhead object and crush themself against the control panel and platform cage.

In the region, Rapid Access is witnessing an ever increasing uptake of this product, which in addition has a CE certified retro-fit system capable of being added to most boom AWPs.

The innovation forms part of what Rapid Access calls the ‘safety value chain’ — the four links in the chain being: machine selection, specialist training, safety and innovation, and support services.

Climbing results

Bocker highlights that for Gorica the main challenge is still the customer perception of truck-mounted AWPs versus the scissor-type or boom-type platforms that have been in use in the market for longer.

On the flip side, he notes: “Most definitely the customers requesting such product are generally very educated: clear in what is their need in terms of operation — which make our job much easier in terms of selecting the rights platform and features for the application —helping us to generate profit for them.”

Jacobson also emphasises the ever greater customisability of truck-mounted AWPs.

“We can clearly recognise a trend in the market to ask for more utilities on the AWPs,” he says: “Like high-pressure washing machines, high-pressure air connections and electricity connection all supplied to the platform.”

“As we are a regional supplier of aerial platforms with an installation facility — this gives us the competitive edge when it comes to installing and integrating the lifts into the trucks available in the local market, and any additional features into the lifts.

“We also have a developed service facility with well-trained engineers who can provide excellent service should any problems arise with the machines — either in our workshop or on site.”

“Over the last three years supplied more than 130 AWPs into the region, to a range of well-known customers in the oil and gas, government and utility segments.”

Overall, there is a great amount of optimism in the AWP market segment, and it appears that there is also enough market to go around to allow the actors to enjoy healthy business.

The technology itself is still rapidly evolving, and truck-mounted AWPs are an especially interesting trend to watch out for.

Trojan Batteries

One company closely intertwined with, and doing well out of, the AWP sector is Hydroturf Energy, which is currently supplying Trojan batteries in the region.

Mohammad Hashique, regional sales manager for MENA & India at Hydroturf Energy, highlights: “Business in the sector is exceptionally good and we are growing at 20% a year. Trojan is working with OEMs, distributors and customers to develop and build new products.”

Hydroturf was recently appointed to supply its battery range to the Lavendon Group, parent group of Rapid Access, across the Middle East and Europe.

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