Edited by Loren Faulkner
Homebuilding and masonry contractors already know what others in different industries are just beginning to discover: telehandlers can be a great alternative to cranes, boom lifts and vertical mast forklifts, not to mention manual labor.
While telehandlers have been on the scene for many years, there is a fairly new category of compact telehandlers that has opened quite a few contractors' eyes. Because of their low cost and attachment versatility, compact ones are replacing even the ever-popular skid-steer loader. When a contractor attaches a bucket or a grapple onto the boom of a telehandler, he finds that he has not only replaced his skid steer, but he has also given himself up to 40 feet more reach.
Telehandlers, when equipped with the right attachments, may be able to replace certain common equipment on the job site, but it's their unique ability to lift and place materials on cramped job sites that keeps them among the most sought-after machines on today's market. The most common tasks these versatile machines are found doing on North American job sites include lifting and placing brick or block on scaffolding; elevating personnel, tools and building materials; and lifting and placing commercial electrical and mechanical materials.
Every contractor searches for a way to cut costs, whether with less expensive equipment, more productive employees or fewer cumbersome tasks. And — when equipped with the right attachments — telehandlers can achieve that cost-cutting goal in each of these areas.
A crane is certainly capable of accomplishing many of these tasks as well as a telehandler, but a crane can be cumbersome and requires a specially trained operator. And you certainly wouldn't see a crane operator attaching a broom to a crane for end-of-the-day site cleanup. A telehandler, on the other hand, would be well suited to the task.
Operators enjoy the stability that it provides. That is not to say that telehandler stability is inherent to the machine — a well-trained operator is key to successful operation. And understanding load charts is the most helpful skill an operator can have, because it helps him keep the machine stable. Load charts, typically found inside cabs, are based on the weight of the load that is to be lifted and placed. When the weight is known, understanding how far out the equipment can place the material is simple.
However, operators are often unaware of the exact weight of the material they want to move. For such situations, if they cannot learn the weight by other means, operators can follow a simple procedure: First, the operator picks up the load and raises it approximately 1 foot off the ground. Then the operator slowly extends the boom. When the rear wheels just start to come off the ground, the operator notes how far the boom is extended and refers to the load chart to determine what weight corresponds to that length of the boom at that height. Finally, using 80 percent of that weight as the weight of the load will keep the operator within safe operating limits.
Whether lifting a pallet or a person, there are certain specifications that buyers should pay attention to when shopping for a telehandler. Beyond the obvious specs, such as horsepower, rated lift capacity, maximum lift height, and lift capacity at maximum forward reach, buyers should also be sure to compare hydraulic control systems when reviewing this kind of equipment. Operators need to have good control "featherability" and ease of operation. A joystick control system that will fatigue the operator will certainly not increase productivity.
A tight turning radius can be one of the most important features of a telehandler. If the job site is small and requires maneuvering around obstacles, such as buildings, trees, power lines, or other equipment and workers, this can be an essential spec to shop. Even if it is going to work on a wide-open job site, a tight turning radius can still be important, because it creates less need for backing up, resulting in faster cycle times.
Checking out the visibility that operators can expect from inside the cab of the telehandler is an essential part of the selection process, too. Buyers should climb inside the cab and take a good look around, particularly toward the right rear of the machine. The less obstructed the view, the less the likelihood of an accident on the job site, and more confidence for the operator.
(Editor's Note: Steve Kirst is telehandler product manager for Mustang Manufacturing Co., Inc.)