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Sensors Advance Safety and Productivity in Access Equipment


By Jennifer Stiansen, Construction Executive

Reposted with permission from, February 1, 2018, all rights reserved. Copyright 2018.

Since the introduction of the first aerial work platform (AWP) more than 47 years ago, manufacturers of booms, scissor lifts and telehandlers have worked on ways to improve the safety and productivity of machines while helping owners protect their investments. Early improvements included moving from fixed to oscillating axles, which allowed for equal tire loading, less swaying and greater traction during operation, as well as introducing pothole protection systems, analog envelope control and outrigger leveling.

Today, sensor technology is capturing the industry’s attention, helping machines become safer and more intuitive than their predecessors.


As an example, telehandlers can now identify an attachment on the end of the boom and display the appropriate load chart to the operator. They also can use technology to depict the location of a load within the capacity chart, indicate whether the load is compliant and prevent the operator from violating the boundaries of the chart. In conjunction, new technology can limit operation when a load nears the maximum capacity indicated on the capacity chart.

When bundled together, these three technologies provide real-time load data that enables operators to work with increased confidence and fleet owners to avoid costly repairs that may result from overloaded machines.

Another new technology allows telehandlers to rely on hydraulic power to raise a boom, but use gravity to lower it, providing operators with more precise control. Some AWPs also add padding to the platform guardrails and a frame suspended below the platform. If the padded framework comes in contact with an adjacent structure, proximity sensors will deactivate platform functions, protecting the machine and its surroundings. For convenience, an override button permits the deactivation order to be undone.


Operators will appreciate advanced infrared technology that can sense an object or structure nearby, slowing and then stopping the machine before it makes contact. A visual and auditory warning will alert the operator when a boom or scissor approaches a structure. The technology then stops the machine, limiting its operation to reverse mode, unless the operator overrides the system to inch closer to complete the work at hand. If the operator does not override the system, the machine will remain in reverse mode until it is clear of the obstruction, when it will return to normal operation.

If that’s not enough, machines of the future will feature self-leveling technology. Machines equipped with this feature will automatically level themselves in a longitudinal or horizontal direction, depending on the terrain. This reduces three-wheeling, allowing a machine to maintain traction on sloped or uneven ground and enhancing stability while improving operator comfort and confidence.

Machines with a self-leveling chassis will be able to traverse slopes up to 10 degrees with the boom elevated, which means greater uptime and less repositioning. This technology will enable easier loading, unloading and transport, as the chassis can be lowered to reduce machine height.


Sensors on everything from lift arms, attachments and tires to welding equipment, materials and telehandler pallets will provide real-time data to project managers, foremen, site supervisors and safety directors for simultaneous viewing and quick decision-making. This network of equipment, devices, personnel, worksites and buildings (internet of things) also can alert and dispatch service vehicles when a machine requires preventive maintenance or repair work.

Jobsite wearables, including vests, gloves and boots, also can incorporate sensors that communicate with equipment sensors and transmit data to the operator and site managers to ensure high-quality work and safe operations. With an outfitted workforce, site managers will have access to information about site operations through a simple dashboard. They will know when workers are fatigued, overheated or not being productive.

An embedded video camera can capture footage of work being completed by each employee. If unsafe practices or subpar work are detected, instructions for course correction can be distributed immediately. If an incident occurs, the video footage can be referenced to better understand the cause and later used for training to minimize reoccurrence.

Additionally, machines operated remotely and equipped with robotic arms may be deployed where a skilled labor shortage exists, and autonomous vehicles can be used to complete work in highly dangerous areas. With built-in measurement tools and sharing options, drones provide project teams with a resource to identify potential issues before they impact costs and schedules.

The possibilities for technology impacting the access industry are endless. The challenge for manufacturers, fleet operators and contractors is to regularly ask what can be done better and safer, what other industries can teach the construction industry and what customers require to complete their work. Developing technologies to address responses to these questions will drive the access industry forward while improving productivity and safety.

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