Equipment

Jim Galligan

Compact Cargo Vans Find a Home in Cities

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Since their introduction to the U.S. market, the small size and maneuverability of compact cargo vans (CCV) have made them appealing options for utility and telecom fleets serving customers in congested city environments.

CCVs were popular options in European and Asian cities before rolling into the United States in 2010, when Ford introduced the Transit Connect. Nissan followed with the 2013 model year NV200, and Ram introduced the ProMaster City in the 2015 model year.

These smaller versions of the manufacturers’ full-size vans give fleet operators a low-cost entry vehicle option in select, well-defined applications, such as for technicians and service personnel and light cargo.

Charter Communications, the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., has about 22,000 vans in its fleet, 1,000 of which are CCVs. The company uses them in cities – 600 in New York City alone – for their size and maneuverability, said Michael Cullen, Charter’s director of fleet management.

CCV use is limited because most cable and telecom operations still need the capacity of full-size vans to handle today’s equipment, but that may change as the market shifts away from set-top boxes to smaller technologies, Cullen noted. That would dramatically change how much space cable companies need in their vans and may drive a shift to compact vans.

“I suspect, over the long haul, you may see cable companies move to that vehicle, but we’re probably a few years from that,” Cullen said.

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Jim Galligan

Spec’ing the Right Cable Reel Trailer

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Capacity, safety and flexibility top the list of features that manufacturers say should be on a utility’s spec sheet for any new cable reel trailer. But a good spec doesn’t end there. How many reels will be hauled or needed each time? Where will the trailer be used? Will loading be manual or automated? What type of operation is being performed? Is it an underground conductor? Overhead? The list of spec’ing considerations can be a yard long.

“[Spec’ing] reel trailers is one of the hardest things to do just because there are so many variables,” said Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products with Felling Trailers Inc. (www.felling.com). “Reel trailers are very customizable.”

But if there is one piece of advice manufacturers said they give utilities, it is to spec for capacity.

“By far the biggest mistake when specifying a trailer is [under-spec’ing] reel weight,” Rapp said. A reel-carrying assembly rated to haul a 60-inch-wide reel that weighs 6,000 pounds may not be rated to haul a 48-inch-wide reel that weighs the same because the narrower reel puts more weight on the center of the reel bar whereas the wider reel's weight is closer to the carrier.

“So, it's important to know the range of reels sizes that are going to be hauled,” Rapp said.

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Jim Galligan

Going Where Wheeled Vehicles Can’t

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Whether they’re used in hauling materials up steep hills, when accessing remote locations to perform inspections and construction, or for ferrying emergency crews and materials through marshes and over creeks, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) play a small yet vital role in many utility fleets.

“As [distribution systems] continue to grow, it’s more important for utilities to be able to get into areas where wheeled vehicles can no longer access,” said Scott Merrill, vice president of PowerBully (www.powerbully.com). “There is a greater need for a lot of ground pressure tracked vehicles to carry attachments into a remote place.”

In addition to PowerBully, several other ATV suppliers have recently introduced new products and product upgrades to the market. Keep reading for more details.

Hydratrek Redesigns D2488B 
Amphibious vehicles typically are used for inspections and supply service through wetlands, but they’ve also seen more recent use in flooded areas after natural disasters, according to Craig Simonton, vice president of sales and marketing with Hydratrek (https://hydratrek.com). “They’re used for moving people and material up and down right-of-ways, and utilities tell us it’s the most versatile unit they have,” he said.

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Jim Galligan

The State of Lightweight Materials for Utility Fleet Vehicles

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High fuel prices 10 years ago were a big reason for the surge in sales of lightweight materials and components for utility vehicles. Although fuel prices have dropped significantly since then, lightweight alternatives to steel are still popular and have found a solid niche within the market.

“While lightweight components are often associated with fuel reductions and are a significant contributor to advances in reducing fuel burned, they have other equally important uses,” said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com). “They can be used to increase discretionary payload on an existing chassis, help keep a truck under bridge law restrictions, extend effective body life and help keep medium-duty trucks under the federal excise tax (FET) weight ranges.”

For decades, aluminum has been the popular, albeit more expensive, lightweight option to steel, both inside and outside vehicles. Its weight advantage can total up to 50 percent savings compared with steel, according to F3 MFG Inc. (http://f3mfg.com), a Waterville, Maine-based upfitter specializing in aluminum bodies.

Aluminum bodies stand up well in certain applications, and aluminum’s corrosion-resistance property can make it a viable, maintenance-free replacement for steel.

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Sean M. Lyden

Tips for Spec’ing Truck-Mounted Compressors

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Utility fleets use truck-mounted compressors to power air tools that break pavement, pressurize gas or water mains, blow in fiber optic cable and perform numerous other jobs depending on the type of utility.

And these compressors are available in a wide range of configurations that directly impact your initial cost, ongoing maintenance expenses, the truck’s payload capacity and cargo area, and worker productivity.

So, how do you filter through all the options to select the optimal compressor for the job? Use these “3 P’s” as a guide.

1. Purpose
Begin with the end in mind. What exactly are the jobs you will need an onboard compressor to perform? What air tools will you be attaching to the system to do that work? And will you ever need that system to power multiple tools simultaneously?

Also consider the environmental conditions the compressor will be operating in, said Ralph Kokot, chief executive officer at Vanair Manufacturing (https://vanair.com), a mobile power system provider based in Michigan City, Ind. “Is the truck going up to the Alaska North Slope? Then you’d want to have a cold-weather kit on [the compressor] versus if the system is being operated in South Florida.”

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets

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All-terrain utility vehicles (UVs) enable utility crews to get work done in hard-to-reach areas where four-wheel-drive pickups and other conventional vehicles cannot go. And there are a wide range of capabilities available, with some models designed to haul people and heavy equipment across rugged and hilly terrain, while others are built with amphibious capabilities to cross deep waters in flooded lowlands.

So, what’s new in the UV market to help get your crews and equipment across various terrains with maximum safety and productivity? Here are six developments to keep your eye on.

Argo
What’s New: 2018 Conquest Series models
Website: www.argoxtv.com

Argo has unveiled the company’s 2018 Conquest Series commercial models with custom improvements that help boost worker productivity, no matter the terrain, weather or fleet application.

From the hydraulic rear-power dump box of the heavy-duty Conquest 8x8 XT-X to the Lineman package of the Conquest 8x8 XT-L, the new models equip utility workers to transport transformers, pull cables or bore footings to the most remote worksites – to make their jobs easier and get them home safe. 

Production of the new models has begun, and vehicles will soon be available in dealerships across North America and around the world.

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Jim Galligan

The Gas-or-Diesel Decision Gets Complicated

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Which engine – gasoline or diesel – is best for light-duty vehicles? The age-old answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on annual mileage, fuel economy, purchase price, expected lifespan, fuel costs, maintenance and more; a whole assortment of considerations specific to the fleet. 

Those considerations still drive the fleet’s decision tree, but recent advancements in the engines, oils, fuels, maintenance support and even onboard performance data have given fleet buyers more means to find the best power choice. 

Take lifespan, for example. Advancements in equipment durability and manufacturing processes combined with higher-quality fuel and oil are pushing out the average lifespans of gasoline engines, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com) and a former utility fleet executive. 

“Ten, even five years ago, fleets would turn in their gasoline-powered truck at about seven years and 70,000 miles,” Survant said. “Now, I wouldn’t consider turning it in under 150,000 miles.”

Fuel economy is another example. The newer non-hybrid gasoline engines with single or dual turbos, less weight and multispeed (6-, 8- and 10-speed) transmissions have narrowed the traditional fuel economy gap with diesels, with some spark-ignition units getting ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Power ratings are up, too. Ford’s 2017 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost rates a beefy 470 pound-feet of torque.

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Grace Suizo

3 Problems to Avoid When Spec’ing a Cable Reel Trailer

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When it comes to installing cables, pipes and the like, cable reel trailers can help utility and telecom crews boost productivity and efficiency so they can get more done in less time and for a lower cost of operation. That is, of course, assuming that they’ve selected the right equipment for the job.

Considering most cable reel trailers can last at least 10 years – or possibly even up to 20 if properly maintained – careful thought and consideration should be put into spec’ing the right unit prior to purchase. Not doing so could mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products for Felling Trailers (www.felling.com), the price of reel trailers varies greatly depending on weight-carrying requirements and the options the trailers are equipped with.

For example, a simple single reel trailer that can haul a 3,000-pound reel can start as low as $3,000, while a three-reel trailer – set up to haul 10,000-pound reels and loaded with options such as hydraulic payout/take-up assemblies and tensioning brakes – can be $65,000, he explained.

Donnie Bright, business development manager for Sherman + Reilly (www.sherman-reilly.com), had a similar response, noting that cost is influenced by the scope of work desired.

“Cost of ownership is very minimal if the cable reel trailer is sized and used correctly,” he said. “Keep your trailer properly maintained per the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. The life cycle will vary, but if properly maintained and only slightly abused, you should see a minimum 10 to 20 years of service on a quality-built trailer.”

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Sandy Smith

3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

When Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, explored the reasons behind his group’s work-related injuries, one issue kept coming up: getting in and out of a vehicle or piece of equipment.

“We’ve had many issues over time related to getting to the back of a bed, a bucket or aerial device,” he said. He also noted that recent vehicle changes have resulted in chassis being taller, “which causes ergonomic challenges for loading, moving and working.”

Complicating matters is the fact that his workers can choose the size ladder they prefer, but Remmert is expected to standardize the fleet’s trucks, including ladder racks. “We use some of the fold-down products on the market, but they just never seem to fit everybody.”

While combatting injuries caused by stepping out of or lifting materials from vehicles is a growing problem for utilities, there are several ergonomically friendly products now on the market that can help prevent some of the most common injuries. Here are three that may benefit your fleet operators.

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Sandy Smith

3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

A backhoe is not likely to be the asset most often purchased for a utility company’s fleet. For example, Duke Energy – which has more than 15,000 fleet assets – “may only purchase three or four a year,” said Chris Jolly, Duke’s director of regional operations for Carolinas West.

That means a purchaser may not be as familiar with the required specs for a backhoe as he or she may be with, say, the specs for a standard pickup truck used by the utility.

But it is just as important to get the specs right, said Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes at CASE Construction Equipment. “Buyers really do need to understand their entire fleet and how a backhoe plays into it. By under-specifying a machine, you may actually be creating more work and cost for yourself in the future by having to bring in/rent/transport additional equipment to do the job.”

So, when spec’ing the next backhoe for your fleet, keep these three points in mind.

1. Know what you need.
At Duke Energy, an acquisition team works closely with crews in the field, despite having a corporate agreement with one manufacturer for a standard backhoe, according to Jolly. Even with that standard equipment, there are options.

“Listen to your customers and work closely with the manufacturer. They’ve got the history of what the product can do,” Jolly said.

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Seth Skydel

Meeting Utility Fleets’ Mobile Demands

Meeting Utility Fleets’ Mobile Demands

It’s hard to imagine a more demanding job site than a battlefield. Beyond combat environments, however, utility operations often top the list when it comes to putting demands on crews and vehicles.

One brand of vehicle that both military and utility personnel may find extremely useful in the field is the Jeep, which – according to the company’s slogan – can “go anywhere” and “do anything.” Since the early 1940s when the first Willys models were commissioned by the U.S. military, Jeep’s product line has grown significantly. For 2017, the company will offer several versions of the Compass, Patriot, Cherokee, Wrangler and Renegade models.

For utilities, Jeeps offer an array of options, including off-road capabilities that can bring crews, tools and equipment to nearly any location. Modern Jeep models also feature advanced technologies that allow them to serve as mobile offices in utilities’ increasingly data-driven and interconnected work environment.

The Uconnect phone, for example, is a hands-free voice-recognition communication system that links a Bluetooth wireless phone to a Jeep's audio system. This system delivers a variety of solutions for business use, including GPS navigation with spoken street names as well as real-time geographical and traffic information.

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Jason Yunck

Spec’ing Step Vans for Utility Fleet Applications

Spec’ing Step Vans for Utility Fleet Applications

Step vans have become a popular vehicle option for utility fleets, offering distinct safety and productivity advantages over traditional service bodies.

With a step van, the driver can quickly enter from or exit onto the curbside, staying a safe distance from vehicle traffic on the road. Curbside entry and exit are also more ergonomically friendly for drivers, who may make 30 to 60 stops each day. The cab door design on step vans offers advantages, too. While traditional commercial vehicles are built with swing-out driver and passenger doors, a step van’s sliding doors allow the driver to more easily move in and out of the vehicle with materials or tools in hand. Here, sound ergonomics influence productivity and drive down costs.

In contrast to service bodies, step vans are built from a bare chassis, with cabs that allow full access to the cargo area. Some also have side cargo access doors, and nearly all step vans allow outside cargo entry from rear roll-up or hinged doors. This means that service tools and materials are easier to get to, which ultimately results in faster service calls.

To reduce weight and eliminate corrosion, step vans are constructed with aluminum sheet and extrusions. Fleet managers can expect these durable vehicles to provide a service life in excess of 15 years.

Another feature of step vans is that because they are highly customizable, with various interior configurations and workspaces available, configuring a mission- or company-specific solution is easy and economical. And, a full-height cab and cargo area, with inside storage, allows drivers to use the vehicle as either a mobile office or prep space for outdoor work.

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Amber Reed

Important Considerations When Spec’ing Lift Controls

Important Considerations When Spec’ing Lift Controls

The lift control panel on an aerial device is an important element for effectively running the unit, enabling the working platform to be propelled into a desired location. Similar to how a steering wheel gives a truck-mounted aerial device mobility to get to and from a job site, the lift control panel gives the machine’s operators the ability to quickly and easily position the platform into the work area.

But because the operator control station is relatively small, it’s not always top of mind when new units are being spec’d. Given the importance of lift controls on aerial devices, however, following are some insights to consider when spec’ing them.

The foundation of every control panel is the ability for operators to use it to control the aerial device’s vertical longitudinal (or extend-and-retract) and rotational (or side-to-side) movements. For instance, most aerial device control stations are equipped with a single joystick. The joystick is designed to give operators control of the machine’s boom functions from one handle. “A common industry standard on an aerial device’s lift control panel is a three-function joystick,” said Dan Brenden, director of engineering for Terex Utilities (www.terex.com/utilities). “This type of joystick allows operators to move the individual booms up and down, as well as to rotate the unit.”

Four-function single joysticks are available as an option. This type of joystick enables operators to extend and retract the boom on articulating models, or it can operate elevator sections, if equipped, giving users even more control and functionality from one joystick. According to Brenden, “Terex uses similar single joystick designs across its entire aerial device product line, keeping uniformity within the brand, so from the smallest to largest machines, all controls function the same for the operator.”

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Tricia Singer

Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

In order to keep employee health costs and downtime to a minimum, ergonomics – or fitting a job to the person performing the job – must play a big role in upfitting fleet vehicles.

Many of today’s fleet administrators are tuned in to the importance of employee ergonomics, and an ever-increasing number are focused on keeping their utility fleet vehicle drivers safe and efficient, rather than simply giving them the tools to do their jobs. The mindset has evolved from determining vehicle shelf capacity and how ladders will be stored to asking questions of individual drivers such as:
• Do you need to carry all of your inventory and multiple ladders at all times?
• Which frequently used items can be located near the doors so you don’t need to climb into the vehicle?
• Is there a safer way to transport and access your ladders?
• How can you stay safe on the job without sacrificing productivity?

For cargo van drivers, one of the primary ergonomic issues associated with using that type of vehicle is climbing in and out of it, often while stepping over items on the floor with their arms full of gear. To minimize the need to enter the van – as well as the risk of back or joint injury – drivers should determine the tools and inventory they frequently use and place those items near the doors for easy access from outside the van. This can be accomplished using shelving and bins located within arm’s reach, drawers that open out through the cargo door and hooks for quick grab-and-go items.

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Jim Galligan

Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

Winter is approaching, and for utilities operating in the Frost Belt, keeping crews warm isn’t just a good thing to do – it’s a safety imperative.

For vehicle cab comfort, the choices fall between keeping the engine running and using the truck’s HVAC system, or using an auxiliary heater. As always, the choice depends on the fleet’s desires.

The simplest solution is to keep the engine running, but that’s a costly option for fleet managers focused on keeping down fuel costs. Idle-limiting systems help fleets get over that hurdle. With numerous choices available on the aftermarket, these systems automatically shut down the engine at a work site, periodically turning it on for a few minutes to recharge the batteries to power the PTO and hydraulics. They significantly reduce fuel use, and the length of time the engine runs can be adjusted to ensure the truck’s heater keeps the cab comfortable.

Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, Wash., is testing a system from ZeroRPM (www.zerorpm.com) that has a cab comfort setting to maintain temperatures when the truck is on-site. The system automatically starts the engine and will run an average of five to seven minutes every hour, depending on the level of heat needed, according to Evan Miller, ZeroRPM’s vice president of sales. “The system can provide full HVAC service if [the fleet] wants. There are different applications for heat,” he said.

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Sean M. Lyden

Spec’ing Backhoe Loaders With Operator Comfort in Mind

Spec’ing Backhoe Loaders With Operator Comfort in Mind

The backhoe loader is like the Swiss army knife of trenching equipment, empowering utility crews to perform multiple functions with a single machine and operator.

On the rear is a digger that carves out trenches for laying underground gas, water and power lines at appropriate depths. On the front is the loader “bucket” that lifts heavy pipe, sewer lids, dirt and other materials to be moved from one part of the job site to another. The loader is also used to pour dirt back into the trench and smooth the soil in a way that restores the ground to as close to original condition as possible.

As a fleet manager, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing backhoe loader specs strictly through the lens of whether or not the machine can do the job. Is it the proper size? Does it offer the right dig depth? Can it carry sufficient weight in the loader? What is the machine’s weight, and how does it impact the combined truck and trailer weight for travel to the job site?

But don’t overlook the human factor. If your crews aren’t comfortable operating your backhoe fleet, you’ll likely experience an increase in worker fatigue, ergonomic injuries and lost productivity.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Impact of Soil Conditions on Digger Derrick Auger Selection

The Impact of Soil Conditions on Digger Derrick Auger Selection

If you don’t have the optimal tool for the job, you might still be able to get the work done. But it often requires more time and effort to perform the task and shortens the life of the tool.

That’s especially the case with augers. An auger is like a drill bit, attached to the boom of a digger derrick and designed to drill into the ground to dig holes in which to set poles. The properly spec’d auger empowers your crews to dig holes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

And one of the major factors in selecting the right auger is the soil type, whether it’s loose dirt, sand, mud, rock or extreme rock. So, here are four important items to consider to ensure your augers are best suited for the various soil conditions your crews may encounter.

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Sean M. Lyden

Evaluating Medium-Duty Powertrain Options for Aerial Trucks

Evaluating Medium-Duty Powertrain Options for Aerial Trucks

Aerial lift trucks are built for low-mileage, high-engine-hour duty cycles, with unique payload requirements. So what should you consider in terms of the powertrain – the engine, transmission and drive axle options – to spec the best chassis for the job? Utility Fleet Professional spoke with Ryan Kloos, chassis technical coordinator for aerial platform manufacturer Terex Corp., to get his advice.

We centered the conversation around an example of a Class 7 chassis, rated up to 33,000 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW), that might be used for a 50-foot aerial application. This is because smaller trucks typically have only a few engines, transmissions and drive axles to choose from. But when you move up to a Class 7 or heavier chassis, the specification process gets much more complex, with some models offering more than a dozen different powertrain configurations that can significantly impact the truck’s highway speed, fuel economy, performance and price.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Truck Bodies for Utility Fleets?

What’s New in Truck Bodies for Utility Fleets?

Are you looking to empower your crews to get more work done both faster and more safely? Do you want to increase each truck’s legal payload without bumping up to a larger vehicle? Some of the industry’s leading truck body manufacturers are rolling out new products and design enhancements for 2015 to help utility fleets achieve these objectives and more. Following are four new truck body offerings you can expect to see this year.

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Sean M. Lyden

Spec’ing Digger Derricks for Maximum Productivity

Terex-2-WebA truck-mounted digger derrick is designed to enable utility companies to dig holes and set poles for electric power transmission and distribution systems.

In an ideal scenario, the derrick should be able to perform both functions – digging and lifting – without your crew having to reposition the truck. This way, your team can get more jobs done in less time, improving service to customers and bolstering your bottom line.

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