UFP Magazine

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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Sandy Smith

Should Your Utility Fleet Consider Using Biodiesel?

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Sustainability is a goal for many utility fleets, but there may not be enough money in the budget – or full stakeholder support – to do all it takes to meet that goal, including overhauling infrastructure, adding new vehicles to the fleet and training staff.

That’s where biodiesel can come into play.

“Biodiesel can be burned in any vehicle, and you don’t have to make infrastructure changes,” said Patti Earley, fleet fueling operations specialist for Florida Power & Light Co. “The fuel tanks don’t need modifications. The fuel equipment isn’t different. It’s very easy. And with biodiesel, you can burn B20 one day and use ultralow sulfur diesel the next without any problems.”

Biodiesel – a fuel made from feedstocks including recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats – typically is named based on the percentage of biodiesel found in a particular blend. B20, for instance, is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel; it also is the most common blend. Florida Power & Light has used biodiesel since 1999, up to B35. The utility runs all of its diesel equipment on biodiesel and has logged more than 150 million miles.

Proving just how seamless the conversion is, Earley noted that crews from other utilities who have helped out in storm recovery efforts have used biodiesel from Florida Power & Light and “weren’t aware” they were doing so.

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Sean M. Lyden

Is Cash Still King?

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The potential for lower acquisition costs, greater control over resale pricing, no debt added to the balance sheet – these are a few advantages of purchasing vehicles outright, which traditionally has been the prominent fleet acquisition strategy for many utility companies.

But according to Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates (www.mercury-assoc.com), a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Maryland, there’s also a big downside to cash: It can lead to “suboptimal decision-making” that undermines your fleet’s performance, especially in an era of low interest rates. Lauria contends that paying for equipment over time – whether with a loan or lease – or as needed with short-term rentals creates a more flexible structure where fleet departments can improve the age, condition and performance of their vehicles at a significantly lower total cost of ownership.

“Any organization that wants to optimize the total cost of ownership of its fleet has to figure out the right balance of capital and operating expenditures,” Lauria said. “A lot of organizations don’t do this; they underspend on fleet replacement costs, with the result that they overspend on fleet operating costs.”  

So, why has the utility industry traditionally resisted financing equipment purchases? In what ways does cash purchase impact fleet decision-making? And how can fleets strike a more optimal balance between capital and operating expenditures? During UFP’s recent conversation with Lauria, who has advised hundreds of government and utility fleets since 1985, we dug deeper into these questions. Here are edited highlights.

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Grace Suizo

Strategies for Addressing the Looming Technician Shortage

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With more baby boomers heading into retirement, industries that have benefited from these individuals’ decades of experience and expertise — including the utility fleet sector — are now left to hire and retain new talent.

That won’t be easy, according to Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation (www.techforcefoundation.org), whose mission is to champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians. “There has been a critical shortage of qualified technicians for at least 20 years, so as the rest of the baby boomers retire within the next 10 years, things can only worsen. A report that we published late last year indicated that for this year alone, the vehicle industry – auto, diesel and collision – needs more than 137,000 new-entrant technicians.”

But it’s not just the retirements that will make matters worse, Maher said. “There simply are not enough young people seeking a technician career by any means – formal or informal education and training – to fill the void. Our school systems in this country have either reduced or eliminated vocational training in favor of a four-year degree. In effect, they have abandoned working with your hands as a viable career path, which is absurd not only because of the tech shortage, but also because a tech career offers a solid, middle-class lifestyle.”

So, what can utility fleets do to address this problem – and what should they opt not to do?

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Sean M. Lyden

Fleet’s Expanding Role in Making Sure Lineworkers Get Home Safely

Lineworkers truly are heroes in our industry – and in our communities. I’ve gotten to see this firsthand as a resident of Central Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma last fall, leaving many of us without power for over a week. So, you can imagine how heartening it was to see all the convoys of bucket trucks from out of state and Canada coming down to Florida, with lineworkers who had left their families to work around the clock to restore power to our area.

Now we’re seeing a massive mobilization effort by utilities across North America to help Puerto Rico, where many residents have been without power for several months since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

As fleet leaders, you play a big role in making these storm-response missions successful by ensuring that crews have the equipment they need to serve our local communities, often in harsh weather conditions, and return home safely to their families.

It’s this safety component that I want to zero in on in this letter. When your crews are performing storm-response work, how can you give them complete confidence that their fleet equipment is safe and up to the task? That begins with you making sure that you’re continually covering all your bases when it comes to fleet safety. And we’re here to help you do just that.

At Utility Fleet Professional, we’re dedicated to safe fleet operations. That's why we're partnering with the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo to offer an all-new fleet safety track in Loveland, Colorado, April 24-26, 2018.

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Kate Wade

Bigfoot BIG GRIP Outrigger Pads

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The BIG GRIP outrigger pad from Bigfoot Construction Equipment has multiple uses. If used facedown, the teeth installed bite into the surface area of contact, reducing slipping and providing a great option for work in ice, mud, snow and similar environmental conditions. If used face-up, the teeth bite into cribbing/dunnage used to make the equipment level and reach the height needed (never higher than the base outrigger pad). When used face to face, these pads bite into each other; this application is designed for vertical pressure only. www.outriggerpads.com

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Kate Wade

Barko Back-of-Cab Loaders

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Barko’s 80XL and 80XLE back-of-cab knuckleboom loaders offer low installation weight with high payload capacity for a variety of material-handling needs. Built with reliability in mind, the loaders are ideal for a wide array of industrial applications, including logging, tree service and maintenance, storm cleanup, scrap pickup and construction.

Powered by the carrying vehicle’s power takeoff, the loaders feature a robust hydraulic system that provides exceptional functionality. A triple gear pump produces up to 62 gallons per minute, with one section dedicated to the planetary swing drive that allows simultaneous operation of the boom and swing system without losing flow. A rotary manifold allows for 360-degree continuous rotation and provides electrical and hydraulic power to the lower frame. Sectional control-type valves come with folding mechanical joysticks.

The 80XL offers a standard 22-foot straight boom and delivers a maximum lift capacity of 9,880 pounds; a 26-foot straight boom is optional. The 80XLE is equipped with a telescoping boom that extends from 22 to 25 feet and provides lift capacity up to 10,450 pounds. www.barko.com

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Kate Wade

E3 Natural Gas Spark Plugs

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E3 Spark Plugs now offers a natural gas spark plug that provides greater durability and ignition capacity for CNG- and LNG-powered vehicles. The E3 Natural Gas Spark Plug is a modification of plugs developed for race applications where heat and extreme use can affect durability and ignition capacity.

Low-emission natural gas vehicles require a much higher ignition point. The ignition point for CNG and LNG is almost double that of traditional gas-powered vehicles. To achieve low NOx and carbon emissions, the plug must be able to achieve robust ignition while also withstanding extreme heat. E3’s experience and years of research and development for race applications led to the development of the E3 natural gas spark plug that delivers higher spark voltage, and protects and insulates with a superior ceramic insulator and iridium metal for long-lasting durability.

E3 natural gas spark plugs are recommended for use in all CNG- and LNG-powered vehicles where repeated use and idling is standard. The spark plugs are supported by E3 with a line of natural gas ignition products, including plug-on coils, coil packs and oxygen sensors. www.e3sparkplugs.com

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Kate Wade

Prestone Triple Seal Protection Products

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The Triple Seal Protection product line by Prestone Products Corp. is a breakthrough stop-leak treatment that allows users to avoid paying thousands for engine repairs. With just one bottle of Triple Seal Protection, leaks are sealed from the inside of the affected area without blocking or corroding the cooling system.

The Triple Seal Protection line includes three products: Prestone Triple Seal Protection Engine Block Stop Leak, Prestone Triple Seal Protection Head Gasket Stop Leak and Prestone Triple Seal Protection Radiator Stop Leak.

Each product is designed for the unique heat and pressure of the specific leak location (engine block, head gasket or radiator). The product is delivered through three proprietary technologies that work together to repair the source of the leak. Effervescent beads flow straight to the source of the leak while a DuPont Kevlar resin forms a web that binds to the surrounding metal. Finally, the seal is secured by an acrylic polymer in the Radiator Stop Leak and an acrylic polymer and sodium silicate (liquid glass) in the Engine Block Stop Leak and Head Gasket Stop Leak that harden the seals.

Both the Engine Block Stop Leak and Radiator Stop Leak products do not require a cooling system flush, while the Head Gasket Stop Leak requires a flush and fill one to two weeks after adding to the system. All three Triple Seal Protection products are safe to use with all colors of antifreeze. They also are competitively priced and offer a high-quality solution to protect today's sophisticated engines. www.prestone.com

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL Electric Utilities (www.pplelectric.com), based in Allentown, Pa. The company serves 1.4 million residential, commercial and industrial customers in central and eastern Pennsylvania and has about 1,800 total assets in its fleet.

#1. Build relationships.
“One of the most important keys to success for any fleet manager is having good relationships with internal stakeholders [fleet/transportation personnel, field management, finance, executive leadership] and external stakeholders [vendors, regulatory agencies]. Your success as a fleet manager will be tied directly to your effectiveness at building these key relationships.”

#2. Don’t be afraid of change.
“Ever-changing conditions both within and outside of your control will require you to adapt the way you manage your fleet. Instead of wasting energy fighting to keep things the same – and possibly destroying the relationships you’ve built – focus that energy to manage the change and build on the new.”

#3. Communicate.
“And I don’t mean email, either. In today’s technology-driven environment, it is easy to lean heavily on email and other electronic communications to get things done. However, the effective fleet manager will take the extra effort to make the phone call or do the face-to-face visit with key stakeholders. The time you invest in this one area will pay huge dividends when you need buy-in from your stakeholders for a required spec change or when you need help answering a question on a topic outside of your comfort zone.”

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Sean M. Lyden

4 Leadership Lessons from Utility Fleet Conference 2017 at ICUEE

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Highly effective fleet professionals are also great leaders. That’s because the job of fleet manager is about more than managing assets; you also have to work through people to get things done.

And that was one of the key themes discussed at Utility Fleet Conference 2017, an intensive three-day fleet education and networking event held October 2-4, produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine and co-located with the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville, Ky.

If you missed the conference, here are four leadership lessons that were shared over the course of the event that can help you become a more influential and effective fleet leader.

1. Avoid generational stereotypes.
In today’s utility fleet work environment, there could be as many as five generations represented – with ages ranging from 18 to 80 – each bringing a substantially different perspective toward their work and life. And this dynamic is likely causing a degree of generational tension and conflict on your team. So, how can you more effectively manage employees across multiple generations to create a positive, highly productive work environment?

The starting point is to resist the urge to see employees through the lens of generational stereotypes, said Jim Finkelstein, author of the book "Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace," in his keynote address that kicked off the conference.

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Luann Dunkerley

Meeting the Rising Safety Challenge

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U.S. roads are becoming increasingly dangerous, despite a great number of vehicles having some of the most advanced safety technology available. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov), more than 37,000 fatal traffic accidents occurred in 2016, rising 14 percent since 2014. And while accident rates were in decline throughout the past 10 years, they are now nearly identical to 2007’s numbers; that year also saw more than 37,000 fatal accidents.

So, what are some of the underlying causes of the rise in fatal accidents? And what can utility fleets do to promote driver safety and effect positive change in our industry?  

The simple truth is it’s not easy to pinpoint what is causing all of these accidents; however, it’s no secret that road rage and distracted driving are two of the greatest challenges today’s drivers must contend with.

Road Rage and Distracted Driving
In a study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (www.aaafoundation.org) in July 2016, nearly 80 percent of drivers admitted to engaging in aggressive driving techniques, such as tailgating, blocking a vehicle or cutting off another driver. In a separate survey completed by EverQuote (www.everquote.com), 96 percent of drivers rated themselves as safe motorists, but 61 percent of those surveyed then admitted to using their phone behind the wheel in the last month.

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Grace Suizo

3 Ways Telematics Can Help Improve Fleet Safety

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One benefit of implementing a telematics solution is that it can help create a safer environment for utility fleet employees. How? UFP recently reached out to several industry experts, who provided three of the most valuable ways telematics data is currently being used to strengthen fleet safety.  

1. Telematics solutions can be used to monitor driving behavior and coach drivers.
Each day, fleet managers are tasked with ensuring the safety of their drivers as well as the public. Analyzing telematics data can help reveal driving trends and behaviors – such as speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, hard turns and unauthorized usage – that may be contrary to a company’s safety policies. 

“The data available through telematics is much more than maintenance and fuel transactions; it can track or predict behaviors that impact fleet costs,” said Spero A. Skarlatos, CTP, senior consultant, truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

And once an undesirable trend or behavior is discovered, some telematics providers, such as GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), provide real-time and post-incident coaching for drivers on ways they can improve. Feedback can come in the form of text messages to the driver that tell them to slow down, or a buzzer that goes off to coach drivers in the cab in real time. In addition, according to Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight’s marketing director, the company also supplies “actionable data for managers to coach their drivers after the fact to help educate drivers on how to improve behavior behind the wheel.”

Telematics-based driver coaching also leverages gamification, informing drivers of how they compare to their peers in terms of safe driving behavior and related areas, such as deployment of onboard scales integrated into telematics systems to make sure vehicles are not loaded beyond their weight rating, according to Geoff Scalf, director of global oil and gas business development for Telogis (www.telogis.com).

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Kate Wade

Sherman + Reilly Four Drum Turret Pilot Line Winder

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Sherman + Reilly, a Textron Inc. company and a leading manufacturer of power-line stringing and installation equipment, recently introduced the PLW-200X four drum turret pilot line winder. The all new PLW-200X offers customers an ergonomic operator’s station, 360-degree turret rotation, braking system with electric over hydraulic activation and a galvanized finish option. The design team at Sherman + Reilly turned customer feedback into action with the added safety and efficiency in the new PLW-200X. 

The Sherman + Reilly PLW-200X features an optimized operator’s station with a new ergonomic layout. Equipped with real-time self-diagnostics and CANbus technology, the operator can access all major controls from the seated operator station. The four-drum turret is capable of rotating 360 degrees for optimal structure approach to drive efficiency on the job site. The braking system, with electric over hydraulic activation, allows for controlled articulation of braking pressure distributed to each of the pilot line drums. The PLW-200X also offers a new galvanized finish for a more durable and weather-resistant finish, the first of its kind for Sherman + Reilly equipment. The equipment also features newly positioned tie-off points to allow for quicker line/phase changeover and securing of drum-specific pilot lines.

All Sherman + Reilly equipment is backed by a one-year warranty and a dedicated Sherman + Reilly service team. www.sherman-reilly.com

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Kate Wade

DICA’s ProStack Cribbing Line Expands

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DICA’s new ProStack Cribbing products have been expanded to include smaller Medium Duty interlocking blocks and pad sizes. The reduced size is specifically designed for aerial bucket trucks and digger derricks where additional cribbing height is needed to support and stabilize the equipment in unlevel environments.

Like the original Heavy Duty ProStack Cribbing, the smaller Medium Duty size has an engineered interlocking design that safely provides additional height under outrigger floats for increased cribbing height.

Both Medium and Heavy Duty ProStack Cribbing setups are made up of three basic parts: a base SafetyTech Outrigger Pad, ProStack Interlocking Cribbing Blocks and a ProStack, high-friction top Grip Pad. The base SafetyTech Outrigger Pad is manufactured with an interlocking pyramid surface. Operators then stack layers of ProStack Cribbing Blocks to the desired height. Lastly, a ProStack Grip Pad is placed on top of the stack to provide a high-friction surface for the outrigger foot, and to protect the pyramid surface on the cribbing blocks.

The new Medium Duty ProStack Cribbing is 6” thick 12”x12” – that’s half the size and weight of the Heavy Duty 6” thick 12”x24” cribbing blocks. The Medium Duty blocks weigh just 27 pounds each and are intended to be used with 24” SafetyTech Outrigger Pads. www.dicausa.com

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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 Accelerating Electric Vehicle Growth?

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It wasn’t long ago that relatively low fuel prices put the brakes on momentum for alternative fuels. But electric vehicles (EVs) appear to be defying that trend, even as conventional fuel prices remain low.

Consider the recent headlines. Norway intends to ban the sale of new diesel- and gas-powered cars and trucks in favor of EVs by 2025. China is planning to follow suit by 2030, with France and the U.K. each setting their targets for 2040. And, as of press time, the state of California is considering its own ban on non-EVs, which could have a huge ripple effect throughout the U.S. market.

Then there are major automakers – beyond Tesla – pushing the pace toward electrification. In October, General Motors announced that it’s pursuing an “all-electric future,” with 20 new fully electric models to be launched by 2023. Volvo, Aston Martin and Land Rover have introduced similar plans.

And according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EVs could represent the majority – 54 percent – of new car sales by 2040.

So, what’s driving this momentum toward EVs? Here are three factors.

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Sandy Smith

The Driver Safety Challenge in an Era of Advanced Driver-Assist Systems

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When he’s off the clock, John Doyle, senior health and safety adviser at Florida Power & Light, drives a Ford Explorer as his personal vehicle. The SUV is equipped with a backup camera that audibly alerts him when he gets too close to an object.

When Doyle sometimes drives his wife’s car – which has a backup camera but no audible alerts – he still finds himself “waiting for the backup camera to tell me to slow down.”

Doyle’s experience provides a good example of an issue utility fleet drivers across the country are facing these days. They may have all sorts of tools and options on their personal vehicles that aren’t available on their work vehicles, which can potentially lead to a habit of relying on the tools and options – even when they’re not there. 

“People are gravitating towards using the technology to support the way they drive,” said Art Liggio, president and CEO of driver training company Driving Dynamics (www.drivingdynamics.com). “We see people come into our training programs who are looking at the backup camera monitor instead of the mirrors. If the monitor hesitates, they freeze. They don’t know what to do.”

Recent statistics back up the idea that the wealth of technology and safety features in today’s newer vehicles isn’t lowering accident rates. In 2016, 37,461 people died on U.S. highways, while 2015 saw the biggest jump in accident deaths in 50 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov).

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Fiona Soltes

Choosing a Lift with Safety in Mind

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When selecting a new maintenance bay lift that’s safe for your fleet operation, there’s more to consider than the assets that will be lifted on it. It’s also essential to account for what will be under and above the lift – and how the weight will be distributed.

All too often, industry experts say, well-meaning fleet professionals and maintenance technicians choose a lift simply based on the weight of the largest vehicle or piece of equipment it will hold. But there’s more to the equation, and getting it wrong can have disastrous results.

First, noted George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com), it’s important to remember that the base weight of an asset is one thing, but the weight of that asset when it’s on the lift, fully loaded, is another.

Here are seven additional considerations from Survant and Steve Perlstein, president of auto lift supplier Mohawk Lifts (www.mohawklifts.com), on choosing a lift with safety in mind.

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Sean M. Lyden

How Will You Adapt?

Our story begins in 2009.

It was only eight years ago, but so much has happened since then.

At that time, we were in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The idea of calling an Uber using your smartphone was still about a year away from happening. And a niche electric carmaker, Tesla, had just received a major cash infusion to pull the struggling company from the brink of bankruptcy.

That’s also when search engine giant Google launched its self-driving car project.

If you recall, at the time, the idea of robot cars still seemed like science fiction – a long way out in the future. And any work being done in this space was primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That’s what makes Google’s foray into this space so remarkable. Here was this young private-sector company willing to put significant resources into what the firm has described as a “moon shot.” This bet on autonomous vehicles represented an unprecedented level of commitment by the private sector for an unproven, highly expensive technology.

But today that bet is starting to pay off with wide-ranging ramifications.

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