As the number of oil and gas projects in North America rises, so does the number of aerial work platforms and telehandlers the industry employs. Whether helping to construct a drilling rig, moving and placing heavy pipe or servicing rigs, both types of machines play an important role in the construction, productivity and safe operation of drilling rigs and pipeline applications.
AWPs Replace Ladders, Scaffolding
Aerial work platforms (AWPs) safely place oil and gas industry workers in hard-to-reach spaces that might otherwise be inaccessible. In many cases, they replace ladders and scaffolding as a safer, more secure alternative. Workers no longer need to climb up and down on exposed ladders. Tied off on a platform that is surrounded by railing, operators can use two hands to work, with space on the platform to move around and hold tools and materials. Unlike stationary scaffolding, AWPs also provide a convenient way to move in, out and around a facility or jobsite and can increase productivity by eliminating the erection and teardown time associated with scaffolding.
A variety of options are available to those working in the industry, each with different reach capabilities, power sources and functions. Choosing the right AWP requires answering questions regarding the task at hand — things like how high a worker needs to go. It is also important to know if the jobsite includes uneven surfaces and/or obstacles to work over or around. Does the lift need to go through doorways or other narrow passages, and does the job require the lift to move around the jobsite? Finally, how many people will be working on the lift, and what tools will they need to perform the task?
Largest Boom Lifts Reach 185 Feet
Depending on the job, operators can choose from smaller, more compact boom lifts to larger, telescopic lifts that are ideal for work requiring maximum vertical and horizontal reach. These combustion-powered telescopic lifts use hydraulic cylinders to extend straight out from the base, like a telescope, and can rotate 360 degrees.
The largest of these telescopic boom lifts can reach as high as 185 ft, which translates to 19 stories of working height. With a lift capacity of 1,000 lbs to accommodate multiple workers and tools, and a telescoping jib, these lifts are the most powerful booms in the industry, able to provide as much as 2.9 million cubic feet of work area for applications requiring high-reach versatility. Depending on the oil and gas application, these large telescopic booms are ideal solutions for reaching straight up to the highest points of the jobsite, including those on large well pumps, drilling rigs or even the exterior frameworks of a complex above-ground piping system often found on oil and gas sites.
Articulating boom lifts include a knuckle or joint that enables them to bend and reach up (from 34 to 125 ft), over and around obstacles. With up to a 1,000-lb lift capacity, they are available in electric-, gas- and diesel-powered models, as well as hybrid versions that use electric and diesel or gas. When the application calls for a lift that can reach up and over or even into a structure, the articulating boom lift may be the best choice, reaching into the frame of a well pump or a maze of pipe structures that comprise aboveground piping systems. The horizontal reach of these booms is especially important when pipelines make it difficult to position equipment directly where access is needed.
For applications requiring access directly overhead, scissor lifts are the lift of choice. Ideal for maintenance and repair tasks, these lifts feature larger platforms and greater capacity — as much as 2,250 lbs — than boomlifts. Available in electric and combustion models, scissor lifts are especially well-suited for on-slab and indoor maintenance work, where other equipment cannot fit or get around. For especially tight applications, a mast boom lift might be the best choice. These electric-powered booms use a jib to reach up and over obstacles. They are often used to access high shelving in warehouses or to change light bulbs, conduct inspections and perform other maintenance tasks.
Small but Powerful
The smaller category of lifts also includes compact crawler booms. Featuring a tracked wheel carriage that climbs steps and a narrow chassis for access through commercial doorways, aisles, hallways, gates and other tight spaces, these versatile machines offer working heights from 45 to 76 ft. Compact crawler booms operate using standard AC power. Freedom of movement is ensured with rechargeable batteries that eliminate the need to be plugged into a power source. In addition, some manufacturers offer an optional, emissions-free Lithium-ion electrical system.
In the low-lift category, personal portable lifts offer a secure, enclosed work platform with an anchor point for a safety lanyard. Using this lift, a worker can work at heights up to 14 ft, with two hands free and space
for tools and materials. The same worker who uses the lift can easily assemble, move and operate it without any assistance.
Accessories Enhance Productivity
A variety of accessories and tools further enhance the productivity that AWPs offer. For example, work stations, including welding units, storage bays for parts and hardware, saw and drill ports, rail-mounted vises and light towers for illumination, can be added to work platforms. To make the use of rechargeable tools more convenient, 12-volt outlets can also be added to the platform. In addition, onboard generators ensure uninterrupted tool operation when the lift is moved. Newer boom lifts also can incorporate electric, air and water lines.
Telehandlers Move Materials
When materials need to be moved around a drilling rig or pipeline construction site, telehandlers are the go-to piece of equipment. Equipped with telescoping booms that allow them to deliver materials to heights of 65 ft or more, these machines can carry loads of 75,000 lbs or more, making them the perfect piece of equipment to move heavy pipes across rough terrain. Telehandlers are also used to position materials, such as oil mats and rigging supplies.
Attachments for Every Task
Telehandlers accept a variety of attachments, each designed to accomplish specific tasks. Determining the optimum attachment for a particular application requires a thorough understanding of the load to be moved. That means asking several key questions:
• What are the width, length and height of the load?
• Is the load palletized for forks, or will it require a sling?
• How heavy is the load, and where is its center of gravity?
Answering these questions will direct operators to the attachment best suited to perform the task at hand. Among the more popular attachments are standard carriages, which enable operators to pick and place an assortment of materials, from pallets of concrete block to loads of lumber. They typically come in a variety of widths to accommodate the width of the load. Fork length should also be selected to match the length of the load.
In addition to width and fork length, carriages vary according to their ability to tilt forward and backward as well as side to side to adjust to a variety of loads and position-ing requirements.
Buckets provide operators with an effective and efficient tool to scoop and carry loose materials around the jobsite, including gravel, dirt, mulch and other small debris. To tackle larger tasks, including cleanup associated with natural disasters, many telehandler manufacturers offer grapple buckets, which feature a hydraulic grapple arm that clamps down to grab bulky materials and secure
Truss booms offer a means to move suspended loads and are primarily used to set trusses, frames and beams for wood and steel building construction. Suspended loads can also be handled with a lifting hook, which allows operators to lift awkward objects without removing the carriage.
Finally, personal work platforms extend the capabilities of the telehandler and improve jobsite efficiency and productivity by lifting material and persons to working heights.
Although telehandlers and AWPs perform very different functions, both machines play important roles in the oil and gas market. The flexibility and versatility of these machines help to keep pipelines open and processes running, even where pipelines and rig structure make access difficult. Learning as much as possible about the work to be accomplished and understanding the capabilities of each piece of equipment will go a long way toward matching the equipment to the job and ensuring a safe and productive jobsite.
Brian Boeckman is global product director for telehandlers, and Corey Raymo is global category director for boom lifts at JLG Industries Inc.