Industrial environments are fairly unique from one sector to another. The piping, machinery, and floor layout in a steel processing facility is going to look different than the infrastructure and equipment in a medical-device plant. Even so, many plants use standard equipment for their unique manufacturing environments.
Work-access equipment, such as lifts, can become nearly useless or ineffective in the workplace if they're not rugged or flexible enough to meet individual industrial needs. New Equipment Digest recently spoke with Michael Renken, vice president of sales at Advance Lifts Inc., to discuss how manufacturers can tailor work-access solutions to overcome barriers in their facilities.
St. Charles, Illinois-based Advance Lifts is a manufacturer of various lift solutions. The company offers made-to-order lifts for a wide range of customers. In the following discussion, Renken walks through some of the latest innovations in lift technologies and tips for selecting customized work-access equipment.
NED: How are modern lifts helping industrial users improve access, safety, and productivity?
MR: There's a demand for custom lifts because sometimes you need something that's just not available off the shelf. We have many custom lifts that fall under the work-access category, where the lifts are bringing people to their work. They have all kinds of options. We also have units, for example, that we're building for foundries that are weighing 600-degree coils of steel. They are not work access, but have custom cradles to hold the coil in place and heat shielding between the platform and the cradle to prevent heat transfer down to the rest of the unit.
NED: When it comes to customization, are there any options you see customers demanding more than others?
MR: We see a lot of demand for platforms with powered extensions that move in and out of the platform so people can get closer to the work. We have one customer who uses the extensions to access machinery that has about 3 feet of piping and hosing set off from the bottom of the unit. Once the lift moves over that piping and hosing, they need to move in 2 feet to get closer to the machine. So they can use the powered extensions to walk out and get closer to the equipment.
We're also seeing demand for controls integration. A lot of these custom lifts turn into workstations, and companies want to put control stations for their equipment on to our lifts. To make life even easier, they add our controls for our lift into their control station instead of having a separate control panel. We will set up everything on our end for easy integration, and then the company will have an integrator on their end who does the final tie-in.
NED: Do you have any tips or suggestions for a manufacturer who is looking to customize a lift for their specific needs?
MR: They have to figure out what kind of function they want to perform and then call us and we'll help them come up with ideas on ways to accomplish it. There are people who want things that break the laws of physics and geometry. You can't do that. But there might be a completely different way to do it. They need to be open to other ideas.
NED: What's involved in that consultation process? What will you typically review with a customer?
MR: We need to know the process and what they're trying to do and the barriers they need to overcome to do it. We need to know why something standard doesn't work for them. We'll ask for detailed descriptions of what's going on around where they want to put this. And then depending on their answers, we may have 30 more questions for them about narrowing down the application and exactly what it is that they're looking to accomplish, and we'll give them ideas. But it takes a lot of talking back and forth. You can't build a custom lift without a fair amount of communication.
NED: Once you settle on what a customer needs, how long does it take to deliver a custom lift?
MR: It depends on how much of a clean-sheet design it is. We have put together what people consider custom lifts in a matter of weeks. We've also done more complex projects that take six months. In general, though, it takes one to three months.
NED: What's driving demand for more customization?
MR: We've seen increasing demand for customization over the past six to eight years as companies are pushing for more and more safety and more worker-friendly ways to accomplish tasks. A lot of it plays into ergonomics.
Visit Advance Lifts for more information work access lifts: http://advancelifts.com/work-access-platform-lifts/