The benefits of specifying mechanical load handling on commercial vehicles are generally accepted and understood. In most cases the requirement is to provide employees with assistance to avoid manual handling and remain compliant with health and safety regulations. It is also often possible to change handling processes and introduce efficiency and productivity gains. What is often less clear to many operators are the pros and cons of the different types of load handling equipment. Considerations include the application, loads being handled, the vehicle and where it will operate. In many cases the choice falls between a crane or platform lift.
Vehicle mounted cranes offer versatile general load handling. They allow the load to be retrieved from any position within reach and lifted onto or into the vehicle and placed at a specific point. During unloading items can be positioned precisely within the area surrounding the vehicle. With suitable boom lengths and extensions the crane will provide sufficient working radius to avoid the need for frequent vehicle movements. This helps improve overall productivity by reducing time lost resetting the crane or repositioning the vehicle.
Cranes are also useful for handling loads in difficult positions. When fitted with an electric or hydraulic hoist they can be used to lift items from otherwise inaccessible locations to a point where they can be handled normally. Local authorities, for example, use this capability to retrieve waste items from rough ground and embankments. Cranes fitted with a winch to raise and lower the hook or load grab are also the only realistic option for handling items below ground level. This is particularly useful for utility and service engineering contractors who routinely handle plant and machinery in and out of manholes and access shafts.
A wide range of cranes is available for commercial vehicles, including models for small vans with maximum working loads of 100kg through to 2000kg for use on larger chassis vehicles. Designs vary but the best incorporate overload protection and automatic cut outs that prevent inappropriate use. Over-complexity often creates additional training and maintenance issues. The best option is to choose a simple and robust unit that it easy to use.
The other popular load handling device is the vehicle lift. The tail lift is the most common but models are also available for mounting at the side of the vehicle or even inside the load space. Again, versions are available for all types of vehicle from the car derived van upwards. All are ideal for loads that can be handled onto the platform on their own wheels or with a trolley or pallet truck.
Unlike cranes vehicle lifts offer no possibility of handling below ground level and have little or no capability to position loads on the vehicle or surrounding area. However, they enable simple and convenient handling for general loads. They can also be configured with bespoke platforms and attachments for specific loads and applications such as caged trolleys and reel handling. Some van mounted platform lifts offer the added advantage of platforms that fold away when not in use to allow unhindered access into the vehicle. Others purposely create a barrier to prevent unauthorised access or accidental damage to loads.
Models with cantilever action are better suited to off-road and rough terrain applications because the mechanism is more compact and there are no underslung pillars or chains to snag on the ground and render the device or even the vehicle inoperable. Side mounting is ideal for certain applications, such as motorway maintenance, where working at the rear of the vehicle can be dangerous. This is also a good choice for urban operations because it allows working directly at the kerbside with no need to access the rear of the vehicle when this may be difficult because of short parking spaces.