Telehandlers: First to Arrive, Last to Leave

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

Today's telehandlers are smarter, safer and more versatile than ever before. Here's what to look for when buying or renting a telehandler for your next jobsite.

By Construction Equipment Magazine

Key Insights for Buyers

  • Telehandler manufacturers are moving towards lower-horsepower drive trains that simplify engines and exhaust systems.

  • Rotating telehanders are a good choice for job sites that don’t have room for conventional machines to maneuver.

  • New models offer more safety technologies that provide operators with a greater level of confidence and awareness, such as cameras and object detection.

  • Telematics systems offer the convenience and efficiency of connected equipment.

Overview of the telehandler market

Given the versatility of many telehandlers to efficiently combine the lifting and placing of heavy materials with the deft handling of attachments—including loose-material buckets; pipe clamps; cubing tines for block; lumber and pallet forks (sometimes matched with tilting or rotating carriages); vertical towers to boost fork heights; truss booms; augers; grapples; and brooms—all of which often can be swapped with the convenience of a hydraulic coupler, these machine are, indeed, sometimes the first on and last off many work sites.

After a modest downturn in sales a couple of years ago, the telehandler market seems to have recovered and is on track for continued growth in the near term. The telehandler market, of course, is composed of both rental-fleet owners and private owner/operators, with a significant volume of the machine population in the hands of rental firms. Expansion in the telehandler market is being driven in large measure by rental firms adding product to their inventories and replacing older models with new machines that are safer to operate, easier to operate, require less maintenance, and promise a faster return on investment.

Genie product manager, Josh Taylor, Terex AWP, gives a positive overview of the market:

“Adoption and application of telehandlers is diverse and well developed,” he says, “and the telehandler has become a staple of most aerial rental fleets. Construction projects of any size—residential or commercial—present opportunities for telehandler rentals, of course, but storage operations, industrial plants, and other facilities, where material must be moved and placed, also present opportunities. Energy-development sites also routinely use telehandlers.

“Additional opportunities may present themselves in the future, of course, but the market is so well-developed in its present state that it’s challenging to identify any specific applications or site types that do not already utilize these machines.”

Meeting the requirements of users in such varied applications results in manufacturers having a wide range of machines with various combinations of maximum lift heights and maximum lift capacities. Taking the long view of models available in today’s market, the smallest might be those with less than 6,000 pounds rated capacity and with lift heights less than 20 feet. At the far end of the spectrum are models that can exceed 100 feet in maximum lift height, and others that might have rated lift capacities of perhaps 20,000 pounds.

According to John Boehme, senior product manager, telehandlers, JLG Industries, growth in a particular segment of that wide telehandler market is notable.

“One of the faster growing telehandler segments is the ‘super-compact’ class—those machines with a maximum lift capacity that tops out at 5,974 pounds,” says Boehme. “Compact telehandlers in this segment are often used for general construction, landscaping, agriculture, nurseries, parking-garage construction, and maintenance, as well as residential housing. Growth in these industries is helping drive the overall demand for compact-size telehandlers.”

Technology can make telehandlers smarter and safer. JLG’s SmartLoad Technology, for instance, available for the company’s 1644 and 1732 models, allows the machine to recognize an installed attachment, bring up the correct load chart, and graphically depict the attachment within the envelope, and to limit operation if boundaries are approaching.

The growing popularity of compact models in many applications stems in part from their modest dimensions, making them more maneuverable on congested job sites, as well as their reduced weight, which makes them easier to transport. An added benefit for some compact models is their relatively small-displacement engines that may require limited exhaust aftertreatment, eliminating perhaps a diesel particulate filter or a selective-catalytic reduction (SCR) system, which simplifies maintenance concerns for owners, renters, and rental firms.

For example, the 74-horsepower Bobcat V519 VersaHandler, says marketing manager Jason Boerger, uses an engine with a specially designed combustion chamber that minimizes the amount of particulate matter the engine creates, low enough, he says, that a diesel particulate filter isn’t needed for Tier 4 compliance. The engine’s design simplifies maintenance, as well as operation, says Boerger.

“One of the biggest trends, at least for North American construction telehandlers, is that toward lower-horsepower drive trains,” says Genie’s Taylor. “Genie introduced the 74-horsepower GTH-844 in 2016, using a custom-engineered drive train that provides a fully capable machine without adding the cost, complexity, and extra maintenance of an SCR aftertreatment system.”

Bob Mayo, product manager, Pettibone, also sees lower-horsepower models as a trend in the industry, but says that manufacturers continue to look to the future.

“The trend for lower-horsepower offerings continues in the market,” says Mayo, “and these offerings provide a simpler engine and exhaust system by eliminating the need for a secondary fluid: diesel exhaust fluid. Other ideas being evaluated in the telehandler market are hybrid drive and full-electric drive systems. There seems to be more development work taking place with telehandlers to find alternatives to standard diesel power.”

Along with lower-horsepower compact models, another telehandler market segment that appears to be growing is that for rotating models. A quick glance at these machines reminds one of a rough-terrain crane, with a rotating upper structure on a rubber-tire chassis, supported with outriggers.

“Rotating telescopic handlers are ideal for use on confined job sites, or in situations that might require higher lifting or forward-reach capability,” says Steve Kiskunis, product manager, Manitou Group. “Instead of the standard pick, drive, and place functions, these machines can lift, rotate, and place materials, making them a good choice for job sites that don’t have room for a conventional machine to maneuver. The larger models in Manitou’s rotating range have capacities up to 15,400 pounds, lift heights to 103 feet, and forward reach up to 89 feet.”

Telehandler design is aimed at efficiency, versatility, and operator convenience, illustrated by the Bobcat 723 VersaHandler’s standard Power Quick-Tach system for changing attachments and its available Bobcat Smart Handling system that allows the operator to set the speed of boom functions.

Safety and convenience

“Innovation in the general market has been toward addition of safety devices,” says Pettibone’s Mayo, “such as cameras and object detection to assist in alleviating blind spots. Pettibone’s new X-series telehandlers, for example, focused heavily on operator sight lines to provide all-around visibility. The X-series also is available with an added rearview camera, as well as with new developments, such as adding cameras at the fork carriage to provide greater visibility to payload landing zones.”

Genie’s Taylor concurs. “We’re seeing increased emphasis from end users on both direct and indirect visibility aids, such as rear proximity alarms and rear-facing cameras,” says Taylor. “These visibility aids gained popularity on closed sites, such as mines and concrete production facilities, where the size of the equipment and volume of mixed traffic necessitate additional precautions. Genie offers a rear-proximity alarm across the product line, which alerts the operator when an object is in the detection field of the sensor. The device is an option, because all sites might not require it, but machines are available with a pre-wired system to accept it later.”

According to JLG’s Boehme, technologies that provide operators with a greater level of confidence and awareness are being requested more frequently. He cites a feature available on two JLG models to illustrate the point.

“The JLG 1644 and 1732 are available with optional SmartLoad Technology, a bundle of three integrated technologies that work together to deliver a greater level of operator confidence,” says Boehme.

“The first is attachment recognition, allowing a telehandler to identify an attachment and display the appropriate load chart. The second [is] a load-management information system that graphically depicts the location of the load within the load chart and provides the operator with an indication of compliance, preventing violating the boundaries of the chart. The third is a load stability indicator, which works in conjunction with the load-management system to limit operation when a load is nearing the maximum capacity.”

The Bobcat Smart Handling System, says the company’s Boerger, enhances safety and control by allowing the operator to set the speed for lifting, telescoping, and tilting. The system, he says, adapts the machine to the work being done and allows precise movement when jobs demand high-rpm performance. Boerger adds that consolidating controls is another means of simplifying the operator’s task.

“Our V732 uses a multi-function joystick that controls boom height, boom extension, and travel direction [via an F/N/R] switch,” says Boerger. “Also, after pressing a button on the control panel, operators can use the ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ buttons on the joystick to adjust auxiliary-hydraulic flow. Having access to multiple functions on a full-featured joystick allows operators to stay focused on the job and simplifies their task.”

Load-placement safety is a telehandler design goal. The Pettibone T944X, for example, uses a “traversing” design that allows the entire upper chassis and boom structure to move forward and back horizontally along 70 inches of travel.

Genie also has refined joystick control.

“Among significant improvements Genie incorporated into its mid-size telehandler products in 2018,” says Taylor, “is an all-new multi-function joystick that allows the operator to use any combination of raise/lower, extend/retract, and fork tilt—simultaneously. This fully proportional system gives the operator a high level of fine control when performing lifting functions. The joystick also allows control of the auxiliary hydraulic circuit, allowing operators to use such functions as carriage rotate or side-shift, without removing their hand from the controls.”

Another control feature for JLG machines, says the company’s Boehme, is the precision lowering system, “which uses gravity to lower the boom, providing the operator with more precise control. Other confidence-enhancing options include a reversing camera, reverse sensing system, and ride-control.”

Telematics systems

Telematics systems, of course, are yet another technology becoming more prevalent on telehandlers.

“This new technology, such as Manitou’s Easy Manager system, provides equipment-status and location data from the field to the office,” says Kiskunis, “and it increases the ability to manage movement of equipment from job site to job site, to alert personnel of standard maintenance intervals, and to perform some diagnostic review remotely. We expect the use of this technology to increase in the future, as both rental operators and contractors become more comfortable with the convenience and efficiency of connected equipment.”

Genie’s Taylor cites additional reasons telematics systems are being employed more extensively for telehandlers.

“Telematics systems allow the fleet owner to see real-time data about the machine while it’s on the site, improving the rental house’s ability to track service and maintenance needs, optimize delivery and pickup routes, and generally become more efficient in a way that was not possible before,” says Taylor. “Many large rental companies have already taken advantage of this technology, and adoption is becoming more widespread among independents and smaller rental houses.”

JLG’S Boehme sums up:

“The market continues to be focused on return on investment [ROI] as defined not only by acquisition costs, but the total cost of the product over its lifetime. Rental company owners and owner/operators are paying more attention to the versatility of each piece of equipment, the productivity gains the telehandler can provide, and the costs after the sale. Construction projects across many markets and applications are on the rise, which drives the need for telehandlers. These machines have become a common resource on most job sites, and the telehandler typically is the first machine on the job site and the last to leave.

With the importance of ROI growing, telematics systems are also on a rapid growth path. Telematics solutions, such as JLG’s ClearSky fleet-management, provide equipment owners and operators access to critical operational data so they can make better decisions on their investment.”

Control consolidation is a means for making the operator’s job easier. The Genie GTH-844, for example, is equipped with a multi-function joystick that allows the operator to use any combination of raise/lower, extend/retract, and fork tilt—simultaneously. The joystick also allows controlling the auxiliary hydraulic circuit.

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