Workshop in progress 08 June 2012

Fleet managers need their vehicles serviced in the shortest possible time, at lowest cost, and with the highest levels of compliance and professionalism. Steve Banner looks at some technologies that may help tick some boxes

Easy to push into a quiet corner of the workshop when not in use and, as a consequence, taking up less room than a fixed four-post lift, space-efficient mobile column lifts have become increasingly popular over the past few years. What's more, with trailing power cables, which create trip hazards or get damaged, now eliminated – thanks to cable-free columns, synchronised by dedicated radio signals, now drawing power from rechargeable batteries – their main drawback has been removed.

"I should think about 70% of the column lifts we sell these days are cable-free," says Simon Laffoley, UK national account manager at Stertil-Koni. Indeed, all suppliers report that cable-free is popular, despite the higher initial purchase price. "At present, the models we offer are around 30% more expensive than column lifts with cables," comments Somerstotalkare's sales director, James Radford. "But, remember, replacing a cable that has been damaged, because somebody has driven over it, costs you anything from £200 to £500 every time."

And, being successfully sued by an employee who has been injured after tumbling over a cable is even more expensive. Meanwhile, both cabled and cable-free column lifts have the distinct advantage that they do not require the workshop floor to be dug up. Also, they can be transported from one workshop to another reasonably easily.

However Kevin Howard, commercial equipment sales manager at Liftmaster, believes that many columns may be over-engineered for the jobs they are asked to do. "The majority of columns sold in the UK have a capacity of 7.5 tonnes or more," he observes. "Put four together and you can lift a vehicle weighing 30-tonnes. But when you think about it, it's rare that any workshop has to hoist that much weight."

Liftmaster can supply columns with a 5.5-tonne capacity, which Howard believes are perfectly adequate for the majority of workshop applications. "It seems pointless to spend several thousand pounds more to acquire capacity you don't need," he remarks.

And other manufacturers, including Blitz Rotary, feel the same way – the latter having just launched a 6.2-tonne version of its cable-free HydroLift S2 column lift, from Tecalemit. It canalso offer a cable-free 5.5-tonne model, sourced from Finkbeiner. But you may want to put any money you save into your maintenance budget. Because column lifts can be moved around they risk being damaged, if whoever is shunting them is careless.

Incidentally, note that you don't have to buy this equipment, if cash is tight. "One thing we've noticed is that a lot of customers rent column lifts, rather than buy them outright – even for quite a few months," says Howard. That may be because it is easier for some operators to get rental payments authorised than it is to obtain what may be board-level permission for capital expenditure. "If they eventually decide to purchase them outright then we're willing to sell the columns a little cheaper than we would normally do, but we're not talking about a huge discount," he states.

Environment in mind
Some column lifts can even lay claim to being environmentally-friendly. With an 8.2-tonne per column capacity, Stertil-Koni's cable-free Earthlift uses technology similar to that of regenerative braking to help recharge its batteries every time it lowers a vehicle to the ground. Stertil-Koni refers to it as the lift's 'active energy retrieval system' and calculates that up to 35% of the energy used during lifting is reclaimed.

This means that although it is 10% more expensive, it can handle up to 35% more lifting cycles than a standard cable-free model between recharges – which enables it to keep working for longer. Furthermore, the columns themselves are 98% recyclable; the batteries are completely recyclable; and the closed hydraulic system uses biodegradable oil.

But while column lifts are flying high, they are not having the lifting market all their own way. Stertil-Koni's Laffoley reports plenty of interest in the half-scissor lift his company offers. "It's known as the Skylift, and it is good for wash bays, because it makes it so easy to access the underside of any vehicle that's on it," he explains. "The equipment can lift up to 35 tonnes, although the models we sell usually have a capacity closer to 20 to 25 tonnes, and we can now offer one with a 14.5m platform."

Other equipment
How about sales of other types of workshop equipment? "There's now a lot of demand for commercial vehicle roller brake testers, especially those that mirror VOSA [Vehicle and Operator Services Agency] requirements," says Howard. That is despite the substantial price tag of around £28,000, mind.

Testing a truck, bus or coach's brakes to MoT standards on the equipment used by VOSA's own testers – and carrying out any necessary remedial work prior to the vehicle's despatch to a test station, dealership ATF (authorised testing facility) or independent workshop – should, however, make an embarrassing failure less likely.

Additionally, there will be less requirement for second time-consuming trips to a test station or ATF for re-test – meaning reduced downtime, too.
Elsewhere, the ATT roller brake tester marketed by Liftmaster has the ability to offer either a manual or fully-automatic test sequence, and can provide tachograph calibration testing, too, as a consequence of a link forged with Stoneridge.

Quite apart from the convenience and time saving, one trend helping to underpin brake tester sales is VOSA's decision to gradually close its own test stations and transfer testing to ATFs. Although housed in privately-owned premises and using privately-owned equipment, VOSA inspectors still come in and conduct the tests themselves. Anybody setting up an ATF under contract with VOSA requires a VOSA-approved roller brake tester and headlamp beam tester, among other approved items of equipment.

This is not a cheap exercise, warns Maha's UK managing director, Neil Ebbs, who advises that ATF wannabes could be looking at an investment of between £80,000 and £120,000. From a dealer's viewpoint, however, operating an ATF means that vehicles will not have to go for their test at an ATF in a competitor's premises. It may also generate some incremental vehicle service business.

Operators who run their own ATFs are not obliged to send their vehicles to be tested at a site some distance away. If they run a big fleet then the savings they make, in terms of reduced downtime and fuel consumption, and freeing up a driver whose time could be better used elsewhere, may ultimately make the hefty investment worthwhile, despite the initial financial pain.

Steve Banner

Related Downloads

Related Companies
BlitzRotary GmbH
Liftmaster Garage Equipment Ltd
Maha UK Ltd
Stertil UK Ltd
Tecalemit Garage Equipment Co Ltd

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.