Demand Growing for Insulated Compact Lifts

While there may be a slew of reasons for it, one thing seems certain: demand for insulated compact lifts in tree care is growing. In this article, we look at what is driving the increase in demand for insulated models, some of the equipment that is available and its features and benefits.

Tracked Lifts’ 72-foot Arborist 22.10 46kV lift
Tracked Lifts’ 72-foot Arborist 22.10 46kV lift at a job site near power lines with uneven terrain. Photo courtesy of Tracked Lifts.

Increased demand

“We’ve been witnessing a noticeable surge in requests for insulated machines lately,” says Emily Shoemake, director of marketing at Tracked Lifts LLC, a 16-year TCIA corporate member company based in York, Pennsylvania. “It’s indicative of a significant shift in niche subcategories of tree care like line clearing and right-of-way work. Recently, I had a conversation with a customer who expressed a strong preference for insulated lifts for his right-of-way business.

“Certainly, the increased demand for fully insulated, tracked lifts can be attributed to several factors,” says Shoemake. “In my recent conversation with another customer, he highlighted the limitations he faced with the bucket trucks required (to fulfill) his contracts. These trucks struggled on terrain with steep grades and soft surfaces, common challenges encountered during right-of-way clearing.”

All Access Equipment’s CMC 75i
All Access Equipment’s CMC 75i, shown here, features a high-voltage, 46kV rating and a working height of 75 feet. Photo courtesy of All Access Equipment.

Similarly, Leonard Polonski of All Access Equipment, a 13-year TCIA corporate member company based in Wilmington, Massachusetts, notes, “We have absolutely observed expanding demand for insulated compact lifts.” He explains that the versatility of the dielectrically insulated tracked lift gives users greater functionality and safety.

Andy Price, market manager for tree care at Altec Industries Inc., a 38-year TCIA corporate member company based in Birmingham, Alabama, observes when asked about increased demand for the insulated lifts, “Yes, mainly from companies specializing in right-of-way line clearing. It’s the desire for utilities to better protect their distribution assets and lack of access due to buildings, fences, rugged terrain, etcetera.”

Altec acquires Teupen Maschinenbau GmbH
Altec has acquired the companies of Teupen Maschinenbau GmbH. Teupen has been designing and manufacturing backyard aerial devices since 1977. Their products are assembled in Germany and sold globally.
This acquisition expands the footprint for Altec Worldwide and provides a complement to Altec’s robust line of products and services designed for the utility, telecommunications, tree care and lights and signs markets.
Teupen products are imported and serviced in the United States through Teupen North America, located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Martin Borutta, previous owner, will continue to oversee the business in the U.S. and Germany.

Altec in March announced it has acquired Teupen North America. (See sidebar) Martin Borutta, Teupen CEO, corroborates the increase in demand. “Yes, we see an increasing demand for insulated lifts, especially for (use in) tight and rough-terrain locations,” concurs Borutta.

“Demand has been strong,” says Butch Trice, manager for the forestry business at Versalift, a 39-year TCIA corporate member company based in Waco, Texas. “The reason for the increase in the manufacture of the compact machines on crawlers is that they have the capability to go through a 36-inch-wide gate in a chain-link fence and provide a tall working height.”

Teupen North America’s new TC67AiC insulated lift.
Altec is now selling Teupen North America’s new TC67AiC insulated lift. Photo courtesy of Altec/Teupen.

“The reasonable price and safety protection are the main driving cause for the increase in demand,” opines Thomas Xia, director at Goman Lift, a three-year TCIA corporate member company based in Saint Laurent, Quebec, Canada. “We are pretty confident that our series D will meet those two criteria,” says Xia.

“There has always been a demand for insulated compact lifts, so I don’t think it has actually increased,” says Ebbe Christensen, president and CEO with Ruthmann Reachmaster North America LP, a 20-year TCIA corporate member company based in Porter, Texas. “But with the (increased) presence of manufacturers that offer insulated units over the recent years, there is no doubt it has renewed and perhaps increased the focus on the need for using insulated equipment when working near power lines.”

The equipment

“We have two insulated lift models,” says Tracked Lifts’ Shoemake. “The TL 22.10 46kV, which has a 72-foot working height, and the TL 2650 46kV, which has an 86-foot working height.”

She explains, “One of our more recent upgrades to our insulated machines was the addition of roller boom sections in both of our insulated models. Traditional boom sections with grease are prone to attracting debris like sawdust and twigs during tree work. While regular cleaning suffices for non-insulated machines, the presence of such debris poses a significant risk to the fiberglass in insulated models. To address this potential problem, we incorporated rollers into the design to effectively minimize debris buildup and safeguard the integrity of the fiberglass.”

The CMC 75i available from All Access Equipment also features a high-voltage, 46kV rating and a working height of 75 feet, according to Polonski. It is capable of operating directly from the rear of an under-CDL truck chassis or functioning independently as a self-propelled tracked lift when unloaded from the truck.
Altec already had its own TDA58 insulated compact lift, and now also offers Teupen North America’s TC56AiC and the new Teupen TC67AiC insulted models, according to Price. In addition, Borutta says the Teupen Leo 86SiC, a straight-boom lift, also is insulated.

“The articulated models have two insulated sections, one in the upper arm and one in the lower arm,” says Borutta.

“The Teupen TC67AiC is the newest model and was released in February 2024,” says Borutta. “This machine is equipped with several new options and features, for example, a safety remote-control system, remote diagnostics, an advanced control system, continuous rotation, a hydraulic system, chassis design with embedded engine and hydraulic and electronic components for the best protection.”

“Goman has developed a series of insulated tracked lifts since 2017,” says Xia. It has its D series of 10kV lifts (X18D, 60-foot working height and X21D, 71-foot working height) and its 46kV E series (X17E, 55-foot working height and X23E, 75-foot working height).

The D series has the same structure as its X18 and X21 lifts, but uses insulated booms in place of the jib. “All models of Goman’s E series have two-piece insulation, i.e., one-piece insulation in the lower boom and a completely insulated telescopic boom,” Xia says. “Goman is developing a rough-terrain chassis with 46-foot and 55-foot work-height insulated booms, which are oriented for utility purposes.”

Versalift offers from 39-foot to 64-foot working-height lifts on a crawler that are insulated, according to Butch Trice. “Their primary use was with electrical utilities and right-of-way contractors, but they have found their way into the private sector, and offer the private sector the same protection from electrocution as the utility companies had and need.”

Goman Lift’s X18D compact lift
Goman Lift’s X18D compact lift is insulated for 10kV and has a 60-foot working height. Photo courtesy of Goman Lift.

The benefits make insulated lifts appealing

While Ruthmann Reachmaster does not currently offer an insulted compact lift, Christensen reflects on ongoing R&D. “We are always looking at new options, but we also are listening carefully to the market to make sure the R &D matches the market trends,” he says. “The higher cost has always been a factor in both the supply and demand for these lifts, and in particular for smaller operators.

“To do non-insulated tree care work with an insulated unit is a very expensive proposition and financially unwise,” Christensen observes. “So wherever you can use non-insulated units, you will still do that, and if you buy an insulated unit, you will have the opportunity to expand your business to also include jobs that require insulated units.”

“Once end users are aware of all the benefits afforded by dielectrically insulated lifts like the CMC 75i, it becomes a very appealing prospect to add this equipment to their fleet,” says All Access Equipment’s Polonski.

Borutta reiterates what others contacted for this article say regarding any negative impact a greater interest in insulated lifts might have on the market for non-insulated machines. “We don’t see an impact, because the machines are developed for different applications.”

Insulating factors

When investigating the purchase of an insulated compact lift, one is confronted with terms such as “insulated” and “dielectrically insulated” or “dielectrically protected.” The difference is in the manner in which insulation is achieved, though for this discussion, the result is much the same.

“Insulated booms constructed from fiberglass serve as a protective measure, especially vital when operators encounter live power lines,” states Tracked Lifts’ Shoemake. “These fiberglass boom sections act as a barrier to prevent electrical currents from finding earth, substantially reducing the risk of electrocution.

“Insulated and dielectrically protected are essentially synonymous terms, both referring to the protective measures taken to ensure electrical safety in machinery,” she explains. “When we say a machine is insulated, it means it’s equipped with strategically placed fiberglass components aimed at providing dielectric protection. All our machines undergo dielectric inspection and certification to ANSI A92.2 Category C 46kV standards, ensuring they meet rigorous safety criteria.

“It’s worth noting,” Shoemake adds, “that while the terms ‘insulated’ and ‘dielectrically protected’ can be used interchangeably, there are varying levels of insulation ratings. Essentially, dielectric testing evaluates the integrity of insulated booms. This process involves breaking the current to assess the effectiveness of insulation.”

Xia at Goman explains, “The dielectric and insulation are differentiated from their applications. The difference between the dielectric and insulation is that dielectric stores the electrical charges, while insulation opposes the flow of electrons.”

Annual testing

Shoemake continues, “There are many nuances in regard to dielectric testing, so it is important that insulated machines follow a strict schedule for annual inspection by a certified technician. One critical consideration is that fiberglass sections will typically have some kind of gel coat. A damaged gel coat can permit water impregnation of the fiberglass, diminishing its insulating properties and potentially allowing current flow.” Damage to the gel coating can be detected with dielectric testing.

“Insulating components, such as a fiberglass upper boom, are rated for a specific voltage, such as 46kV for a Category C, as defined by the industry standard SAIA ANSI/SAIA A92.2-2001 Vehicle-Mounted Elevating and Rotating Aerial Devices,” says Altec’s Price. “As required by ANSI/SAIA A92.2, these components are dielectrically tested at higher-than-rated voltage, and require periodic testing to confirm that insulating characteristics are maintained.

The Skylift 640 from Versalift boasts double-insulated booms
The Skylift 640 from Versalift boasts double-insulated booms for enhanced safety and a working height of up to 64 feet. Photo courtesy of Versalift.

“Dielectrically protected components, such as the fiberglass lower-boom chassis insulator, are dielectrically tested per SAIA ANSI/SAIA A92.2-2001 to confirm that electric-current leakage does not exceed defined limits,” says Price, “but are not assigned a specific voltage rating.”

Can insulation be added as an upgrade?

So, is retrofitting a non-insulated compact lift into an insulated lift an option? Trice at Versalift explains some basics.

“The non-insulated unit can be all steel components or aluminum, and they typically have wires that run through the boom for the controls, limit switches (to restrict boom movement) on the booms and the use of wire-braid hoses. Those things prevent it from being dielectrically insulated,” says Trice.

“Insulated units have fiberglass components, nonconductive hoses and no wiring through the boom,” Trice explains. “Wires are conductive. Hydraulics are used to control and power the lift. In some instances, an air switch may be used with non-conductive tubing.

“The insulated aerial is a lot heavier than the non-insulated unit. The difference makes the insulated aerial more expensive than the non-insulated aerial,” Trice says.

“At this time, Versalift does not offer any retrofitting of older aerials from non-insulated to insulated,” Trice adds. “That is cost prohibitive, and there are other factors in the structure of the device that prohibit it as well.”

Shoemake at Tracked Lifts says a standard power line carries roughly 13,000 volts of electricity. “Given the magnitude of that amount of electricity, it is vital that any machine advertised as insulated is engineered to meet the rigorous specifications of ANSI A92.2 Category C insulation,” she says. “We take this certification extremely seriously, which is why we do not offer any retrofit solutions for our non-insulated machines.”

Other manufacturers or upfitters may offer conversion packages, but not any of those spoken with for this article.

Evaluate your needs

Acknowledging that lifts for utility purposes obviously require high-voltage protection, for example, 46KV, as previously mentioned, Goman’s Xia says they may be overkill for some tree care professionals. “I think for an arborist who is not contracted for working for utilities, but is pruning trees in residential areas, our D series 60-foot and 71-foot tracked lifts are good tools, as the price is very competitive and still insulated to 10KV. They don’t need extra and more expensive (units).”

Despite the increased cost and even if they are not regularly performing line clearance, many customers are still opting for the insulated machine over its non-insulated counterpart, according to Tracked Lifts’ Shoemake. “Because owning one not only expands their opportunities for securing additional contracts, but also allows them the flexibility to use the machine for regular jobs that don’t necessarily require insulation,” she says.

“When arborists are exposed to job sites with live power lines, whether it is intentional or not, opting for an insulated machine reduces the amount of life-threatening risk and gives the operator and other crew members peace of mind knowing they are operating with the highest level of safety,” Shoemake explains. “We also see customers use their insulated machines for storm work, especially in areas with numerous downed power lines.”

A Very Close Call

On a trip to Florida some years ago, I noticed a tree care worker on the side of the road about to go up in a non-insulated compact lift with a fiberglass basket, maybe 5 to 6 feet from a power line. I turned the car around, honked the horn to get their attention and walked up to politely ask if the crew were aware of the power lines. I got a pretty unfriendly reply.

Ebbe Christensen
Ebbe Christensen

I explained that the lift they were using was not insulated, and that that power line looked pretty live to me. The guy in the basket knocked on the basket and said, “Are you stupid? Can’t you see it is a fiberglass basket. Get lost and let us do our work.”

I again explained that it was not enough to protect him, and that he would need to move further away from the power line. The guy who was either the owner or a supervisor walked up to me and, in language not to be mistaken, told me to take a hike.

Not interested in a confrontation, I turned around and started walking back to my car when I heard a big truck stopping behind me. It was a truck from the power company with an insulated boom truck. A lineman on the passenger side jumped out and yelled, “Are you guys suicidal? Get out of here and get that away from that power line.”

The power guys then told the tree care people that a store owner across the street had seen them set up and called the power company and asked if the wires across from the street were “live,” which they confirmed. To the luck of these guys, whoever took that call was bright enough to radio a truck nearby to head over and check out what was going on.

I walked back to my car and, as I was about to drive away, saw in my mirror that the owner/supervisor was walking toward my car, so I waited and rolled down the window.

“Buddy, I don’t know what to say, except I owe you a profound apology. I really thought we were OK, but the power guys confirmed that had we just gone straight up, the power would likely have jumped and killed my guy and anyone on the ground touching the lift as well.”

I just shook his hand and told him to never mind, and I was just glad that an accident was avoided and hoped he would be more careful. .I never told him my background or why I knew that lift was not insulated, as the sweat on his face, watery eyes and shaking hand told me he got the point the hard way, but thankfully in time.

Ebbe Christensen, president and CEO, Ruthmann Reachmaster North America LP


Bottom line to all this is that insulated compact lifts are adding to the demand for this category of machine. And because it is addressing a niche need, it is not necessarily replacing the non-insulated version. The purchase decision rests on your business as it is now and how you envision it in the future.

Rick Howland is a veteran newspaper reporter and editor, former national magazine owner and editor and retired international consultant in public relations, advertising, merchandising and training. He lives in the upper Hudson River Valley of New York.

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