Small but mighty
March 23, 2023 By Saul Chernos
Compact telehandlers can tackle a range of projects
In a world where large cranes dominate the landscape, comparatively pint-sized compact machines are gaining traction in niches as varied as construction, landscaping and special events.
Telescopic handlers straddle the space between cranes and forklifts. Skyjack is one supplier in Canada, and marketing vice-president Malcolm Early recalls a time, not too long ago, when the units were largely relegated to hauling palletized loads around job sites, lifting them to heights as needed, and also enabling work on building exteriors.
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While telehandlers are still highly used in construction across North America, Early said they’ve enjoyed particular popularity in Europe in agriculture, carrying everything from sacks of grain to bales of hay and handling mud, soil and other materials with shovels, forks and other attachments.
“The European telehandler actually had its genesis from the agricultural industry that made it more of a utility machine,” Early said, describing low, ground-engaging booms and closed-cab systems with creature comforts such as comfy seats and music systems.
Machines in Canada and the U.S. have evolved differently, with relatively high booms designed to move small loads, and with cabs that are less luxurious, often open due in part to more crowded, busy work environments.
One trend that’s emerged over the last half decade is the introduction of compact-sized telehandlers. With lift capacities in the 4,000-to-5,000-pound range, these machines are half and, in some cases, even one-quarter the size of more traditional ones, with designs decidedly more ground engaging than those of their larger counterparts.
Auxiliary hydraulics and a growing array of attachments such as skid steer adaptors, buckets, augurs and street-sweeping brushes accommodate new, previously unimagined uses, pushing compact telehandlers into new markets. With augurs, for instance, landscapers and municipal works departments can move earth, dig holes and place fenceposts.
The small, compact size also enables activity in small, confined spaces. “Buildings spaces are getting smaller, and the construction of the likes of underground car parks means there’s limited headroom,” Early said.
One recent and common type of project involved a multi-storey car park. “You’ve got low ceilings, high grades and tight turns, and they were looking for a small, nimble machine to operate in that environment,” Early said.
Five years ago, shortly after introducing new 5,500-pound capacity SJ519TH machines, Skyjack supplied three to support the Invictus Games in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area.
“Invictus was looking for sponsors and these were a good tie-in for the construction of their facilities,” Early said, explaining the utility of these small machines for handling materials and installing and later removing temporary facilities such as fencing, seating, offices and portable toilets.
Early says the capacity of the SJ519TH, and its maximum reach of 19 feet are well suited to this type of work. “Invictus didn’t have masses of weight to be carried around, nor were there any great heights to get to, but they did need machines with a degree of lift capacity and reach,” he explained.
“Some of the sites, like (historic) Fort York, we’re relatively confined, and the ground was sensitive. So, for erecting and dismantling equipment, it came down very much in favour of the compact-style telehandler.”
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