Face Lift

A pick-and-place job is par for most jobsites. The process of lifting awkward and overweight obstacles and products and moving them from place to place is an essential part of almost any industry — from utility to forestry. As the demands of these jobs intensify and crews increasingly find themselves doing more with less time and fewer resources, professionals are often weighing the purchase of a crane service truck to keep their fleets running and lifting.

Because cranes are so versatile, they are vital to the mining, propane, utility, construction, forestry, waste and transportation industries. Popular brands include Liftmoore, Venturo, Auto Crane, Maintainer, Stellar and IMT. A crane body package (body and crane) provides an extremely versatile tool for the operator. Small cranes are often used to lift manhole covers, fire hydrants, small pipes, skids or oil drums. Larger cranes are often used to repair large construction equipment, including the removal of blades from a bulldozer or cylinders from an excavator, setting propane tanks, replacing engines and transmissions or wherever a lift is required.

While crane bodies alone will cost between $6,000 and $15,000, a true crane body will cost more than a standard service body with its robust frame, understructure and integrated crane box. Experts recommend a dedicated crane body for safety reasons.

“Too many times people will mount a crane on a standard service body, failing to tie the crane box into the frame of the body,” observes Kyle Whiteis, product manager for Auto Crane (a manufacturer of electric and hydraulic cranes based in Tulsa, Okla.). “They attempt to reinforce the compartment where the crane is mounted, only to find out six months down the road that the body is cracking because it cannot withstand the torque generated from using a crane.”

There is a long list of crane body options being utilized today, including workbench bumpers, shelf kits, drawer units (tool boxes), sliding tops, bedliners, receiver hitches, light kits and parts washers. In addition, many are outfitted with air compressors, welders, generators, mobile lube equipment and lots of other bells and whistles. For anyone looking into buying a crane service body, especially a first-time buyer, Whiteis recommends taking a long look at options and custom features.

“In many cases, you can spend as much — if not more — on options than the body itself,” warns Whiteis. “I would recommend, at the very least, adding drawer units or shelf kits to the body, which add another 10 to 25 percent to the overall cost, but being able to organize your tools and maximize compartment space is critical.”

Pick the Perfect Body

All crane bodies should be professionally installed and fitted to a chassis with the GVW capable of handling the crane and its load. All bodies and cranes generally specify the minimum chassis requirement for that particular product, but if no specification is available, then the manufacturer should be contacted.

“It is critical that you verify the proper chassis requirement before ever buying a truck,” comments Whiteis. “Too many people buy the truck first, then find out the truck they bought is too small for what they really need. The crane and body — like any addition to the bare chassis — will count against the available payload of the chassis.”

When calculating available payload, Whiteis recommends the purchaser make sure the weight of the crane, body, tools, parts and components are all considered. Keeping in mind that safety, reliability and long life are key for any investment in your business, Whiteis details several features that can make your crane service body indispensable.

“You would be surprised how often something as basic as taking note of openness and available bed space is forgotten,” says Whiteis. “Look for a bed that doesn’t have protruding wheel wells and make sure your tie-down anchors are recessed, not interfering with access to the bed.”

Other features some might not realize are not just aesthetic, but speak to safety and security as well. Look for hinges that are internal to the crane body. External hinges are generally an access point to your compartments for those looking to break into your truck. The specific lock systems on truck bodies are key as well; a three-point latching system (when the handle is turned, it engages the door at the top, middle and bottom) keeps vandals and thieves out more consistently.

One standard by which most crane bodies are judged: When the crane has a load extended, can the doors still be operated?

“If the crane has a 3,000-lb load on it extended out 15 ft, it produces torque on the body, and some crane bodies get twisted around so you can’t open the door,” says Whiteis. “With a good crane body, even if there’s a load on it, you should still be able to operate the doors as if there were no load.”

Whiteis details one lifting feature unique to Auto Crane: “If you buy a crane service body from us, and put proper outriggers on it, the package we offer allows you to utilize the maximum lift capacity of the crane within the entire lift radius. Our competitors’ crane bodies generally don’t provide for this, and if you lift something off the side of the body, you may be limited to 70 percent of the crane’s actual capacity.”

Eyes on Options

Other features to look for may seem unessential, but are a key part of the overall package. Side packs of 10-gauge galvanneal are ideal. Most are 12- or 14-gauge, which is thinner. Many buyers prefer radius corners on doors, which reduce stress on the unit and LED lights, along with a one-piece side and top. One-piece sides provide stronger bodies with no welds or joints and are more resistant to rust and corrosion, as they don’t have weld seams.

One trend Whiteis notices in the market is that FM controls on cranes are becoming far more prevalent.

“Wireless is accepted more now than in the past because its reliability in the field has been proven,” observes Whiteis. “Reliability is key in our business and the technology had to be proven out.”

FM remotes provide maximum flexibility. One simple but key safety factor is that the user is not physically tied to the crane if the crane is hit by something or accidentally moves into a dangerous situation like a power line. While tethered remotes will never completely go away, it’s best to look for a crane that comes standard with both, so the operator can have the flexibility of a remote-controlled crane or the necessary tethered crane for use in an area such as a blast site where FM signals may not be allowed.

Another dilemma for the novice buyer is whether to buy an electric or hydraulic crane.

“An electric crane is best when there are minimal duty cycles required,” says Whiteis. “Electric cranes are generally less expensive because you don’t have to have a PTO [power take off] to use them. The truck can be turned off during operation, which is good in enclosed spaces with noise and fumes to consider. On the other hand, electric cranes lack proportionality. They are either operating at full speed or they are off. There’s no in between.”

“Hydraulic cranes are faster and proportionally controllable,” says Whiteis. “You can use a hydraulic crane all day long because it’s not working off of a battery. It won’t wear down. It won’t heat up an electrical system. They’re also more expensive. But you can control your speed, feathering your load to go as quickly or slowly as you need it to.”

Whiteis has one last piece of advice for those considering the purchase of a crane service body, in addition to his insistence that, for safety reasons, a true crane body be purchased.

“Go bigger than what you think you need,” he says. “Too many peopl

For longevity and flexibility, take a look at what you’re lifting today. Make sure you have room above and beyond that for future needs. You could also save money in the long run if you are not lifting the maximum, day after day. The equipment people are working on is getting bigger and bigger, and we’re seeing trends toward larger cranes. Buyers, be careful. Make sure the truck you buy today isn’t going to be too small a year from now.”

He will buy a truck that lifts the maximum it can lift, every time, and most people come to a point where they will need to lift something a little heavier.

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