Access Equipment: Accessing Heights, Safely
The data on the global market for new construction equipment is quite interesting. Aerial work platforms came from nowhere in 2005, to become the fourth largest segment of the new construction equipment market, at 7.2 per cent of a US $ 65- billion industry in 2010.

Th It is inevitable that the rapid growth of India, the big infrastructure projects such as elevated metro lines and roads and new airport terminal buildings, hospitality and retail projects with new hotels and shopping malls, and new industrial projects, will all spawn the need for proper mobile aerial access work platforms. To be able to first construct these in a timely manner and then, maintain them thereafter, will require the use of professional equipment.

The potential of access equipment in different fields of activities is really huge. If you will co-relate the numbers to the potential, here it is. In the US and Japan, for 200 people there is one such piece of equipment, (an aerial work platform); in Europe, for 500 people, you have one piece; in Singapore, one for thousand people. And in India, as of today, for every one million, there is one such piece of equipment! So it depends on how you look at the potential. When manpower becomes not only expensive but also inadequate in supply, you have to seek higher productivity from whatever is available. This equipment helps you increase the productivity and most importantly, is a lot safer. If you take a rough figure of one machine for one lakh people, that itself is huge growth.

"Buildings are constructed in varying shapes. Modern architectural design has buildings that slope inward, look like golf balls, and some even resemble space ships. It lays great emphasis on the fa?ade of these structures and they need to be refur?bished periodically in order to main?tain their appearance. In order to provide con?ve?nient an efficient access to these struc?tures, each system demands a person?alised design to accomodate the specific needs of the struc?ture. Cradle Runways provides cus?tomised solutions to bring ab?out this desired result, points out Khemlani, Man?aging Director, Cradle Runways India. He further adds, "India is a large country and the practices being followed for access sys?tems are quite different in each area. How?ever some trends are common to all. For low rise buildings, even in Europe, they use manual cradles, but not in India. All employers go for power operated machines. The acceptance of fa?ade access systems is still low. Only MNC's and a few new age builders insist on, and provide fa?ade clea?ning systems for their commercial projects. For residential projects, only a few high rise buildings have taken to access systems."

Unfortunately, data on the current market size is very sketchy. The results of an independent market research study that Snorkel commissioned found that there were around 300 truck-mounted aerial access platforms (both boom and scissors types) and about 150 self and non-propelled scissors and mobile boom type machines sold annually in India. The timeline is self- explanatory of how slowly things happen. Says Srini Kadaba, General Manager, Snorkel Access India, the current market size, (not to be confused with the potential) in India is believed to be around 450 machines. However, the untapped potential is several thousand machines. This may seem a preposterous claim but if one looks at the growth in another sector in construction equipment, which is backhoe loaders, it does not seem too farfetched. The backhoe loader market grew from around 125 machines in 1985 to 21,769 machines in 2007, as per Off-Highway Research India. Srini Kadaba further explains that, like the backhoe loader which was a new concept in the mid-80s, serial access platforms are currently a new concept in India. Also similar to the factors that abetted the growth of the backhoe loaders, such as making the machine affordable through leasing and rental to small contractors, the aerial access platforms market will rapidly grow, too, with the availability of financing for the machines as well as the exponential growth in the end-user markets.

According to Srini Kabada, two areas where aerial access equipment have made inroads in India, are in the use of truck- mounted devices for street light maintenance and non-propelled scissors type work platforms in the manufacturing industry.

"In India, the market will still be sluggish due to the high costs, since a lot of the technology is expensive, given that they are imported. If volumes build up and the machines are made here, it will be more acceptable," points out Raghunandan Jagdish, CEO & Director, Nandan GSE. There are broadly three main market segments in aerial access equipment. One is in the construction industry (elevated road/rail, airport terminal buildings, etc). The second is in maintenance/facilities management (hotels, shopping malls, cinema theatres, etc) and the third is in industry (shipbuilding, large and tall fabrications, etc). The major benefits a customer gains from the use of aerial access equipment is to carry out jobs at elevated places efficiently, quickly and most importantly, safely.

The general awareness level is shockingly low on powered aerial access equipment. Most people in the industry are only aware of truck- mounted devices which are used for streetlight maintenance jobs. Some use this type of machine, wrongly, to carry out other kind of jobs where a self- propelled machine should be used. Legislation will certainly force people to learn. However, like in other fields, it would take a combination of carrot- and- stick policies to get people to use proper aerial access equipment. Incentives from insurance companies such as a reduction in the insurance premium for the use of proper equipment to increase safety and bonuses from project owners for completing jobs ahead of schedule will help in bringing about a change in work practices.

The biggest challenge is the attitude to safety by all the stake-holders. The subject of safety is given little, if any, attention by the contractors, project managers and gover?nment/civic bodies. Unfortunately, only the direct cost of a work improvement method is considered instead of taking into account the savings made in time by carrying out a job efficiently.

"Customers have now slowly started focusing on safety and the Indian manufacturers are now realising that for access platforms, where the operator is at considerable height, the equipment must have safety features at par with international norms," opines Bikram Mehta, Director, Liftmak, one of the market leaders in the field of truck-mounted access platforms. The development of the rental market for aerial access equipment will be the most important driver of growth. These machines are required intermittently and by different contractors on a project and therefore, easy availability of machines on a short- term rental will make them affordable and attractive to contractors.