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Boom Forklifts

Types of Boom Lifts

Boom forklift

Boom trucks are a variety of forklift that offer end users who require exceptional reach, height, crane-like capabilities and an ability to handle loose or odd shaped loads an alternative to purchasing or leasing multiple trucks with different capabilities.

The biggest physical difference between a boom truck and a standard forklift is that boom (or zoom boom, telescoping boom or telehandler) trucks have no mast. Instead they have a boom that when lowered, sits in a cradle along the centerline of the vehicle. Driver cabins are typically offset to make room for the boom.

The biggest difference in performance between boom and standard lift trucks is the boom's ability to raise the load over obstacles and often to significant heights much like a crane would. This feature, and the availability of attachments that we will discuss in a moment, make the boom trucks attractive to:

  • Construction companies
  • Agricultural applications
  • Ports of entry
  • Mining
  • Forestry
  • Landscaping firms
  • Most industries requiring movement over rough terrain

Boom trucks are specialty trucks and there are far fewer of them in operation than standard lift trucks. However, because of their unique capabilities they can add significant value and productivity when applied to relevant tasks.

Common Characteristics of Boom Forklifts

Boom trucks come in a variety of sizes and configurations so it is impossible to paint them all with a broad brush in describing this class of lift truck. However, there are many characteristics that are common to most of the boom trucks and a quick review will reveal that these vehicles are used principally outdoors or in structures where adequate ventilation is not an issue.

For example:

  • All boom trucks have four wheels. Most are equipped with pneumatic tires. Some are equipped with foam filled pneumatic tires where the risk of puncture is severe.
  • All boom trucks are powered by internal combustion engines. Diesel fueled engines are the most common however there are power plants running on LPG, CNG and propane.
  • Most boom trucks have more powerful engines than standard trucks with the same lift capability.
  • Many boom forklifts come standard with stabilization devices such as stabilizer outriggers or a chassis that articulates to achieve a level platform for the boom.
  • Almost all boom trucks are designed to traverse rough terrain.
  • Some telehandlers can pivot their boom 3600 giving them crane-like material handling capabilities.
  • While reach trucks measure their maximum height in inches, boom trucks measure their maximum reach in feet. Some telescopic boom trucks can extend up to 55 feet.

Attachments – The Big Boom Truck Difference

When you think of forklifts you think about…forks. You can get different length forks or carriages that shift the forks left or right but the basic function of a standard forklift is to lift things on…forks.

Boom trucks also come with forks but for those equipped with special hydraulic systems, they can take on a whole different appearance and capability.

On boom trucks there is a hydraulic connection on the face of the boom that allows the mounting of different, hydraulically operated attachments. This ability to swap out forks for a grapple bucket, truss boom or other device turns the boom truck into a multitasker. There are drawbacks that we will cover later, but generally speaking the ability to attach tools that give the truck a wide range of capabilities is one of its major advantages.

Examples of attachments for boom forklifts include:

  • Concrete Bucket. From the mix truck to the pour site without the need for hoses or slides. This device is great for getting "mud" to high places. Concrete buckets are usually rated at 4000 lbs. They can also be used by landscaping firms to spread seed.
  • Materials Bucket. A utility bucket that can be used to lift dirt or sand. Can also be used to lift loose tools or supplies.
  • Swing Carriage. These are man lift platforms that operate by remote control much the same way a cherry picker works.
  • Grapple Buckets. Ideal for cleaning up debris from new construction or demolition projects. Hydraulically operated claws keep material securely inside the bucket.
  • Circular Saw. Used to clear land on rough terrain, these saws can cut through trees with circumferences of 300 mm or more.

Manufacturers of boom trucks like CAT and JCB offer their own attachments but they have designed their trucks to accept tools from major aftermarket providers as well. This is exceptionally important because OSHA requires a letter from the manufacturer authorizing the use of any attachment not original with the lift truck. If you are looking for a niche attachment, like the circular saw, you'll want to ensure that your boom truck manufacturer approves its use on your truck before you buy one.

Standard Forklifts That Wannabe Boom Trucks

Standard counterbalance forklifts can be converted to jib booms with a variety of aftermarket products that are attached using the truck's forks and safety chains. Almost all of these devices are manual meaning they have no powered functions. They are used primarily as inexpensive alternatives to overhead or gantry cranes.

These types of attachments are almost exclusively provided as aftermarket products and all come with the warning "OSHA requires contacting the manufacturer of your truck for written approval for the use of any fork truck attachments."

Versatility Comes With a Price

Additional capabilities come at a higher price than standard trucks. Here are a few quick comparisons of a boomer truck and standard forklift with the same or similar load capacities:

  • 2007 GEIL with 6000 lbs. capacity, 2630 hours for $28,900

Compared to:

  • 2007 CAT with 6000 lbs. capacity. 2242 hours for $18,900
  •  2006 Genie with 6000 lbs. capacity, 2242 hours for $39,000

Compared to:

  • 2005 CAT with 5000 lbs. capacity, 5309 hours for $13,500

Versatility also comes with other operational concerns. While many of the attachments that provide the versatility fit on the boom truck's forks, some require the fork carriage to be removed and the attachment bolted on. There are three considerations here. Acquisition of the tools is not inexpensive. Next you have to transport and store the attachments. Lastly you have a labor expense installing them.

There is another element that has to be taken into consideration and that's the operator. The boom truck requires greater skill to operate than a standard truck and OSHA is going to demand that your driver be fully qualified. If you don't already have a qualified operator you will have to hire one or arrange for training to transition a forklift operator into a boom truck driver.

If you are interested in pursuing boom trucks we can make the job easier for you if you visit our Forklift Pricing Tool.

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