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Wed 26 Dec 2007 04:00 AM

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Access all areas

Getting to all those tricky places as quickly and safely as possible is where the right access platform can make a difference.

Are you inside or out? Do you need to go straight up... or straight out? And how high? These are all questions you should be asking if you need access platforms to help people reach high spots for construction or maintenance work.

The range of access platforms available is pretty comprehensive, with many international manufacturers represented in the Middle East market, either directly or through local agents. With other choices to make including whether to go for battery or diesel powered, articulated, scissor or telescopic, the first thing to be sure of is the kind of work the equipment will be doing.

We expect to expand our business by adding new machines next year because of the demand in the market.

Other considerations are what environment the machines will be working in, the surfaces they'll be working on and what space there will be around the work area. These factors help determine the power source and the type of arms the machines should have. And of course, above all these things, is the question of height.

According to Jean-Marc Chartier, area export sales manager for Manitou, a manufacturer of rough-terrain handling equipment, around 70% of access platform jobs are done between the heights of 16-20 m.

"We have two machines - 16 m and 18.8 m - because this is the main height required for jobs on the European market," said Chartier.

Although European needs are obviously different to those experienced in the Gulf, it is European safety regulations that influence the design, reach and capacity of platforms brought into this market. One of the biggest legislative factors has been a ban in the European Union on using scaffolding for anything above 3 m high. This has given a sales boost to European manufacturers and means that there are an increasing variety of platforms available for very specific jobs above the 3 m-height limit.

These same European companies are finding that there's plenty of demand for their product here in the Middle East.

"We have good opportunity to sell machinery here in the UAE and the market is only going to grow," said Fergus McArdle, director of Easi Uplifts, an equipment rental and re-sale company.

McArdle thinks future growth will depends on two things, safety and legislation, and the price of labour.

"People are more interested in their work force - and erecting all the scaffolding can be a dangerous job in itself," said McArdle. "This is a growing industry and will no doubt grow substantially through the region."
Growth is the forecast from original equipment manufacturers too. Haulotte is a case in point. The company has been working in the region since 2002, but last month opened a dedicated office in the Dubai Airport Free Zone. Haulotte has found most demand for its 20m-plus range of equipment.

"Today the Middle East is a key market for us," said Arthur Danelian, managing director for Haulotte Middle East. "We have seen sales increasing 25% every year across all our product areas, though telescopic booms are the most popular.

We have a good opportunity to sell machinery here in the UAE and the market is only going to grow.

"A telescopic boom, when you are working in an empty area can go straight to the point you want to reach in one movement very quickly.

This demand and its expected increase helped Haulotte make the decision to open its subsidiary office and warehouse facility in the free zone.

"We have worked in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and now with our site in Dubai we will be able to provide spare parts and machinery from here - this will also give more support to our dealers and the market," said Danelian.

Haulotte is not the first to make this move either. Earlier in the year Terex Equipment Middle East opened an office in Dubai too.

"We're very happy to report we've opened an office in Dubai in February this year," said Brad Abrahams, division sales manager for Terex Equipment Middle East. "Our intention is to offer full product support to our customers with construction booming in this rapidly developing region.

"Consequently, we expect strong growth in the Middle East next year. The Genie aerial work platform range is very well known throughout is especially popular in the Middle East. We recently launched the Genie telehandler range to customers in the region. The telehandler range offers solutions for many applications and we have noted an increased demand this year."

All these manufacturers expect quite a bit of their business to come to them through the region's healthy equipment rental sector. Haulotte, for instance, believes around 80% of its units go to rental companies in the region. With access platforms frequently having a very specific range of functions and abilities, rental is a popular option.

This allows a contractor to get exactly the right piece of equipment on a temporary basis, to suit the duration of the job. Speed of response is also important, with many jobs needing to get the equipment almost right away.
"Many people now prefer to rent because they do not know which machine they will need. Some projects need 30m, others 40m," said Danelian.

The proof of the theory lies in the success of the region's equipment rental companies.

"We have been in the Middle East for nine years, since 1996 - the company has grown and is very successful - especially with the construction industry growing," said Aina Garcia, sales executive for Rapid Access one of the local agents for Terex's Genie range.

"We're quite busy, we have over 1 000 units all over the GCC, and 350 in Dubai alone. The majority of our machines are being used in the big projects like the Dubai international airport expansion, the Jebel Ali airport, the Atlantis project on the Palm Jumeirah and we also have machines working on Dubai's metro, and Dubai Mall.

"We expect to expand our business by adding new machines next year because of the demand in the market," said Garcia. "Maybe six years back, access platforms we're not really known in Dubai, it was difficult to explain what these machines were, but now they have come to know about this machine and how much safer it is to use them. We are looking for the Dubai market to realise the importance of these machines, especially for construction and maintenance.

With safety as one of the prime reasons to use access platforms on site, Rapid Access also offer training for the equipment operators.

"We have a certified training centre, so we have an accredited system where we provide training for the operators of this equipment," said Garcia. "Although the license is not required in the region yet - special safety is needed. The training takes place at our site in Dubai, so we can provide certified trainees.

The machines themselves are also designed with safety in mind. Most can be operated by one person working from the actual platform. Pre-programmed performance boundaries stop the machines altering position too quickly or becoming unbalanced.

"Safety is the main point for these machines," said Chartier. "Our machines have very simple mechanical safety, so even if there is a change to an inexperienced driver, the machine does not allow certain moves.

"If the driver moves by mistake the machine remains stable, even if you move the control fast, the movement of the machine is smooth. They are very easy to drive.

As well as having safety advantages over scaffolding, access platforms can also lay claim to increasing productivity and reducing the labour costs involved in a job. A platform can reach a work area in a matter of minutes, where scaffolding option typically takes a minimum of several hours to erect. "The increase in productivity compensates for the greater costs," said Chartier "And you don't need a lot of people.

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