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Safer and smarter - truck design

Fleet Owner,  Feb 1, 2001  by Sean Kilcarr

Designing work trucks for electric utilities is a complex job When it comes to designing and building work trucks for the utility, telecommunications and tree-trimming markets, Altec Industries' goal is to produce vehicles that help them work "safer and smarter."

"When we talk about work trucks and the concept of safer and smarter vehicles for these markets, we're talking about equipment that must do two key things: help the customer be more productive while making their operating environment safer," says David Boger, vp-marketing and technology.

It may be a simple concept in theory but, in practice, designing safer and smarter work trucks - especially for the electric utility industry - is quite complex. That's largely due to the deregulation of electric markets across the U.S., which has changed how electric utility fleets structure their operations.

For example, says Boger, most electric utilities are streamlining their line crews as a way to trim overall operating costs so they can be more competitive. "As deregulation has taken hold, there's been a decrease in the number of personnel on line crews," he explains. "As crew sizes get smaller, we're seeing a need for smaller aerial devices placed on smaller chassis. That type of design tends to be less costly, but it's also expected to perform more jobs; a kind of 'Swiss army knife' type for utility vehicles."

With fewer trucks to perform more tasks, electric utility fleets need equipment that is more durable and reliable than ever. Vehicles are also expected to have longer maintenance intervals.

"Manufacturers are expected to be more involved in keeping maintenance costs lower," Boger points out. "We help calculate optimum replacement times, provide maintenance outsourcing, rental and leasing options and other services. To be successful, we have to find ways to save fleets money. We must deliver economic payback through greater vehicle productivity and lower operational costs. That's what we mean by 'smarter' work trucks."

Safety, however, is also a preeminent concern. "We understand that working with electricity is a very dangerous profession. Yet the business community and general public do not tolerate even short power outages, whether storm-related or otherwise," says Boger. "Therefore, we're dedicating more resources to accident prevention and equipment training programs for linemen as a way to help them work safer. Training is the most effective means to avoiding accidents. We also believe equipment plays a role in safety, so we incorporate features onto aerial devices that make them safer."

Though implementing its "safer and smarter" philosophy is a large undertaking, Altec is used to such challenges. Founded in Birmingham, Ala., in 1929 as the Alabama Truck Equipment Co., Lee Styslinger Jr. changed the company's name to Altec when he was forced to take over the company in the 1950s at age 19 after his father died unexpectedly.

Altec has grown from 20 employees and one facility to a company with manufacturing plants, final assembly facilities and service centers located throughout the U.S. and Canada. Although Altec sells aerial devices, digger derricks, and other specialty utility equipment in over 100 countries worldwide, it's still a family business, with Lee Styslinger III its president and CEO.

Altec is a longtime member of the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA), and uses trade shows like NTEA's as a communication platform to keep its "safer and smarter" work-truck message in the public eye.

"We use trade shows to reinforce our 'safer and smarter' message in the work-truck community," says Boger. "Our customers need to run their operations like profitable businesses, but they also want to do so as safely as possible. We take care of their equipment needs so they can achieve those two goals. That's the clear message we want to send to the work-truck marketplace."

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