Being a power lineman is not for the faint of heart. Linemen are the people who make it possible for power to move from generation sources to homes and buildings. If the risk of electrocution and burns isn’t risky enough, the threat of falls keeps power linemen ranked amongst the top ten most dangerous jobs in North America. So, when Sam Hulme, lineman crew foreman for Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), needed to replace an older, 150' truck-mounted aerial lift to help him get his work done safely, he needed a worry-free solution.
Servicing 1.2 million customers across Northern Indiana, a typical day for Hulme and his NIPSCO crew includes transmission line and tower maintenance in addition to repairing or installing conductors and bells. Although the NIPSCO network of poles and towers stretches to heights of 765', there is a larger grouping of 345' and 138' poles that are the only sources looping around Lake Michigan.
Lots of Reach
When considering what equipment would be best to replace his retiring rig, Hulme cited a recurrent challenge: steel poles.
“Climbing steel poles is an issue for us,” said Hulme. “OSHA guidelines require 100% tie-offs. A lot of our steel poles start at 180'. The ladders on the poles are not considered a permanent fixture, so we are not allowed to climb them. We needed a solution that could reliably and safely get us past the 150' reach of our previous truck.”
Chuck Yoder, NIPSCO’s manager of fleet maintenance, had investigated tall trucks at the Utility Expo (formerly ICUEE Show), so when the opportunity arose to quickly purchase a replacement aerial, he reviewed his notes and checked product availability. With a working height to 230', Yoder and Hulme chose the Bronto S230XR.
“When replacing equipment like NIPSCO was, it is important to evaluate all of the options,” said Jason Baker, Director of Sales and Marketing for Texas-based Kardie Equipment. “For the type of work Sam and his crew routinely perform, typical options would include a bucket-truck, crane with a man basket, scaffolding, or the truck-mounted aerial boom. In this case, the Bronto S230XR was the solution that made the most sense.”
Easy to Use
In addition to vertical lift, the S230XR also delivers on horizontal reach to 121', which is particularly important for the type of work NIPSCO routinely performs.
“Side reach is tremendously important for us,” said Yoder. “When a machine can extend this far, we can keep it on level ground and still reach back to the phases or arms of the towers that we need to get to, instead of taking it off road. For transmission lines coming off our generating stations, we have double sets of towers. We can line up in the middle of these adjacent towers and work on both sides.”
In addition to height and reach, the S230XR packs on features that make it smart and easy to use.
With a standard, fifth generation Bronto+ control system, the S230XR ensures smooth and accurate movements in all scenarios. Furthermore, Bronto+ enables variable jacking and allows users to set the cage load based on the work environment. Naturally, the actual cage load is monitored by the Bronto+ at all times. As a result, the machine operates at the maximum allowed outreach in every direction, removing any room for operator error. This allows operators in the basket to focus on the tower and lines and not to worry about safe reach limitations.
“This is the smoothest line truck I’ve ever been in,” says Hulme. “If you’re above a tower, you have to look at the gauge to see if you’re still moving up. When running up close to bells and getting in between towers – nothing I’ve ever run before compares. It’s so smooth you can literally run up to an egg with one of these trucks.”
In addition to on-board controls, NIPSCO enabled Bronto Compass, which provides remote diagnostic reporting and calibration directly from and to the platform.
“We’ve built an incredibly reliable relationship with our Trainer, Kevin Dodson,” said Hulme. “In the rare cases when we need some additional insight, he’s been able to log into our machine from his location in Florida and make adjustments for us from there.”
The NIPSCO crew spent plenty of time with Dodson, a Customer Service Technician of Bronto Skylift. This was a part of the Kardie K.A.R.E.S. Program, which provides extended warranty and maintenance over the life of the machine and training solutions including 20-hour Flight Training for basket operators and 40-hour Operator Training. NIPSCO also elected for an additional week of Mechanic Training to learn the basic service and maintenance requirements that will keep this new machine safe and functional.
“As a mechanic, when I got to see the features on this machine, it was impressive as heck,” said Yoder. “From the mechanical to the hydraulic to the electrical, this truck is just remarkable. It does not allow itself to become unstable.”
Virtually erasing lift instability should not be understated. The S230XR has built in safety features, including the ability for a ground operator to lower the basket from the ground. It also has backup systems onboard to get operators down safely in the event of a system failure. An on-board anemometer measures windspeed so that the machine simply cannot operate unless wind conditions are within allowed limits, below 28mph. All these operator safety systems are features of the advanced control system, Bronto+.
“When you take the time to get to know your customer, it becomes even more important to teach them the safety features built into the machine so that they return safely to their families every time,” said Baker.
With all its safety assurances, the most tangible reward the Bronto S230XR offers is increased productivity.
“There’s really just no comparison when considering options for this type of work,” said Baker. “Scaffolding presents a lot of exposed man-hours, in addition to time spent erecting and de-erecting the structure. Cranes need to be delivered and constructed, then counterweights need to be placed, not to mention the size of a crane’s footprint. The Bronto can drive onto a site, extend its outriggers, uncradle the basket, and be up at working height within 10-15 minutes. This presents a tremendous advantage for NIPSCO to be able to drive along a power line from tower to tower to perform inspections and repairs, essentially at-will.”
Adding to productivity is the available basket space, extending from 7 feet out to 10 feet long and load capacity (1500 lbs.), which are more than sufficient for the tools and materials NIPSCO needs to complete line work. NIPSCO’s Bronto S230XR was built on a Mack chassis and custom-fitted with an EZ Trac hydraulic front axle to increase off-road capability. The total estimated weight of 70,000 lbs. may seem quite heavy, but the S230XR is actually the lightest in its size class in North America.
“Surprisingly, as heavy as this truck is, I have had it off road and it really performs well. There are five axles on it and we can lock in four and it maneuvers quite well. This is important considering some of the terrain we need to cover,” said Hulme.
Having satisfied the need for safety and productivity, the final selling point for NIPSCO was availability.
“We reached out to Kardie with regard to this machine on December 10,” said Yoder. “Kardie flew us to Orlando and let us take an in-depth look at this truck. Our research showed it would meet our needs, and the immediate availability of it sealed the deal for us.”
With truck delivery in December, Kardie and NIPSCO settled on two weeks of training at the end of February. While COVID could have slowed the break-in period, the transition to this newer, safer, more capable machine has been successful for Hulme and his team.
Hulme usually works alongside a crew of linemen. The purchase of the Bronto S230XR has extended that team to include the Kardie Equipment family and support from the Bronto team in the US and even from its home base in Finland. So while being a lineman might be amongst the most dangerous jobs, the support of the team around the Bronto S230XR ensures it’s not the loneliest.
Read more about Bronto Skylift Access solution at: www.brontoskylift.com