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Types of Aerial Lifts

June 17,2023

Types of Aerial Lifts: How to Choose an Aerial Work Platform



Aerial lifts  are critical for delivering workers to high-up and hard-to-reach places. Choosing among the three main types of aerial lifts comes down to figuring out how many workers you need to lift, where they need to go, how much space you have available and what terrain you’ll be traversing. Read on to learn about the different types of lifts and the factors to consider when renting one for your project.

What is an aerial lift?

An aerial lift, properly called a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), is a vehicle-mounted piece of equipment featuring a work platform that moves up and, in some cases, out. These lifts are used to bring workers to areas at height and areas that are otherwise inaccessible. They’re useful for ceiling work, building maintenance and repairs, warehouse applications, painting, tree trimming and similar tasks. They provide more space and stability than a ladder and don’t require any setup time, unlike scaffolding.

Types of aerial lifts: Scissor lifts, boom lifts and vertical mast lifts

The three most common types of aerial lifts are scissor lifts, boom lifts and vertical mast lifts.

Scissor lifts

Scissor lifts  rely on steel support beams that raise the work platform directly up . The beams are arranged in X patterns that elongate as the platform lifts, a motion resembling a pair of scissors opening.

Scissor lifts do not extend beyond the footprint of their base, which makes them ideal for working in compact spaces. You’ll need a clear space directly below the elevated work area to use one. An optional power extension deck provides more horizontal reach in one direction.

When renting a scissor lift, you can choose either a slab scissor lift for flat surfaces or a rough terrain scissor lift for uneven surfaces.

Boom lifts

Boom lifts  have a hydraulic arm that extends the working platform up vertically and out horizontally from the base. The ability to move in both directions makes boom lifts more versatile than scissor lifts. However, when comparing a boom lift vs. a scissor lift, a boom lift requires more space .

There are two types of boom lifts: telescopic and articulating. Telescopic boom lifts, also called stick or straight boom lifts, have a boom that telescopes out in a straight line thanks to nested sections. These lifts are ideal for bridge work and projects that require moving workers straight out . Articulating boom lifts, also called knuckle boom lifts, have a boom with multiple sections connected by bendable joints, which allows them to bend and reach .

Vertical mast lifts

Vertical mast lifts, also called vertical personnel lifts or man lifts, have a telescoping mast that raises the work platform vertically. They are smaller than scissor lifts and designed to accommodate just one person. Vertical mast lifts can fit through standard doorways..

There are two main types of man lifts: self-propelled and push-around. Self-propelled man lifts are driven from the platform. Push-around man lifts, which are moved around manually, are lighter.

Factors to consider when choosing an aerial lift

The needs of your project, as well as the space you’re working in, will dictate the best type of aerial lift to rent.

The maximum required height and reach

Determine the maximum height you need to access. To account for the height of the workers standing on the platform, subtract at least 6 feet. Boom lifts have a higher reach than scissor lifts.

Also determine the maximum forward reach you need, if any. Telescopic boom lifts can typically reach both higher and further than articulating boom lifts. If you need to move workers over long distances, such as over excavations or bodies of water, a telescopic boom might be your best bet.

The space

Review the lift’s dimensions and make sure it will fit in the workspace and through access points such as doorways. Remember that some lifts need room to turn. Telescopic boom lifts do, as do some articulating boom lifts.

The terrain

Does the work area have a smooth or uneven surface? Choose a rough terrain lift for the latter. Also, consider the slope of the terrain. Most lifts specify a gradeability, or the steepest gradient the machine can climb.

How much weight you need to lift

A lift’s capacity is the maximum weight it can hold. Estimate the weight of the worker(s) and any tools or equipment to be lifted. Choose a lift with a capacity that exceeds the weight estimation to avoid overloading it.

Indoor vs. outdoor work

Most powered aerial lifts are powered by diesel or electricity. Diesel lifts are more powerful, but in most cases they must be used outdoors due to exhaust fumes. Electric lifts can safely be used indoors, but you’ll need a power source to recharge the batteries between shifts.


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