Aerial work platform
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
An aerial work platform (AWP), also known as an aerial device, elevating work platform (EWP), or mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) is a mechanical device used to provide temporary access for people or equipment to inaccessible areas, usually at height. There are distinct types of mechanized access platforms and the individual types may also be known as a "cherry picker" or a "scissor lift".
They are generally used for temporary, flexible access purposes such as maintenance and construction work or by firefighters for emergency access, which distinguishes them from permanent access equipment such as elevators. They are designed to lift limited weights — usually less than a ton, although some have a higher safe working load (SWL) — distinguishing them from most types of cranes. They are usually capable of being set up and operated by a single person.
Regardless of the task they are used for, aerial work platforms may provide additional features beyond transport and access, including being equipped with electrical outlets or compressed air connectors for power tools. They may also be equipped with specialist equipment, such as carrying frames for window glass. Underbridge units are also available to lift operators down to a work area.
A scissor lift is a type of platform that can usually only move vertically. The mechanism to achieve this is the use of linked, folding supports in a criss-cross "X" pattern, known as a pantograph (or scissor mechanism). The upward motion is achieved by the application of pressure to the outside of the lowest set of supports, elongating the crossing pattern, and propelling the work platform vertically. The platform may also have an extending "bridge" to allow closer access to the work area, because of the inherent limits of vertical-only movement.
The contraction of the scissor action can be hydraulic, pneumatic or mechanical (via a leadscrew or rack and pinion system). Depending on the power system employed on the lift, it may require no power to enter "descent" mode, but rather a simple release of hydraulic or pneumatic pressure. This is the main reason that these methods of powering the lifts are preferred, as it allows a fail-safe option of returning the platform to the ground by release of a manual valve.
The Scissor Lift was first patented in 1963 by Charles Larson of the USA.
Aerial devices were once exclusively operated by hydraulic pistons, powered by diesel or gasoline motors on the base unit. Lightweight electrically powered units are gaining popularity for window-cleaning or other maintenance operations, especially indoors and in isolated courtyards, where heavier hydraulic equipment cannot be used. Aerial devices are the closest in appearance to a crane- consisting of a number of jointed sections, which can be controlled to extend the lift in a number of different directions, which can often include "up and over" applications.
"Spider" set up outside a building.
This type of AWP is the most likely of the types to be known as a "cherry picker", owing to its origins, where it was designed for use in orchards (though not just cherry orchards). It lets the picker standing in the transport basket pick fruit high in a tree with relative ease (with the jointed design ensuring minimum damage to the tree). The term "cherry picker" has become generic, and is commonly used to describe articulated lifts (and more rarely all AWPs).
This type of AWP is now widely used for maintenance and construction of all types, including extensively in the power and telecommunications industries to service overhead lines, and in arboriculture to provide an independent work platform on difficult or dangerous trees. A specialist type of the articulated lift is the type of fire apparatus used by firefighters worldwide as a vehicle to provide high level or difficult access. These types of platforms often have additional features such as a piped water supply and water cannon to aid firefighters in their task.
Some articulated lifts are limited to only the distance accessible by the length of each boom arm, however, by the use of telescoping sections, the range can be vastly increased. Some large hydraulic platforms mounted on a lorry can reach heights of over 100 metres.
The majority of articulated lifts require a wide supportive base to operate safely, and most models have extending legs/struts to help accomplish this. These legs can be manual or hydraulic (usually depending on size and price of the machine). Some AWPS are classified as "spiders" due to the appearance of these legs. Spiders are also available in especially compact form, to fit through doorways for use inside buildings.
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