Enhancing Productivity With Connected Scissor and Boom Lifts

Connected machines that enhance productivity, such as boom and scissor lifts, are here. The question is, who owns the data and what value can be created by it?
By A. Vincent Vasquez
October 16, 2019

When considering technologies available to the construction industry, telematics is an obvious genre to explore. Telematics provides real-time access to machines. GPS technology, which is core to telematics solutions, was first introduced in 1960 by the U.S. Department of Defense for military and intelligence applications amid the Cold War and was originally inspired by the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik, which was launched in 1957.

To dive deeper into the components of a telematics solution, JLG Scissor and Boom Lifts offer a case study. JLG, founded in 1969, is a designer and manufacturer of boom lifts, scissor lifts, telehandlers and stock pickers.

Guru Bandekar, vice president of global engineering and program management at JLG Industries, sees the pressure—and opportunity—that JLG faces in an increasingly commoditized world. In response, JLG is embedding more electronics into equipment and hiring software developers and data scientists to further differentiate its products. This creates the opportunity for JLG to better meet the needs of both end customers and rental companies to enhance productivity by connecting their machines.


A scissor lift is a type of platform that typically moves vertically and elevates workers to high areas on a jobsite. Scissor lifts are good for jobs that need to elevate multiple workers, as the size of the platform tends to be much larger than with other types of aerial lifts.

Figure 1: JLG Boom Lift and Scissor Lift

A boom lift is a type of aerial lift that supports a hydraulic arm that is capable of maneuvering around obstacles. Articulating boom lifts have arms that bend, making it easier to move the bucket around objects. Telescopic boom lifts have straight arms and usually higher weight capacities, but are more difficult to maneuver. Scissor lifts typically reach heights of 20–50 feet, while boom lifts can extend up to 185 feet. Boom lifts can cost twice as much to rent as scissor-lifts.

JLG connected its full line of scissor and boom lifts using ORBCOMM software and hardware. JLG’s 19-foot scissor lift is connected using the ORBCOMM 3-wire ClearSky Locate device, which plugs into JLG’s four-pin plug (shown in Fig. 2) and measures location, on/off and battery level.

JLG’s 40-, 60- and 80-foot boom lifts make up over 80% of the total market. As a leader in these categories, JLG machines are connected with an ORBCOMM PT7000 device that interfaces with the machine’s CAN bus. It includes sensors to measure location, on/off, battery level, duty cycle, load type, engine speed, RPM, fault codes, engine or idol hours, fuel consumption, battery voltage and geo-fencing. The ORBCOMM PT7000 has four digital inputs, two digital outputs and four analog inputs. It supports both J1939 and J1798 protocols, meaning it can support multiple CAN buses. It’s powered by the machine but also has a 9-volt backup battery.


Figure 2: JLG Standard Four-Pin
Telematics-Ready Plug

Both the scissors and booms connect using 3G cellular, Bluetooth or WiFi, and can also connect via satellite for use in remote areas or mines. The software in the ORBCOMM box can be updated remotely over the air via cellular or satellite. Once the machine is connected, it can be configured or reconfigured depending on what JLG wants it to do and the type of data needed. The device is set to pull machine data every two to three minutes and those data transmissions are typically five to six kilobytes in size.


Data coming off JLG’s machines is initially collected in different clouds, depending on the use case. JLG offers its own ClearSky platform for customers to manage their fleets of JLG equipment. ClearSky runs on AWS. In some cases, data is collected at the customer’s cloud via an API. In other cases, data first goes to ORBCOMM’s FleetEdge platform, which runs on a third-party private cloud in its tier-two data center in Virginia. Data is privately archived in short-term storage for about six months before moving to a long-term archive.

IT service and parts management data is collected in a customized ERP application, which also has deep integration with JLG’s custom-built warranty management application called Service Bench. In addition, add*ONE is used as the parts forecasting tool. Finally, JLG collects call-handling data using a Cisco system.


For ClearSky customers, once a machine has been associated with a serial number, it’s provisioned or allocated to a customer’s ClearSky account. This means that once customers log into the application, they are able to see and view machines in their fleet, as shown in Fig. 3. At a high level they can view where a machine is located, or they can dive deeper into any number of machines in their fleet to view more detailed information, such as tire pressure or the angle of the boom, depending on the type or class of machine.

Figure 3: ClearSky Dashboard 

To access JLG’s ClearSky, a customer uses industry standard login/password authentication. JLG requires all customer-facing sites, even ones with no sign in, to be secured using "https."

Once logged in, the customer gains access to information depending on his or her privileges. For example, a full fleet manager might be given access to all machines within a particular customer’s fleet, while a branch manager may only be granted privileges to view a subset of machines in the fleet, and a mechanic might only have access to a specific machine. Access control is structured as a hierarchy from the customer perspective, with a high-level admin having access to all machine data. Then sub admins are assigned narrower views of the data. JLG acts as an admin in creating these customer accounts.


Analysis of data helps JLG, the rental company and the customer to understand true utilization—both optimal and actual—of the machines in the field. Optimal utilization includes, for instance, reporting if a machine is being run out of spec, over speed, beyond a tilt angle or operated in an unsafe manner. On the other hand, actual utilization reports if a machine is sitting idle at a job site or is being transported—indicated by full-wheel-drive activity moving through a site and over certain distances.

Many of JLG’s biggest customers are rental companies, so if a machine can’t be rented, it’s a loss for the company. This is where predictive maintenance reports are useful. Utilizing data for predictive maintenance tells the customer that, based on usage, it’s time to change the equipment’s oil, but it also means the ability to predict potential future errors depending on error codes across the customer’s entire fleet of JLG equipment. Today with ClearSky, users can see when the last maintenance was performed as well as the next scheduled maintenance. In the future, JLG hopes to use the sensor data to recommend service based on actual utilization and the performance of a specific boom or scissor lift.

JLG also uses data to understand total cost of ownership. JLG knows what type of duty cycle a machine is operated on and what kind of use and abuse it suffered. Based on the type of maintenance required, the age of the machine, the cost of the machine, the types of replacement parts a customer has purchased, the cost of operations of a given machine and relative values compared to the rest of their fleet, JLG can determine how much the machine costs to stay up and running. This overall picture reveals if it’s worth it financially to keep up a particular machine or sell it and buy a new one. JLG also uses this information to send recommendations back to the rental agencies when a machine is no longer cost effective to maintain.

Most of JLG’s revenue today is a combination of selling new machines and parts for their installed base, but they are beginning to provide some new services for a select group of customers. For example, for an annual fee per machine, JLG will monitor the machines and make service recommendations. Another service provides a continuous connection to their parts-management system, and if the customer commits to using only JLG parts, the parts will be delivered quickly and at a discount to the retail price.


Guru says the last two years have been about connecting the machines. In the next two years, a connected machine will be the norm and the conversation will shift to who owns the data and what value can be created by it. Does the machine manufacturer own the data? Does the rental company own the data? Or does the user of the machine own the data? And what data is most valuable and to whom—is it the sensor data, the warranty claims, the last service call or the last part ordered?

Looking into the future, the electrification wave in the automobile market will surely change boom and scissor lifts. Today, the drive trains on these machines are diesel powered, but diesel engines not only require a lot of care and feeding, they are noisy. It seems a safe bet that many of these drive trains will be changed to electric motors. The lifts themselves are another matter. For smaller lifts it’s likely they will not be hydraulic, but electric. For the larger lifts however, hydraulics are probably here to stay.

As with cars, machines will get smarter. SAE International standard J3016 defines six levels of automation for automakers, suppliers and policymakers to classify a system’s sophistication. Today’s scissor and boom lifts operate with around 10,000 lines of code, but with the addition of more sensors and more compute power, these lifts will become much smarter. It’s possible they will reach level 3 (conditional automation) or level 4 (high automation) for some of the repetitive jobs.

But will all of this result in Lifting-as-a-Service offerings? In the world of cars, rides as a service when combined with autonomy has the potential to disrupt the automobile industry. Of course, that’s when it’s easy to move the machine around. It might be a while before an autonomous boom lift moves from construction site to construction site, but whatever the future holds, Guru and JLG will be a part of it.

by A. Vincent Vasquez

Vince Vasquez has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise sales, marketing and engineering. Working with 20 industry leaders, he is the co-author of Precision Construction, which teaches the fundamentals of IoT with a focus on the construction industry. He is also the co-founder and CEO of PrecisionStory, which brings Precision Storytelling—a new and innovative approach to enterprise storytelling—to market. Vince has an MBA from Stanford University, an MS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. 

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