Kate Wade

Allison Transmission xFE Models

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Allison Transmission has announced availability of its latest fuel economy technology for its 1000 Series and 2000 Series. Referred to as xFE, designating extra fuel economy, the fully automatic bus and truck transmissions have demonstrated improvements up to 7 percent when compared to baseline models.

The 1000 Series and 2000 Series xFE transmissions have the same space claim and ratings as current models, but incorporate a redesigned torque converter damper coupled with the FuelSense 2.0 Max package. The damper enables first range lockup, delivering significantly more lockup operation and operating at lower engine speeds in higher ranges to further improve fuel economy. All xFE transmissions are compatible with alternative fuel engines.

First announced in 2015, xFE transmissions were exclusively available in the 3000 Series for bus applications. The new models represent the first expansion of the xFE portfolio and come standard with FuelSense 2.0.

Announced in March, FuelSense 2.0 with DynActive Shifting delivers additional fuel savings beyond original FuelSense software. Through a set of proprietary software enhancements, the new FuelSense 2.0 uses DynActive Shifting to provide an infinitely variable combination of shift points and uses a learning algorithm to continuously find the ideal balance of fuel economy and performance. Available in three packages, FuelSense 2.0 allows fleets to optimize fuel economy and performance to their specific needs. www.allisontransmission.com

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Kate Wade

MDI Compact Sign System

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Collapse to tow. Wrap to stow. Offering quick and easy deployment, the patented MDI Compact Collapse & Wrap Sign System consists of an MDI Compact sign and a WindMaster sign stand (each sold separately). Once the sign is mounted to the stand, it becomes one unit; if desired, the sign can stay in place in the stand. In addition to the renowned WindMaster technology, the sign’s flexible cross-brace enhances wind performance. To store, the sign quickly collapses using the single-trigger release button and wraps around the upright on the stand. The sign and sign stand set up in under 20 seconds. Rapid deployment significantly improves safety and efficiency in the work zone. www.mditrafficcontrol.com

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Ted Barron

A Recovering Fleet Manager’s Guide to ICUEE

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In just a few weeks, thousands of field operators and fleet managers will visit the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition (www.icuee.com) in Louisville, Ky., with one thing on their minds: finding cost-effective equipment solutions that will make their crews more productive and enhance their emphasis on safe operation. Held every other year, ICUEE – The Demo Expo is perhaps the biggest equipment show for the electric utility industry.

After 30 years of working for an investor-owned utility, I’ve sat through my share of meetings with executives seeking to identify business plans and core values. But never did those efforts adequately convey the central concern of most fleet managers as this prayer a veteran mechanic once said before a monthly safety meeting: “Lord, don’t let us miss something that could cause someone to get hurt.”

Those simple words capture better than any corporate mission statement the true desire of fleet managers. Properly trained personnel and properly maintained equipment contribute to safe and productive work performance. Every person in an operation’s chain plays a critical role in achieving that goal. From stocking the right equipment, to thorough inspections and maintenance, to selecting the right equipment for your fleet, each is equally important.

ICUEE is an equipment show. More than 900 exhibitors will be there. When I’ve attended ICUEE in the past, my focus was becoming familiar with the latest technology and building relationships with peers, service providers and manufacturers. There’s much to compare. Often, I discovered that the lowest-cost option was not always the best option.

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Sean M. Lyden

Joining Forces to Accelerate Green Fleet Adoption

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If you’re looking to green your fleet in a way that’s good for both the environment and the business, you don’t have to go about it alone.

That’s the message of Clean Cities (https://cleancities.energy.gov/), which was formed in 1993 by the U.S. Department of Energy and, today, has nearly 100 local coalitions that bring together businesses, fuel providers, vehicle fleets, government agencies and community organizations all pursuing the same goal: cutting petroleum use in transportation. Some of the program’s recent utility fleet success stories include Pacific Gas and Electric, Public Service Company of New Mexico and Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey.

The idea behind Clean Cities is that investing in green technologies at a meaningful scale can be a high-risk, high-cost endeavor for most fleets to shoulder alone. But what if you could connect with other fleet managers and experts who have real-world experience with vehicle electrification, natural gas, propane autogas, biodiesel or whatever technology you’re looking to deploy?

You could significantly reduce risk and tap into economies of scale that make your green initiative more affordable – and more compelling to the business.

It’s Clean Cities that helps make those connections happen at the local level and across the country, said Dennis Smith, Clean Cities national director, who, prior to joining the program in 2001, served as director of energy services at Atlanta Gas Light Co., a large Atlanta-based utility.

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Jim Olson

3 Tips for Site-Conscious Aerial Device Setup

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Aerial devices are among the most important pieces of equipment in a utility company’s fleet. They are another tool in the utility’s toolbox and – like any other tool – must be properly used and maintained.

While it's the responsibility of the employer to ensure that each individual operator is correctly trained and qualified to operate an aerial device, it takes the whole crew to contribute to safe and efficient operations. Following are three important steps crews should take before work starts on any project that requires use of an aerial device, plus real-world tips from Garry Christopherson, director of safety and security for Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse, Wis.

Step 1: Conduct a site survey.

  • Identify potential hazards, such as buildings, ditches, drop-offs, holes, debris, sewers, overhead obstructions, electrical conductors and underground utilities.
  • Evaluate the ground conditions. The ground must be firm enough to bear the pressure produced by the bucket truck – including the maximum platform and jib loads – during operation. You may need to use pads under the outriggers to distribute the weight over a greater surface area. If your bucket truck does not have outriggers, or if it is equipped with only one set, make sure all the tires and axle suspension springs are equally loaded. If the ground is slippery, snowy or icy, consider how to prevent the vehicle from sliding.
  • Consider the terrain. If the vehicle must be parked on a slope, keep the boom on the uphill side, chock the wheels and work off the rear of the truck. Per ANSI A92.2, bucket trucks are stability-tested on firm, flat surfaces up to a 5-degree slope. Never work on a slope greater than what is allowed by the manufacturer. Use your bucket truck’s chassis level indicator to make sure the truck is always set within the manufacturer’s operational limits. Most aerial truck manufacturers, including Terex, equip their vehicles with an inclinometer that is used to determine if the truck is set up within the allowable limits. Follow the instructions for your vehicle, and recognize that some trucks must be leveled before raising the booms.
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Jim Galligan

The Future of Drones in the Utility Market

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Darting about inside one of Consolidated Edison’s 10-story steam boilers in Manhattan, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) looks like a hobbyist’s dream, a multirotor mini-helicopter outfitted with a megapixel camera mounted inside a gyroscopically balanced geodesic sphere. But don’t look for it at your local hobby store. It’s a custom-built UAV – also known as a drone – that ConEd’s engineers are testing as they explore the potential benefits of this new and growing technology.

To say that utility executives are excited about the possible uses of drones is a significant understatement. Most utilities are exploring the possibilities at one level or another, said Chris McMurtry, solutions architect with Sharper Shape (http://sharpershape.com), a supplier of UAV services for utilities. “Of the major utilities, probably 80 percent have some sort of drone initiatives going right now, and almost all [utilities] have put in a lot of hours thinking about this,” he said.

The most common use to date has been to provide safer and more economical inspections of transmission and distribution infrastructure.

When inspecting a tower or other vertical infrastructure that’s within sight, “a drone will beat just about any other method you’ve got, whether it’s a bucket truck, binoculars, helicopter or climbing that asset,” said Dexter Lewis, senior research engineer with Southern Company Services. “It doesn’t matter how big the structure, that use case will probably return value.” Southern Co. is the parent of several utilities.

But the potential of UAVs goes well beyond that.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets

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All-terrain utility vehicles (UVs) enable utility crews to get work done in hard-to-reach areas where four-wheel-drive pickups and other conventional vehicles cannot go. And there are a wide range of capabilities available, with some models designed to haul people and heavy equipment across rugged and hilly terrain, while others are built with amphibious capabilities to cross deep waters in flooded lowlands.

So, what’s new in the UV market to help get your crews and equipment across various terrains with maximum safety and productivity? Here are six developments to keep your eye on.

Argo
What’s New: 2018 Conquest Series models
Website: www.argoxtv.com

Argo has unveiled the company’s 2018 Conquest Series commercial models with custom improvements that help boost worker productivity, no matter the terrain, weather or fleet application.

From the hydraulic rear-power dump box of the heavy-duty Conquest 8x8 XT-X to the Lineman package of the Conquest 8x8 XT-L, the new models equip utility workers to transport transformers, pull cables or bore footings to the most remote worksites – to make their jobs easier and get them home safe. 

Production of the new models has begun, and vehicles will soon be available in dealerships across North America and around the world.

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Grace Suizo

Using Technology to Reduce Engine Idle

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In the U.S., roughly 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline are consumed each year by idling engines on medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to Argonne National Laboratory (www.anl.gov). So, improving fuel economy – and thus lowering fuel expenses – without sacrificing performance is a must for utility fleets that often have to idle assets during working hours. 

UFP recently reached out to industry experts to gain some deeper insight about this issue and discover possible idling solutions for utility fleet operations.

A Changing Landscape
For a long time, technology selections for medium-duty trucks were very limited, according to George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (www.ntea.com).

But that’s changing. And while many fleets take a driver-behavior-based approach to idle reduction, one advantage of an equipment-based solution is that the change typically is good for the life of the equipment, said Survant, who also spent more than 25 years as a telecom fleet manager.

“We, as fleet operators, are becoming more sophisticated in our acceptance of new technology and sensitive to the need for better solutions,” he said. “Consequently, the market is producing more viable solutions that are made for an increasing number of applications.”

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Fiona Soltes

Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Skilled Technicians

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It’s no secret that today’s utility fleets have encountered difficulty finding job candidates with the appropriate training, experience and technical skills. And not only that – once qualified candidates are hired, those workers can be wooed by other companies offering greater salary and benefits packages.

So, how can you find and keep the right candidates for your fleet job openings?

Those in the know recommend partnering with area technical schools and colleges to ensure the right skills are being taught – and the right candidates are being snapped up early. On the other end of the spectrum, they recommend providing current employees with training and career development opportunities to keep them engaged.

“There’s a lot of poaching going on, especially on the utility side,” said Jason Ball, who worked as both a heavy-duty mechanic and fleet manager before taking the helm of Utility Training Group (www.utilitytraininggroup.com) less than two years ago. Specialized on-the-job training – delivered by someone like Ball or an OEM representative – sweetens the pot by helping workers learn new skills, gain confidence and stay up to date on the latest technologies.

But it’s important, Ball said, to make sure those conducting the training have the right experience, in addition to good references.

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Sandy Smith

What’s Your Fleet’s Plan to Prepare for Winter Weather?

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In some parts of the country, the leaves are already changing color and there’s a nip in the air. Fall is here and winter is not far behind, which means time is slipping away for utility fleet managers to winterize their fleet assets before truly cold weather sets in.

Forgive Tom Jansen, superintendent of fleet maintenance for Minnesota Power, for being nonchalant about the impending weather. Despite the harsh winter conditions in Minnesota – home of four of the country’s 15 coldest cities, according to USA Today Jansen’s fleet is prepared for whatever Mother Nature might throw at it. Cold? Bring it. Ice? Ready. Winter Storm Colbert, which The Weather Channel announced would be the third named storm of the coming season? He laughs.

For Jansen’s 600-unit fleet – which includes Class 3-8, off-road and mobile assets – winterizing isn’t contained to a few months of the year. “While there are activities performed just prior to winter to help the fleet stay operating effectively, we’ve found success with focusing on a good year-round preventive maintenance program, purchasing practices and operator training,” he said.

That means using oils and lubricants that are effective throughout the year, installing solar battery chargers on all new trailers and off-road equipment, and ensuring that equipment purchased has block heaters and battery disconnects. The result: a reduced winter preparation workload.

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Sean M. Lyden

Ancient Wisdom for Today’s Fleet Leaders

There’s a fable by the ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, about the Sun and the Wind that offers a powerful lesson for today’s fleet leaders. It goes something like this.

As the Sun and the Wind were debating over who was the stronger force, the Sun noticed a traveler walking along the road below them, which gave him an idea for how to settle the matter once and for all.

He pointed to the traveler and offered this proposal to the Wind: “Whichever one of us can get that man to take off his jacket will be considered the stronger force.”

The Wind agreed and went first. But as he put his power on full display, something very interesting happened. While the Wind’s strength grew, so did the traveler’s resistance. Instead of getting him to take off his jacket, the Wind’s force caused the man to cling to his jacket even tighter, refusing to let it go, until eventually the Wind gave up.

Then it was the Sun’s turn. He emerged from behind the clouds and quietly focused his heat onto the man. At first, nothing appeared to be happening. But then a drop of sweat trickled down the man’s forehead. And then another and another, until the traveler was sweating profusely. A few seconds later, he willingly took off his coat.

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Kate Wade

Andax Spill Station

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The portable Spill Station can be hung on a wall in any location where spills happen, including repair shops, substations and warehouses. Work from where it hangs or carry it to the spill. Available with Oil-Selective or Chemical/Hazmat sorbent, the Spill Station can be customized with items you need most, such as safety goggles, rubber gloves, additional sorbent pads, Tuff Wipes, Epoxy Putty, mini booms, disposal bags and even a non-sparking, square-point shovel. Contents will clean or contain up to a 12-gallon spill. To order, visit www.andax.com or call 800-999-1358. www.andax.com

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Kate Wade

Driving Dynamics Offers Open Enrollment

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Driving Dynamics Inc., a provider of advanced performance driver safety training for fleet-based organizations throughout North America, is now offering its Level II instructor-led, simulator-based training across the U.S. in a multiemployer open enrollment format.

Level II training, an immersive three-hour blended course featuring Driving Dynamics’ exclusive DrivActiv mobile simulators, complements and builds on the techniques learned in advanced performance behind-the-wheel safety classes. And now, delivered through the company’s unique open enrollment program, fleet operators of all sizes have the option to send one driver or many to training events being held across the country. For businesses that require on-site, employer-dedicated training, the company will continue to offer this format as well.

For details about locations, tuition and registration, request the 2017 Level II Open Enrollment schedule by calling 877-607-7220, extension 106, or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. www.drivingdynamics.com

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Kate Wade

Prestolite Isolated Ground Technology

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Prestolite Electric recently pioneered the use of isolated ground technology – which protects engines from potentially severe electrolytic damage caused by stray voltage – in its line of IdlePro and IdlePro Extreme alternators. 

The technology, which helps to prevent overall associated component failure and vehicle downtime, includes a dedicated cable that directs the electric current from the battery to the alternator, as well as a second dedicated electrical cable that directs the electric current from the alternator back to the battery.

More common alternator designs allow the case of the alternator to be part of the electrical circuit. When an alternator is anchored to the engine, electric current can then travel through or along the engine, increasing the opportunity for engine electrolysis or electronic noise interfering with other electronic equipment in the engine or vehicle. In today’s modern engines, the added electronic noise can trip ghost error codes, necessitating a service incident and diagnostic troubleshooting. www.prestolite.com

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Kate Wade

SolarEdge Electric Vehicle Charger

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SolarEdge Technologies Inc., a global leader in PV inverters, power optimizers and module-level monitoring services, is unveiling the world’s first inverter-integrated electric vehicle (EV) charger. By supplementing grid power with PV power, SolarEdge’s Level 2 EV charger offers charging up to six times faster than a standard Level 1 charger with its innovative solar boost mode. 

SolarEdge’s HD-Wave inverter, once integrated with an EV charger, will not only provide the existing management and monitoring of solar production, but also will enable EV charging from a single inverter and dashboard. The combined solution will offer considerable cost savings on both hardware and labor by eliminating the need for an additional conduit, wiring and breaker installation. The solution also will eliminate the need for an additional dedicated circuit breaker, which saves space and a potential main distribution panel upgrade.

With a 12-year warranty, the inverter-integrated EV charger offers potential future operating modes, such as demand-response and charging at off-peak hours to optimize time-of-use rates. The inverter-integrated EV charger is expected to be available in the last quarter of 2017. www.solaredge.us

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Keith Gindoff, manager of fleet and energy services for Duke Energy subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas (www.piedmontng.com), an energy services company that distributes natural gas to more than a million residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers in portions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, with about 1,215 total vehicles in its fleet.

#1. Make data-driven decisions.
“Think of a vehicle as a giant computer, and use the telematics data that the vehicle provides to give you greater insight to make more effective decisions with your fleet. Find a way to generate as much information as possible from the vehicle to optimize your maintenance and replacement schedules for maximum uptime and cost efficiency.” 

#2. Understand the driver’s needs.
“Really get to know the users of the vehicles and assets by going out into the field with them to understand the jobs they need the assets for. When you ask drivers for their opinions and observe for yourself how the vehicle is being used, you will be able to develop much more effective specifications.”

#3. Network with other fleet managers.
“You will learn at a much faster pace if you get to know and work with other fleet managers in your industry. They have already gone through, tested and tried – successfully or unsuccessfully – most of what you will be encountering. So, use their experience and expertise to help you become a more successful fleet manager.”

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Grace Suizo

Technology Helps Fleets Streamline Maintenance Operations

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Where fleet maintenance is concerned, technology providers including Decisiv (www.decisiv.com) and Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com) have been working with utilities to maximize visibility, consistency and transparency, among other things.

“Those actually go right to your bottom line because you reduce costs, you reduce downtime, and you make everybody more effective and the whole process more efficient,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of product and channel marketing for Decisiv.

Decreasing Downtime
Reducing downtime is a primary goal of nearly every utility fleet manager since it is a huge productivity killer.

“If your asset is down for two days but should only be down for two hours, that's a huge cost,” Riemer said.

One of the biggest culprits contributing to unnecessary downtime are inefficient and often outdated paper-based systems and communication methods. Much of the time involved in a service event – from the time someone realizes an asset is broken to the time it’s back in service – has nothing to do with fixing the asset, Riemer noted. “It’s all the other things: the talking, the paper finding, the communicating, the scheduling. It’s a highly inefficient process which dramatically increases downtime,” he said.

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Sandy Smith

Renting vs. Buying Heavy Equipment

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It’s a common occurrence for utilities and contractors: A piece of heavy equipment is needed, but it’s not immediately available in the fleet, so the project manager rents what’s required. But that may not always be the right strategy – especially when the rental is done outside the fleet manager’s purview.

“I have seen cases where equipment was rented for lengths up to 27 months and turned back in to the rental store,” said Daniel Fitzpatrick, fleet manager for NorthWestern Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas to more than 700,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. “When this happens, you lose any rental credit and the equipment.”

Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates (http://mercury-assoc.com/), has seen it too. “One of the problems we see, particularly in utility companies, is they allow business units to rent equipment to fill a temporary need,” he said. “Two years later, the rental unit is still in the fleet and no one has been paying attention. It would have been cheaper to purchase and then dispose of it.”

Granted, haggling over a purchase or evaluating the merits of rental versus ownership may not make sense when thousands of customers are without service. So, while there likely are no hard and fast rules that utilities can develop to address this issue, following some broad principles can help.

“It makes financial sense to own your equipment,” Fitzpatrick said. He tries to purchase any rental equipment at a reduced price when the rental ends, or when money has become available. “Where a buyout is not an option, focus on the interest rate and controlling costs in the short term.”

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Sean M. Lyden

3 Takeaways to Expect from Utility Fleet Conference 2017

Utility Fleet Conference 2017 exists to provide a forum that challenges us in the utility fleet industry to change ourselves – to learn, grow and adapt in an environment where so much change is happening so quickly.

Think about it: Emerging technologies like self-driving systems, connected vehicles and drones are already here and just beginning to make an impact on your fleet – and how you do business. And, as more older fleet workers and technicians prepare for retirement, you have to compete even harder to find workers who are qualified to fill those roles.

The reality is that yesterday’s knowledge, skills and strategies are not enough to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. We must grow.

But what should we learn? And how can we apply that new knowledge to equip ourselves for long-term success?

Start by attending Utility Fleet Conference 2017 (www.utilityfleetconference.com) October 2-4 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., and expect to leave with these three important takeaways.

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Kate Wade

Stertil-Koni Smart Control System

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Heavy-duty vehicle lift leader Stertil-Koni has incorporated its advanced, full-color, touch-screen control console – known as the ebright Smart Control System – into the company’s popular ECOLIFT, an ultra-shallow, full-rise, axle-engaging in-ground scissor-lifting system.

In that way, the ongoing operation and monitoring of the lift is made even easier, placing all critical information directly at the fingertips of the person who needs it most – the busy technician on the shop floor.

First deployed on Stertil-Koni wireless mobile column lifts in 2015, and subsequently rolled out to the company’s battery-operated cable mobile column lifts in 2017, the enhanced ebright Smart Control System provides intuitive ease of use with maximum visual information about the entire lifting process.

This ebright Smart Control System will deliver intuitive controls with actual data about the lift in action; tracking of specific operations and information codes; relevant information available at a glance; actual lifting height displayed; and visual display of maximum programmable lifting height. www.stertil-koni.com

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KNOWLEDGE, INSIGHT & STRATEGY FOR UTILITY FLEET LEADERS

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