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Every bus and coach workshop in the country appears to be acquiring mobile column lifts and that is as true of large operations as it is of small ones.  

London United for example has opted for a series of Stertil Koni ST1073 mobile column lifts to assist it in looking after its 885 buses.

The business initially acquired three sets of four ST1073s for its Twickenham garage. Pleased with their performance, it subsequently ordered an additional set of four identical lifts for its Fulwell depot.

Graysons Somers Tecalemit Powertrain

Each column has a capacity of 7.25 tonnes. If required, more columns can be added to the system up to a maximum of 28: far more of course than any bus or coach operator would need.

The maximum lifting height of 1.85m can be reached in 70 seconds says Stertil Koni. If the power supply fails, then the columns can be lowered manually.

“The built-in safety features were what prompted us to make our decision,” says Twickenham engineering manager, Robert Tarrant. “I’m thinking in particular about the independent locking pawl and the ID key that is required to synchronise the columns prior to use, as this eliminates unauthorised usage.”

Perhaps most significantly however the lifts are wireless.

Relying on battery power – the number of lifting cycles offered per full charge helped persuade London United to choose the ST1073 – means that there are no trailing power cables to create trip hazards. As a consequence there is a reduced risk of the loss of a valued member of staff for weeks on end through injury or of potentially expensive litigation if someone is seriously hurt.

Opting for battery-powered wireless technology is the choice workshops will progressively make believes Somers Totalkare sales director, James Radford, despite the higher front-end cost.

“At present wireless lifts are 30 per cent more expensive than the conventional models,” he says. “However if you’re acquiring them on finance the extra cost usually isn’t prohibitive especially when you compare it with the price of replacing cables that suffer accidental damage in a busy workshop environment.”

At £200 to £500, the cost of buying a new cable is steep.

“Remember that the cable column lifts employ isn’t just used to deliver power,” he says. “It’s used to synchronise the columns too.”

“At present our sales split between wireless and cabled is 50/50, but in five years time we probably won’t be selling a cabled lift at all given the advantages of wireless,” he continues. “Indeed we may get to the stage where the health and safety authorities insist that workshops buy wireless-only in order to eliminate the trip hazard that cables can potentially create.”

Somers Totalkare and Stertil Koni are by no means the only businesses selling wireless products.

Blitz Rotary chose last year’s Coach & Bus Live show to launch the wireless HydroLift S2 with a per-column capacity of 8.2 tonnes and used this year’s Commercial Vehicle Show to launch a 6.2 tonne version. Both models were designed and engineered in the USA but are assembled in the UK, and both can be controlled from any column.

Features include adjustable forks so that they can cope with different wheel sizes, a programmable height-limiter and a two-speed lowering system. Control panel LED displays provide a live height reading and indicate the battery condition.

Not to be outdone, Tecalemit chose Coach & Bus Live to unveil its new wireless column lift from Finkbeiner with a capacity of 5.5 tonnes per column and continued to hammer home its virtues at the C V Show.

Stertil Koni’s CV Show activities included the introduction of the ST1075 column lift which replaces both its 7.25-tonne lift and a lighter 6.0-tonne-capacity model. It has a per-column capacity of 7.5 tonnes and can be ordered in either cabled or wireless guise. The ST1075 can be supplied in sets of 4-, 6- or 8-columns providing total lifting capacities up to 60 tonnes.  Most models feature a slow lowering speed and 350mm forks are included as standard with a column to vehicle distance of 255mm.

“Column lifts are popular because workshop space is often at a premium and they can easily be pushed to one side when they’re not being used,” says Blitz Rotary sales manager, Ian Gibbs. “You can’t do that with a fixed lift.”

Column lifts have the added advantage that they can readily be moved from one site to another if premises have to be vacated.

Now with over 150 Authorised Testing Facilities (ATFs) in place, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) is progressively shutting its own testing stations. At the time of writing the axe was about to fall on Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent, with dealers, independent workshops and fleet operators with their own maintenance facilities investing in the equipment necessary to set up ATFs in a bid to take up the slack.

“We’ve installed quite a few ATF test lanes,” says Tecalemit business development manager, Chris Stables.

Garage equipment manufacturers have not been slow to highlight the availability of suitable machinery. Bradbury for example has just announced that VOSA has approved its 1090 Commercial Brake Tester for ATF use while BM Autoteknik says that VOSA has now given its BM20200 mobile roller brake tester ATF approval.

The tester can be placed directly onto the ground without the need for civil works.

ATF investment and in some cases the need for workshops to change machinery that was not replaced during the last recession and is now past its sell-by date has helped to keep the equipment industry ticking over.

“At Somers Totalkare we’re ahead of budget, so that’s a tick in the box, but we’re finding that customers are a little slow when it comes to making decisions,” says Radford. “In that respect however things are no worse than they have been at any time during the past few years.”

Given sluggish economic growth and the myriad other pressures facing operators, such caution is understandable: but firms that fail to invest in appropriate kit – diagnostic kit in particular – will find it increasingly difficult to maintain vehicles efficiently and effectively as they become more sophisticated.

No matter how modern or how antiquated a workshop is, it generates waste. OSS Group will handle the lot, it will do so safely and legally it says, and the service it provides to fleet operators goes beyond the collection of oil, air and fuel filters, waste oil, antifreeze, starter batteries and aerosol cans.

It deals with a host of other waste items generated by coaches and buses, including spent fluorescent lighting tubes and items left behind by passengers. That can sometimes include hypodermic needles.

“Around 95 per cent of what we collect is recovered or recycled and the remainder is incinerated to generate power,” says group sales and marketing director, Mark Bridgens. “Nothing goes to landfill.”

OSS Group provides operators with a selection of containers to deposit the different categories of waste in and collects them at regular intervals. “We can supply bunded waste oil tanks and spill pallets if required,” he says.

One of the great beauties of the service it provides is that it come free-of-charge. The firm is able to offer it on this basis because it can sell the waste oil and extract the value from the old starter batteries.

“We handle approaching 100 million litres of waste oil annually,” he explains. “It’s turned into an industrial fuel oil used by businesses such as power stations, quarries and breweries.”

Not only is the service provided free; depending on the volume of saleable waste involved, the operator may even receive a cheque.

So is there any category of bus and coach waste OSS Group won’t look at? “We never say ‘no’,” Bridgens replies.

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