All of Allmand’s generator units run more than 24 hours; some run up to 48 hours on one tank.
Most people readily identify the construction projects they see by the big, heavy equipment operating around work sites, such as earthmovers, paving machines and cranes.
But just as important to any building effort — from grading and clearing jobs to heavy girder installation — are the less obvious machinery.
Portable light towers, air compressors and generators fall into that category. Without them, most projects would become costly, difficult and much more time-consuming.
Highway projects around the nation are the best place to see bright, luminescent light towers assisting night crews in their work. Often as high as 23 to 25 ft. tall, they can target light within a specific area with little glare to avoid distracting passing vehicles.
A generator or, in many cases, multiple generators can provide a utility source to construction sites where electrical power is hard to access. Once tied into an electrical source via cables by an electrician, they provide power for an array of on-site uses.
Air compressors, too, have many applications in construction, including powering jackhammers and sand blasters, as well as blowing out pump lines and helping crews stripe newly-painted roads and highways.
Doosan Portable Power, Allmand Bros. Inc., Atlas Copco and Chicago Pneumatic each manufacture all three of these construction-site staples, while Terex/Genie manufactures light-tower production and Caterpillar makes a line of large and small generators.
Each product has proven to be durable and reliable despite heavy use and, if serviced and maintained well, have a high resale value.
Designers Always Strive for Innovation
Each of these products have been in use for decades, but despite their simplicity, they are continually improved upon by their manufacturers. Engineers and designers are driven to innovate these products to help their end users save time and money.
Environmental concerns also are among their customers' wants and desires, as most light towers, generators and air compressors run on diesel fuel.
“I think the big things we are all trying to do as manufacturers is to enhance the run time on all of our products to make them more durable and reliable and, hopefully, as cost-effective as possible,” explained Todd Howe, Doosan's product manager of light towers and generators.
He cited the use of telematics and the ability of these machines to provide data on their performance to their owners as a continually evolving technology.
“Most of this equipment is owned by rental companies and they are responsible for the maintenance, so if a machine can proactively tell them when something may be going wrong with it, chances are the rental firm can fix it before the customer even knows he has a problem,” he added.
A ubiquitous and essential piece of equipment for use on most nighttime construction projects, light towers also can be found at mining and oil field sites.
These simple machines are high-volume, low-cost products in rental applications, according to Howe.
“Despite the fact they are low-cost, relative to other construction equipment, light towers have received almost a disproportionate share of innovation over the last several years,” Howe continued. “As an example, 10 years ago they only had lay-down lighting masts that, in the transport position, were horizontal and the lamps hung off the back of the truck. Today, though, there has been a transition to vertical mast towers, even while in transit.”
The obvious benefit of vertical lamp masts is that the customer can fit more light towers onto a truck. The masts come in five sections that nest within each other and can telescope into their raised positions.
Efforts also are under way to reduce the footprint and weight of the light tower units by transitioning from steel-bodied enclosures to ones utilizing composite materials, including plastics.
The objective is to give light tower customers the longer run times they ask for from these diesel-powered machines.
“Product engineers spend all their time looking for creative ways to package even more fuel onboard to extend the intervals between servicing and re-fueling,” Howe explained.
There was general agreement among product managers from each of the light-tower manufacturers that advancements in light-emitting diode, or LED, lighting is an important and emerging technology in the product's evolution.
Noted for their energy-efficiency, LED lamps have already started to overtake the metal-halide lights used for decades on light towers, just as LEDs have been replacing incandescent bulbs in the home for the last several years.
Angel Nieto, Atlas Copco's product manager of light towers and generators, is proud of the company's achievement in utilizing LEDs to design “a unique, fully-directional optic lens to maximize practical light coverage and minimize dark spots.
“LEDs have an impressive lifespan,” Nieto continued. “The housing we have designed for the LEDs offers protection during transportation and ensures they remain cool to protect the longevity of the lamps. LED light towers are able to instantly turn on and off, whereas metal-halide light towers need time to reach full illumination.”
The savings on LEDs in fuel and operating costs can be dramatic, especially for contractors and construction companies that routinely employ light towers on job sites.
According to Eric Massinon, business development manager of Chicago Pneumatic, “The additional run time alone for LED saves handling fuel, something that can be very time-consuming and costly in more remote locations.”
When used in combination with a photo eye/timer option that turns the light on and off automatically, the longer run time could mean users don't need to service it for up to two weeks, he added.
Historically, light towers have used metal halide lamps with around 400,000 lumens and 4,000 watts of electrical power consumption. They are still used by light tower makers and sold alongside LED units.
“But as the performance of LEDs increase and the cost continues to be more affordable for rental scenarios, we predict there will be an inflection point where LED lights provide the most value to our rental customers,” said Josh Taylor, Genie product manager of Terex AWP.
Today, LEDs are being developed and sold that rival the brightness produced by metal-halide lamps, but with a power consumption of less than 1,000 watts.
That increase in electrical efficiency directly impacts the amount of fuel a light tower consumes in operation and makes LED units an attractive choice for customers wanting to keep costs low.
“LED lights consume about 25 percent of the power that metal halide lights do, so LEDs also play a key role in any efficiency improvements of light towers,” Taylor added, “and lower power requirements open the door to smaller engines or other alternative power sources.”
Brett Shive, senior field technician at Allmand, agreed and added, “we use a 1,250-watt metal-halide bulb, which is our brightest, but as LEDs get stronger and better they become more efficient, so we want to try and use them as much as possible.”
“We are seeing LEDs also being employed more because they can produce a more diffused, glare-free lighting,” Howe said. “They illuminate with a softer light that is able to be focused into a working pattern that puts the light where it is needed and reduces light pollution.”
He said the biggest impediment to LEDs getting widespread application until now has been their cost, but with improvements in their design phase, costs decrease every year and their performance increases by 30 to 40 percent.
Finally, from a research and development standpoint, energy storage should become more refined in the next several years and offer a potential application on light towers.
Howe believes that battery banks in the light towers can potentially be made to store extra energy produced by the generating system, with the capability to shut the engine off when the energy storage is full, thus extending the fueling interval and the run-time even further which, in turn, reduces costs.
General contractors tend to make mobile generators among the first things they bring to a construction site as utility power is often not available otherwise. Because it is an essential part of the building process, refinements to the units are always being made.
“Sometimes the next 'big thing' doesn't look like a 'big thing' because it's really just a step forward, but from the end-users' perspective, it represents simplicity and ease-of-use,” explained Nieto of Atlas Copco, which offers generators with FleetLink telematics solutions, as well as a Paralleling Controller and Power Management System that has advanced the lines' fleet management, versatility and fuel efficiency.
Once generators are operational they can power a wide range of equipment, depending on their size and kilovolt-amps (kVA), the maximum power output they produce. For example, a Doosan 25 kVA generator can power a whole home with everything turned on. By contrast, the Doosan 570 kVA unit will, in scale, run the entire neighborhood, Howe said.
Caterpillar has a full-line of large generators, too, but also offers several more diminutive, yet powerful units designed for small contractors and homeowners.
Melinda Doty, Cat's North American Channel development manager, said “Today, you will find more options in power rankings than you have seen in the past and that will only continue.
“Caterpillar has small, portable units that range in size from a 2kw to 12kw. For instance, the Cat RP12000 E unit delivers 12kW of long-lasting power for heavy-duty applications in a balanced, fuss-free design.”
The RP12000 E, introduced in 2017, provides big power needs for those smaller operations wanting premium features and the flexibility of a portable generator.
She said this durable unit is built with a 670cc V-Twin OHV motor, low harmonic distortion, a premium control panel, and delivers quality power for tools like table saws, hammer drills, air compressors, furnaces and smaller AC units.
In large construction, cord-and-plug tools, jobsite trailers, and water management pumps, as well as tower cranes, all run off generators. At excavating and quarry sites, generators often operate mobile crushing and conveying units. They also are essential to disaster-recovery efforts.
“They are site-specific and that is why they are always sized to what the project needs from them to be and what the logistics of the site are,” said Howe. “Sometimes a big generator can handle a large site and sometimes a large site needs four of five smaller gens to minimize the cables running across it.”
Increasingly, contractors are requesting that mobile-generator manufacturers step up their development of units that can be tied together to produce more power on their construction sites.
Many already apply paralleling technologies to generators, giving those with smaller units the chance to compete for jobs requiring larger amounts of power. By doing so, they also get the added advantage of a more balanced load on each generator, thus saving fuel and allowing redundancy, as needed.
According to Massinon at Chicago Pneumatic, new synchronization control systems are being perfected to allow the contractor to tie multiple generators together more efficiently for a larger power output on the job.
Those control systems need to be able to communicate with one another and to precisely synchronize the power from one generator to the next. Otherwise, serious issues can arise with phase imbalances and power importing from one generator to another.
“So, to get them to behave nicely they need to have fairly-sophisticated controls to make sure they all act as one unit,” Doosan's Howe explained.
Chicago Pneumatic is currently working on being able to parallel some of its smaller generators, such as the CP 100 kW models.
“For now, if a customer needs 500 kW, they can put two of our 330 kVA machines together and connect them to get the output they need,” Massinon said. “In the near future we are hoping to be able to seamlessly link five of our 100 kW machines to produce 500 kW at our customers' job sites.”
Generators are used a bit differently than the other two products in that they usually operate 24 hours a day. As a utility source, once they are put in their application they only shut down for service and maintenance.
And, because diesel engines power construction generators, as well as light towers and air compressors, manufacturers have spent a lot of time in the last several years designing machines that meet the federal government's Tier IV Final emissions standards.
Now, with most generator models within or near compliance, engineers and designers are focusing more of their attention on improving horsepower, fuel efficiency, run time, durability and reliability.
“The next 'big thing' we are looking at with generators are extended servicing intervals,” Howe said. “Today, our Doosan gens are at a 500-hour maintenance interval and we want to double that to 1,000 hours. That means a lot of work with our engine and component manufacturers and partners to hit that mark.
“Down-time on a generator is a bad word, maybe more than anything else in the rental world, so our focus is to keep the power running and make it something the customer doesn't even have to think about.”
Shive, too, believes technology will soon deliver on extended service intervals and predicts better fuel efficiency from generators, as well as larger fuel-tank capacities.
“All of Allmand's units run more than 24 hours, some up to 48 hours on one tank,” he explained. “I think they will eventually go beyond that to as much as 60 hours — anything to keep them on the jobsite longer without constantly bringing in a fuel tanker.”
In addition, he expects to soon see some generators get larger, into the 200 to 300 kVA range.
“Look for all manufacturers to go with fully digital displays on their gens, too,” he continued. “That is something our customers are requesting more. The analog gauges were great because they were simple, but the younger workforce coming in has grown up on digital. Plus, the new digital controls allow them to access more useful information.”
Besides the familiar uses of air compressors on construction projects, Allmand Bros., Atlas Copco, Chicago Pneumatic and Doosan supply this equipment through rental companies to end-users on a wide range of other jobs.
“Many are shipped to the Gulf of Mexico, where efforts are under way to bring many older, unused oil rigs back on line,” explained Jeremy Bailey, air products manager of Doosan. “Swimming-pool contractors will use air compressors to spray gunite onto the form of a pool under construction. Some painting companies will use compressed air to paint large buildings and bridges.”
Moving through the Tier IV compliance process gave air-compressor manufacturers the golden opportunity to also design the engines to provide a wealth of data through telematics to the rental companies that service the machines. As a result, remote monitoring and connected machines have only recently come on the market.
“We can see exactly what the engine is doing, how heavy it's loading, what temperature it's running, etc.,” Bailey said. “The trend from Doosan and our competitors, as well, is to make smarter, better-connected machines using that data via telematics. Going forward, you are going to see more integrated technology.”
He admitted longer maintenance intervals and the ability for GPS software to perform tasks online, such as scheduling an equipment-service appointment, are still on the drawing board and may not be available for another two years.
The new Tier IV standards drove up prices on compressors in the last few years, said Massinon of Chicago Pneumatic. As a result, many dealers and end users were forced to take a closer look at precisely what they needed from this equipment.
“More than 20 years ago, the rental industry operated with two different air-compressor lines, a single-tool and a two-tool machine rated at approximately 185 CFM [cubic feet per minute],” he explained. “The industry changed when the price of the single-tool compressors became comparable to the price of two-tool compressors.
“Today,” Massinon continued, “the price difference is wider, and rental companies and contractors are thinking more carefully about what they really need for air consumption on the job. That has led to a creation of a single-tool compressor market once again.”
Air-compressor designs will continue to focus on ruggedness, reliability and being among the quietest machines on a job site, added Brett Shive of Allmand.
“Plus, all of our models are at 100 psi, but we know customers want a higher output and we are working toward giving them that,” he said.
Finally, Allmand, Atlas Copco, Chicago Pneumatic and Doosan also are continuing to make their air compressors smaller to improve fuel efficiency, while at the same time making them easier to service.
“We have better cooling and getting that into a tighter spot is easier now because of the better electronic controls and power-dense engines,” Bailey explained. “We can get the same power from a 4½-liter engine now as compared to a 6-liter a decade ago.”
Nieto expects new improvements in the outer design of compressors to decrease their footprint, allowing for easy maneuverability through narrow, cramped job sites, as well as giving operators more room to move around the compressor when using pneumatic tools.
To illustrate the point, Atlas Copco's XAS 110, at up to 15 percent smaller than comparable models, can easily be stored in a garage or rental yard.
“Protecting your investment is important, and that's why a tough canopy matters,” Nieto explained. “Polyethylene is widely accepted as the best material for compressor canopies. It is resistant to low- and high-temperatures thanks to UV stability and long-term antioxidants within the plastic. Look for a canopy that is also made from approved recyclable material to minimize environmental impact.”
The Market Will Drive Evolution
By letting the market drive the demand for technological advances in light towers, generators and air compressors, these products will continue to evolve in efficiency, durability and reliability to keep their costs down for customers.
“We believe innovation should be simple and customer-driven,” said Nieto. “We are always innovating and improving and that is driven by customers telling us they want products with better performance, ease of use, efficiency and minimal service needs. Our product lines are the result of decades of continuous development.”
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