The equipment rental market in the United States has grown exponentially over the last several years, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most types of construction work benefit from using rental equipment, from completing small contracting projects to building major skyscrapers. One of the sectors that benefit the most is bridge development.
However, the combination of inflation and equipment supply issues, along with higher levels of construction activity because of the infrastructure funding bill, has many leaders of firms in the bridge industry questioning their current equipment rental strategies.
This article will explain:
- Why more and more bridge inspection, maintenance, and construction businesses have been renting equipment over the last several years.
- The economic and business factors impacting the rental market right now.
- Whether it still makes sense to lease construction equipment.
- The types of gear that businesses should rent and own.
The bridge construction equipment rental market in recent years
The United States is home to more than 600,000 bridges. Whether bridges are big or small; located over water, roadway, or land; or made for cars, pedestrians, or trains, their inspection, maintenance, rehabilitation, and construction require a fleet of equipment that’s the right size, shape, and type for the job. Few businesses can own all the gear that they need to handle the kinds of work that they do. That’s why so many take advantage of the opportunity to rent equipment.
Bridges come in many shapes and sizes and are found in various types of physical locations. You need equipment that will enable you to work on all of them. Most bridge-related businesses would need a big budget to purchase everything that they require and to invest in an extraordinary amount of space to store it all. Also, they would need to have enough equipment handy to deal with busy periods or rush projects.
By leasing equipment for bridge work, you can always have access to precisely what you need when you need it.
Another thing to consider: When you rent equipment, especially for short-term projects like inspections, you’re not responsible for transporting it from place to place. Most of the time, your team can move from job to job and find the pieces that they need waiting for them. It can save you time, make your operation more efficient, enable you to take on more work, and turn your business into a more profitable one.
Also, when you own equipment, it’s expensive and time consuming to replace it with new models when they’re made available. With the rapid advances in technology and safety these days, you must consider if you can run a business as safely and productively as possible if you aren’t leveraging the latest models. Renting equipment can solve this dilemma.
Finally, you don’t need to purchase insurance for the equipment you rent. The rental company should cover it, although you should check to see if you have any coverage obligations. This could save you money on your business insurance premiums.
Imagine: Having the latest gear anywhere, any time, at an affordable cost — that’s why so many companies in the bridge industry rent construction equipment.
Bridge construction equipment: The inflation, shortage, and demand conundrum
Today’s unique economic and business conditions add a twist to the rent-or-buy equipment debate. The high prices of new equipment make it attractive to rent. However, increased demand for rental equipment and the relatively low supply available for leasing companies to purchase could result in shortages.
It’s critical for bridge inspectors and contracting companies to build strong relationships with their equipment rental providers. It’s also essential that you implement strong project management practices so you always know what rental equipment you need well ahead of time. That way, you can have informed conversations with your suppliers and reserve your equipment before it’s needed. This will also give you time to explore your options if the things that you need aren’t available.
Bridge equipment types: To rent or to own?
Here are a few of the most common types of bridge inspection, rehabilitation, and construction gear. We organized the list from the types that it makes the most sense to lease to the ones that it’s probably better to own.
Aerial lifts enable inspectors and other bridge workers to easily — and safely — access hard-to-reach sections of bridges. The issue: No two bridges are the same, and even if they’re similar, their settings are different. Each presents unique access challenges. That’s why it’s a smart idea to rent bridge lifts. You’ll always have the perfect one for the situation. Plus, you can rest assured that you’re using the latest and safest equipment.
Common types of rental lifts and their features include:
- BridgeWalker® Type I Track Unit. This is the most portable lift option because of its five-foot deployment width. Its remote control capabilities and nonverbal safety lights make it a quick, safe, and compact lift option.
- BridgeWalker® Type I. This unit can operate with a 66-inch width, making it deployable on a sidewalk without blocking traffic. It has a traveling width of 51 inches and a basket capacity of 600 pounds.
- BridgeWalker® Type II. This lift is designed with contractors in mind. It comes with secure tool storage in the unit and a large workspace. The gooseneck trailer and sturdy frame helps the Type II handle a 600-pound capacity.
- Aspen Aerials B-32. This bridge inspection truck is designed to reach tough places. With a 33-foot vertical reach and nearly 32-foot horizontal under-bridge reach, sliding counterweight stabilizers, and a seven-foot platform extension arm, the B-32 can get you almost anywhere.
- Aspen Aerials A-62. This bridge inspection truck is designed to reach farther than most bridge lifts. It comes with a vertical down reach of 68 feet, a horizontal reach of 62 feet, and a vertical reach of 51 feet. The basket sits on a 13-foot telescoping boom and automatically levels.
Got questions about renting lifts? Contact the experts at Bridge Masters.
Vertical masts and hydra platforms
Two pieces of equipment make it possible for bridge workers to reach almost any area under a bridge:
- A vertical mast, which attaches to the side of the bridge.
- A hydra platform, which attaches to the bottom of the vertical mast and runs horizontally underneath the bridge.
Theseprovide bridge workers and inspectors access to the underside of the deck of a bridge, whether it’s over water, road, or any other terrain. Due to the uniqueness of most bridges and their settings, it typically makes sense to rent vertical masts and hydra platforms.
Telehandlers function similarly to forklifts. They add functionality, so they work effectively on bridge projects. Instead of having the limited up-and-down motion of a forklift, a telehandler provides extended reach and greater capacity. Many of the same attachments found on forklifts are available for telehandlers, they’re just larger. Telehandlers are mostly used to move materials.
Telehandlers are a fundamental part of most bridge maintenance and construction projects. It makes the most sense to own enough to handle your usual workload and then rent additional ones during busy times.
All bridges have to rest on a foundation, known as a substructure. Before the components of the substructure can be put in place, dirt, rock, and other materials must be removed in the area where it will be constructed.
Once a construction crew has removed excess soil and other materials, they may also need to dig trenches to make way for the substructures of the bridge. Workers may use an excavator together with drilling and blasting equipment to remove materials underwater.
Bridge construction companies typically want to own enough excavators to handle their typical workload and rent additional equipment during peak construction periods.
Skid loaders pick up where excavators leave off. They help move dirt to where it’s needed. Once the ground is ready and the abutments begin going into place, skid loaders move backfill where it needs to go and then levels it.
Much like excavators, contractors want to own enough skid loaders to handle their regular level of work, then rent additional ones as needed.
Much like excavators, backhoes dig holes and trenches for the abutments and piers of a bridge. Similar to skid loaders, they move dirt and rock and backfill holes on site. Contractors should own enough backhoes to handle the standard amount of work that they do, and they can rent additional ones as needed.
Cranes are the workhorses of the bridge construction world. They move all the large, manufactured elements into place. Due to the critical role that they play in bridge construction, it’s smart to have enough cranes in your fleet to handle your standard work and to lease additional ones when things get busy.
Air compressors clear dirt and debris from sensitive bridge joints, which might not function properly if they become contaminated. Due to their critical importance, the immediate need for them, and relatively low cost, you should purchase your own compressors.
Every construction site needs portable generators to run equipment and tools, along with larger ones to power construction trailers. Since they’re essential on all bridge construction and maintenance projects, it’s smart to own your own generators. Inspectors can lease them on the rare occasions that they’re needed.
As more and more concrete bridge components are built off site, concrete saws are required to make them fit when it comes time to install them. Since they’re so vital on bridge maintenance and construction projects and relatively affordable, purchase as many as you need.
Pressure washers are used to clean dirt, debris, and dust from bridge structures after construction and maintenance work are finished. They’re necessary and relatively inexpensive, and new models aren’t all that different from older ones, so it makes sense to buy multiples.
Welders are regularly used on bridge maintenance and construction sites, which means you should own as much welding equipment as required.
Do you often do bridge maintenance and construction work at night or in dim conditions? If so, you may want to own lighting gear. If not, rent it when you need it.
Prime examples of current technology being used on bridge projects are drones. They are particularly valuable in bridge inspections. Depending on how they’re equipped, they can be used to view hard-to-access areas of bridges, and in many cases, they’re able to “see inside.”
The photo, video, and X-ray capabilities of drones enable inspectors to get a thorough look at bridges and the toughest-to-access areas. Drones make it easy for them to also check out at-risk bridges frequently. If anything seems amiss, inspectors can use lifts, vertical masts, and hydra platforms to conduct hands-on examinations.
Since drones are relatively inexpensive, it might make sense to purchase a few for the people on your inspection team. Just make sure they’re fully trained and licensed to use them.
In the end, the decision about whether to rent or buy is up to you, but you must stay informed to make the best choice for your business.