Truck Lift Lightens the Load for Plumbers

Electric hoists raise productivity and efficiency, lower injury risks for St. Louis contractor.
Truck Lift Lightens the Load for Plumbers
The 40-pound aluminum hoist can lift up to 900 pounds.

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At Tope Plumbing, a plumbing and drain cleaning company in St. Louis, Missouri, management opted to literally give technicians a lift by installing SpitzLift electric cranes in about a dozen service vehicles.

SpitzLift cranes come in a variety of models for different applications. With a maximum lifting capacity of 900 pounds, the SpitzLift models Tope purchased tick off a lot of boxes in terms of efficiency and cost reductions. Minimizes back strains and other injuries? Check. Improves productivity? Got it. More effective deployment of manpower and increased profitability? You bet.

“When we’re lifting a large drain cleaning machine, for example, which can weigh anywhere from 200 to 275 pounds, you need two guys on the truck — there’s no way around it,” says Kerry Gale, a cable/camera supervisor at Tope Plumbing, a division of Tope Inc. The company primarily performs residential service work and drain cleaning in suburban St. Louis.

“But with the SpitzLifts, we don’t have to pay two guys to be on one truck all day,” he says. “We can separate them and put them on two trucks instead of one.”

Granted, that also means purchasing another service vehicle, but Gale says the additional annual revenue generated by having another technician in the field more than pays for the additional cost.
“Since we’re a union shop, wages are pretty high,” he says. “So the additional cash flow we can generate from having one guy out in a truck instead of two is phenomenal.”

Tope runs five sewer cleaning trucks (Dodge ProMaster 3500 vans and Ford box trucks with bodies made by Knapheide Manufacturing Co.) and four of them carry SpitzLifts. The company also owns five plumbing service trucks (also a mix of ProMaster vans and Ford trucks with Knapheide bodies) and four of them include SpitzLifts. Two more landscaping trucks also carry the cranes.

The plumbing and drain cleaning service vehicles use shelving and storage systems made by American Van Equipment. The sewer trucks carry Stallion drum drain cleaning machines, made by Trojan Worldwide, for larger pipe diameters; RIDGID K3800 drum machines for smaller-diameter pipes; and RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection cameras. Tope plumbers also use Milwaukee Tool and RIDGID power tools.

Designed for payload efficiency, the SpitzLift hoists — which are OSHA- and ASME-compliant — are made of aircraft-grade aluminum. The hoist itself weighs less than 40 pounds; with the floor-mounting bracket included, the unit adds less than 100 pounds of payload. The hoists are easy to install, Gale says, and require no additional structural reinforcement. The boom swivels and its maximum reach is nearly 4 feet.

A 10- by 12-inch surface-mounted bracket, bolted to the floor of a vehicle, holds the hoist, which is powered by a vehicle’s battery. A quick-connect, DC-power wiring harness allows for easy hookup. For extra flexibility, the crane folds down and can be removed from its mounting bracket and temporarily stowed in the vehicle — or even moved to another vehicle.

“It only takes a few minutes to unhook the wires and remove the hoist if it happens to be in the way of loading larger objects,” Gale says. “It’s awfully convenient.”

Gale first saw a SpitzLift on a competitor’s truck and the company subsequently added them as a preinstalled option when it ordered the Knapheide bodies. Later, employees at Tope began installing the cranes to save money, as well as allow technicians to decide which side of the truck they wanted the crane mounted.

“We used to buy custom-made welded lifts, but they were more expensive,” Gale says. “Plus we usually had to go without a van for a couple of weeks to get them installed by outfitters, who often have a backlog of work and can’t get to your job immediately. So it’s definitely an advantage to be able to install them ourselves. It takes anywhere from several hours to a day to put them in. … They’re basically plug-and-play units. As soon as they’re hooked up, they’re ready to go.”

Tope technicians used to get sidelined occasionally by pulled muscles or tight backs, so the SpitzLifts are invaluable in reducing lost work time and minimizing the chances of serious accidents — and subsequent workers’ compensation claims.

“It’s invaluable to be able to prevent those injuries,” Gale says.

The hoists can also save five or 10 minutes per job, which might not seem like much until you add it up over the course of a year, he adds.

“The SpitzLifts definitely improve efficiency and help us get jobs done in a more timely manner,” Gale says. “Without a doubt, they’re huge profitability and productivity generators.”


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