When Doug Houseman sent me concept drawings of a “bucket truck of the future” being developed by Capgemini and the Smart Energy Alliance, distribution managers were impressed with the innovative design. They also have some interesting comments and high-tech ideas of their own. The innovative truck reminds me of a Swiss Army knife complete with a telescoping (bucket) boom, a separate pole claw boom and storage space that looks like a storeroom on wheels. It even proposes to have inventory RFID tagging to check supplies and parts on board.

Ron Winrod, a distribution manager for AEP in Indiana, likes the onboard inventory idea. “Having everything we need at the job is very important, but I do not see a ‘rolling storeroom' vehicle. There are limitations to how much weight you can put on a crew-cab truck. But anything that cuts down on operating costs is worth considering.”

Bill Mason, an operations superintendent at Guernsey-Muskingum Electric, agrees. “You never have everything you need on a truck, but in southeastern Ohio much of our system is off roads where you can't take a big truck. In fact, part of our fleet is four-wheel-drive vehicles.”

Heavy-Duty But Not Heavy

Vehicle weight may be a drawback, but what about the trend toward larger trucks? Mike Allison, in the fleet department at Duke Energy (Charlotte, North Carolina), says, “Our user needs are changing. Crews today require higher-reach aerial devices with larger material-handling capabilities.”

Arthur Davenport, the construction superintendent at Holston Electric in eastern Tennessee, is also buying bigger trucks with larger capacity. “All the poles we're putting in are taller and the lines are heavier than they used to be.”

And what about the in-cab high-tech features such as flat-screen displays with GPS/GIS mapping and wireless connectivity? “We already have computer-generated mapping, GPS and wireless laptops now,” says AEP's Winrod. “Having real-time data is extremely important for customer service.” AEP is using GPS for address and facility locating in some regions.

Swiss Army Knife

At first glance, having everything on one vehicle appears to save time and cut down on the big equipment needed on the job. Irv Walker, director of field services for PacifiCorp in Casper, Wyoming, says, “We are always looking at crew size. The new vehicle technology that makes sense for us right now is our radio remote-control digger derrick trucks.

“The operator controls the machine from the ground while standing a safe distance away from the work.” says Walker. “He straps on the control box around his waist, which operates like a video game joystick with button switches. The operator isn't tied to the truck, so doesn't have to be climbing up and down the truck. He can move around to get a better view of the boom tip and keep an eye on other crew members.”

Resistance To Change

Some of the resistance to the Alliance's new concept truck may come from crews thinking, “The way we have always done it.” Guernsey-Muskingum Electric's Mason says, “About 10 years ago, we special ordered a Terex Commander with the optional bucket attachment package. It cost us $8000 extra. I can think of twice that the crew actually has used the bucket attachment. The truck is used every day for digging holes, but the rest of the crew comes to the job in a bucket truck, so we never use the bucket.” Mason's next digger derrick won't have a bucket.

A Better Suggestion

The Smart Energy Alliance has some great ideas, even though some of them may be a little ahead of their time. Holston's Davenport had one suggestion for Houseman and the Alliance: “They need to put a small microwave oven in the cab to heat the crews' sandwiches.” Holston Electric has put microwave ovens in most of their trucks. In the cold weather especially, they use them every day. Davenport says, “Back in the day, we use to put a can of beans on the radiator to heat them up. Now when we want to heat up our food, we just plug the microwave into the 12-V inverter and throw a sandwich or bowl of soup in the oven and heat it up.” Now that's innovation.