IPAF Summit celebrates 40 years and looks to the future

Summit - Panel Session

Attendees at the IPAF Summit 2023, held in Berlin, Germany, on 20 April, enjoyed presentations on the theme “The Future of Powered Access: Dynamic, Digital, Diverse” – highlighting what four decades of learning can teach us about innovation through collaboration, safety through automation and embracing a future fraught with change in powered access worldwide – in the year IPAF celebrates its 40th anniversary.  

The IPAF Summit in partnership with Access International was held at the H4 Hotel Berlin Alexanderplatz; TV presenter Mark Durden-Smith returned by popular demand to host both the IPAF Summit and IAPAs for a third year running. Peter Douglas, CEO of IPAF, began the programme with an introduction and the premiere of a short film on the history and evolution of IPAF: “IPAF didn’t start training operators until 1993, on overhead projectors, and we issued PAL Cards that were laminated bits of cardboard. We entered the 21st century using PowerPoint, and started issuing the plastic PAL Cards, then we introduced the Smart PAL Card and eLearning options – to bring things right up to date we’re now using a range of training delivery methods and of course you can now store your certification digitally using the ePAL app. In 2020 we reached the two million mark of training certifications issued, going from one million in just five years – quite dramatic growth!” 

Jay Iyengar, Executive Vice President, Chief Technology and Strategic Sourcing Officer – Oshkosh Corporation, parent company of IPAF member JLG, talked about technology without borders. “Technology is no longer an option – it’s an imperative. Customer expectations are changing – they don’t care how technology works, but they do care what it can do for them.” 

She talked about advances in battery technology, and how economies of scale had led to batteries being cheaper, more effective and smaller, making widescale adoption much more practical. Advances in other areas including virtual reality, safety and bio-marker sensors are progressing from one industry into another, as are alternative power sources, machine autonomy and active safety and intelligent products – all of which are key technological advances being prioritised by Oshkosh, she said.  

Demonstrating how advances the company has deployed in fields such as defence or automotive are finding their way into the powered access sector, she explained that “the power of intersection is delivering value to the customer, skills transfer across industries, and accelerating change. Understanding and responding to the voice of the customer and product sale skills are important complements to product development skills. A major challenge to EV adoption is the limitations of the existing grid – but look at advancements to battery technology, and there will likely be exponential developments in future.” 

Lars Thomsen, Chief Futurist – the Future Matters and member of the World Future Society, opened by saying: “We tend to underestimate what is possible in the next ten years. When you are young, the world is a playground for great ideas. What we discover when we are working with companies about a future roadmap, is that often we have lost that childhood ability to contemplate technology that doesn’t exist yet.  

“We all are futurists – humans are the only creatures living on the earth with the ability to plan the future. We have two different kinds of development: Incremental innovation – improving an existing product, which is about 99% of technological advancement; then you have disruptive development. But can you really predict the future? If you combine linear and exponential logical theories, then I believe you can. 

“The future is man-made, not something we have to run into and deal with. The 2020s are a wonderland for all those who are curious, who are entrepreneurs, who are adventurous, who want to be part of it. It is also the hour of the engineer, who know how these things will work. We are seeing a shift to those who understand technology, who understand what people need, and who can apply these technologies to the way we live and work,” he summarised.  

Marco Einhaus, Head of Subcommittee Building Construction, Berufsgenossenschaft, talked about the factors involved in ensuring MEWPs are safe to use. He began by pointing out upcoming changes to European machinery directives and highlighted the statistically higher incidence of problems with smaller truck or trailer-mounted booms. 

He focused on the causes of accidents that should be addressed, including the catapult effect and machine overturns – “How much has changed in preventing these incidents in the past ten years, since I presented on this same topic at IPAF’s Europlatform in Madrid in 2010? How can we stop these incidents occurring?” 

He said insurance companies could use special risk-assessment forms that employers must provide if workers are asked to do something that is normally forbidden, such as exiting the platform at height. “In the construction industry IPAF’s PAL Card is very well known, but sometimes it is harder to bring the training to specialist trades such as steel workers or carpenters,” he noted. 

Susan Xu, CEO – Sinoboom Intelligent Equipment, spoke on advances in artificial intelligence. Sinoboom has been utilising “intelligent manufacturing” techniques for many years, helping to achieve annual production of more than 10,000 units.  

She talked the delegates through some of the automated processes and delivery around the production plant that have helped Sinoboom increase output and productivity, including tracking of materials and components as they flow through the production plant, saying “the entire operation runs in a smooth and efficient way”. 

“AI is not an enemy, it just means that humans are not necessarily required to work on the shop floor or the production line, and can be utilised elsewhere in the company,” she concluded. “This also means that we may be able to remove the need for human labour in situations that are dangerous, for instance cleaning windows on skyscrapers, which can be done using automated MEWPs.” 

Jürgen Küspert, Managing Director, Bundesverband der Baumaschinen-, Baugeräte- und Industriemaschinen-Firmen (BBI), gave an overview of the German construction market, beginning on the issues with inflation having a negative effect on German GDP at least in the first quarter of 2023. There is still a skills shortage and two people leave construction for every one person coming in, he said.  

“The German equipment rental market is fragmented and competitive; the vast majority of companies are relatively small, with 58% of total revenue coming from firms with under €1m annual turnover. This fragmentation is a result of the highly decentralised nature of Germany’s construction market, where almost 90% of the contracting firms employ fewer than 19 people,” he concluded, suggesting that through greater collaboration, such as local or regional ‘associations’, some of the challenges of the fragmented nature of the market could be overcome. 

Kate Bell, Head of UK Training & Partnerships, and Alana Paterson, Head of HSE – Nationwide Platforms, jointly presented on the importance of accident reporting and innovation in training. Kate kicked off by outlining a useful acronym based on her name – Knowledge, Attitude, Training and Experience – “training comes as standard when we think about MEWP operators, but how do we record operator competence? Why do we only have one trained manager for every 94 trained operators?” she asked.  

Alana talked about innovation through collaboration, and the initiatives that Nationwide has led on including the post-pandemic return of its annual Working at Height Best Practices Convention, developing secondary-guarding devices to help prevent entrapment and crushing incidents, and falls from the platform – “the number one cause of fatalities while using MEWPs, which we think we can do more to prevent” – through innovations such as the company’s Harness ON intelligent anchor system.  

Ángel Ibáñez, IPAF MCWP Global Representative, and Kevin O’Shea, Director of Safety – Hydro Mobile, talked about how in 2022, IPAF moved rapidly to co-ordinate a response to an industry safety alert that effectively grounded around 80% of the UK mast-climbing work platform (MCWP) rental fleet.  

After several high-profile accidents in which workers were killed or injured, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a safety alert in May 2022, raising a question over the safety of certain types of machines. Kevin said: “Regulatory bodies such as the HSE or OSHA in the US are more comfortable talking to non-profit organisations like IPAF than to those with commercial interests.”  

Angel outlined how the HSE alert had global implications, referencing for instance EU safety standards: “In some ways the safety alert was not clear, leading to questions that needed to be answered. We managed to bring the whole industry together quickly to work together to resolve these problems.” 

Kevin continued: “We had to minimise the initial impact, work with manufacturers to improve safety of their machines where necessary, help rental fleets get back up and running again, and ensure that as an industry we were in a stronger position to influence safety alerts in future.” 

Katrin Blau, IPAF Audit Manager, and Romina Vanzi, IPAF Head of Regional Development & MCWPs, talked about building diverse teams: “Diversity is not only about gender,” said Romina. “Most times diversity is an asset, but sometimes there are challenges, not least when people have different points of view.” 

Katrin added: “Our lives are influenced by confirmation bias. Why is this a problem? People can make poor judgments if they are over-confident in their opinions. We see this in the political arena with the negative influence of ‘fake news’, for instance.” 

Romina said: “Leaders must prepare the ground for diversity – it is going to happen. It’s not about quotas, though, it should still be a meritocracy. I use the acronym ACT: Acknowledge you have a bias; challenge it; train your brain to do this all the time.” 

The Summit concluded with a panel session, the panel consisting of Alice Henault, Strategy & Development Director – Loxam; Karin Nars, Managing Director – Dinolift & IPAF President; Oana Samoila, Key Accounts Sales Manager – Almac-Italia; Carolin Winkel, Director of Strategy & CSR – Zeppelin Rental; and chaired by Julie Houston-Smyth, Sinoboom’s UK & Ireland Regional Manager and Director of Lolex Ltd, who started by asking: “Did you know that women at the top, are more likely to attract women across all levels of a business?” 

Karin responded: “We are making ourselves visible, and only when we do this do things start happening. I really like JLG setting a perfect example by sending an all-female delegation here to this conference.” 

Alice said: “We need to measure how many women we have within our companies. Not only women in top management positions – it’s good to have board members and CEOs, but also great to have women as managers, as experts at all levels. We should act now and make changes little by little, not wait for ‘big bang’ change.” 

Carolin said that if she could change just one thing, it would be to foster “more acceptance of diversities of people and ideas, which brings about more creativity.” 

Oana added that she felt as an industry “we are missing young people and should make it much easier for younger people to get into our industry. If we are missing young people now, then what will the industry look like in ten years’ time? We need to allow new people coming into our industry to educate us on technological change.” 

Karin Nars, IPAF President, offered her closing comments: “Safety is never an end-game, it is a journey, and what we are doing here today, sharing ideas to increase safety, is important. When safe work practices happen when no-one is looking, that is when safety has become part of the culture.” 

In parallel to the first part of the afternoon session, there was a breakout featuring key speakers sharing insights into the evolution, innovation, and developments in the MCWP and construction hoist industry. The event attracted industry professionals, manufacturers, and stakeholders from around the world. 

Romina Vanzi, IPAF’s Head of Regional Development and MCWPs, kicked things off with an informative presentation on IPAF and MCWP/Hoist industry over the past 40 years, covering the historical developments over the past four decades, and highlighting IPAF’s role in promoting safety, training, and good practice. 

Next, Peter Lindelöf, Business Development Manager Digitalisation & Regional Divisional Manager Nordics of Alimak Group, gave a presentation on innovation as a competitive advantage from a manufacturer perspective, in which he discussed the latest digitalisation trends in the construction sector and how Alimak is embracing and leading change and how it contributes to improved efficiency, productivity, and safety in the sector. 

With 30 years’ experience in the hoist industry, Kirsty Archbold-Laming, Managing Director of Southern Hoist, one of the leading hoist rental companies in the UK, and Chair of the UK CPA’s Construction Hoist Interest Group (CHIG), presented a compelling case study on the evolution of the construction hoist industry in the UK, touching on industry developments, challenges, and future prospects, shedding light on the role of technology, regulation, training and cross-industry co-operation. 

Then Martin Wraith, IPAF Rental+ Scheme Manager, shared insights into IPAF Rental+ and its potential within the MCWP/hoist market. He highlighted the benefits of the scheme, including enhanced quality, standardisation, and improved safety. The scheme has played a crucial role in elevating industry standards and promoting responsible rental practices, and the benefits can be extended to MCWPs and hoists. 

Finally, the speakers joined a panel session moderated by Euan Youdale, and engaged in a discussion on the importance of collaboration, innovation, and training and addressed challenges and emerging trends in the industry, such as the integration of digital technologies, impact of regulatory frameworks in different regions of the world, and the need for standardised training. They emphasised the importance of adopting a proactive approach to safety and continuous development of industry standards. 

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