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EXCLUSIVE – Out of adversity

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown divided the business world into two distinct groups. There were those that cursed their misfortune and that just waited for the whole thing to blow over. But there were some that seized the opportunity to refocus, to regroup, and to look at how their company, their products and their services might be enhanced to meet the needs of customers in a post-lockdown world. One such company is East Yorkshire-based Aldercote Limited

When vehicle testing facilities across the UK closed due to the pandemic, the company set about bringing to market a product that had been on the drawing board for quite some time. That product is a pioneering, electric-powered, vehicle mounted access platform. And it has been developed to help telecommunications companies, local authorities, street lighting contractors, CCTV installers and other customers save money whilst simultaneously minimising their environmental impact.

“When COVID-19 first hit, it was a massive shock. But I thought we could work our way through the crisis,” recalls Aldercote managing rector David Dillon. But then the Government closed all the vehicle test facilities across the country. That meant we couldn’t register any vehicles for our customers. So there was no income coming in and nothing leaving the factory. The yard was just getting full of completed vehicles. We had to furlough the main production staff. The only option open to us was to look at the development of new things.”

Top of the list of “new things” was an electric-powered access platform, known internally as the Aldercote E-Drive system.

“Electric vans and trucks have started to come into the market. So we needed an electric-powered product to match those vehicles. We had been looking at this product for some time,” Dillon adds. “But it was only during lockdown that we had time to really concentrate on it.”

The initial driver behind the development was to create an electric platform to match with an electric base vehicle But it became clear that an electric solution offered even greater benefits than previously envisaged.

“Traditional diesel powered vehicles involved in lighting installation and maintenance, for example, spend a lot of their time idling, consuming fuel, creating emissions while basically achieving nothing. We worked with three of our street lighting contractor customers and we quickly figured out that they were spending more than £800 per year on each platform while idling,” Dillon explains. “That idling is also sending half a tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

The Aldercote solution is as simple as it is ingenious. The company already offers an electric back-up system for its diesel-fuelled platforms to ensure that an operator can be returned safely to ground level, even if the engine fails. “Even though our emergency system is unsuitable for full-time operation, we’re well versed in dealing with electric systems. But we needed something that was quieter, reliable, easy to maintain and that could be recharged on the go. We looked at a number of solutions including golf cart batteries but we actually ended up with standard car batteries from a well-known family car. That system is so efficient, it will complete 20 or more work cycles in a day without a recharge. And the system is recharged while the vehicle is moving so there is constantly a charge gong back into the batteries.”

The system was initially trialled on a 3.5 tonne Vauxhall Movano van but has since been utilised across a broad range of base units. In fact, battery technology has literally transformed the Aldercote business.

“I walked through the factory the other day and there was just a solitary diesel-fuelled vehicle in production. Everything else was running our E-Drive system,” Dillon continues. “I was expecting a degree of resistance from the market, but the response has been amazing. And while it was the need to reduce fuel costs and emissions that prompted us to develop the E-Drive system, it is the low noise levels that are proving to have the greatest customer appeal. With the platform in the air, the driver on the ground and the operator in the air can speak to each other without the need for walkie-talkies. Better still, as a lot of street lighting work takes place in an urban environment, the E-Drive platforms will not disturb local residents.”

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