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CONFERENCE - TCI (Tree Care Industry) EXPO 2019 - Trip Report

November 26, 2019

“Got a Bucket Truck?”

In a room full of tree care specialists at the November 2019 Tree Care Industry Expo in Pittsburgh the answer was usually “yes”, or “a few”, or “a few…thousand”.

Once we got talking buckets, we quickly discovered that tracked lifts were either their newest purchase, or first on their wish list.

The name didn’t matter, Spider Lift, Tracked Lift or Compact Lift, the feeling was the same, they either had one, or wanted one. While compact tracked lifts are relatively new to the North American market, they have a long history in Europe where the tight spaces of very old streets and passages are more common. It was not surprising that a few of the companies were from Canada and beyond.

At this year’s show we counted at least 8 companies showing tracked lifts of some kind, likely making that the largest category of powered products at the expo.

TCI Magazine probably saw this coming and featured a compact lift on the cover this month to call attention to this must-read cover story about the challenges of safely working with compact lifts. The compact lift conversations were all around us, and the TCI Expo was clearly the place to get all of your questions answered.

Safety Talk

While the lifts dominated the powered product category, safety talks, clinics and demonstrations accounted for a full half of the 40 standing-room only sessions at the expo. Seeing the seats filled around center stage clearly created a feeling that there is a shared culture of safety and respect among attendees at this expo. Presenter Mac Swan even delivered a session recognizing the importance of creating and supporting a safety culture within a company. He stressed that leadership can and should take the lead on that.

Where Was the New Technology Based Safety Technology?

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While we did notice a few sessions dedicated to updates in safety practices like the New School Aerial Rescue session, from what we could see, Recon Dynamics we may have been the only new technology-based advancement in safety at the show. Recon had its relatively new wireless Aerial Harness Training system and level truck sensor on display.

The Aerial Harness is a Buckingham-made smart lanyard that connects wirelessly to a 125dB alarm that goes off if the bucket is going up and a lanyard is not attached. It’s like a seatbelt alarm in a car.

Movement sensors in the system also keep tabs on whether or not the truck is remaining level. It will sound an alarm if the truck leans beyond 5 degrees.

Events like pre-flights and movements are tracked, captured and visible via Tableau-powered software on a phone, tablet or computer.

This data can be the source of new safety insights and is critical to maintaining and capturing the benefits of a strong safety culture.

Most people admitted, if not in their words spoken, but in their body language, that they have been up in their bucket without being clipped in. It happens. Workers get busy. Conditions are noisy, distracting and dangerous in so many other ways. This lanyard and the connected system of sensors is the first step to moving towards the goal of zero bucket ejections in a year.

Using Technology to Grow Profits (to buy that new lift?)

Roughly 10% of the exhibitors this year were categorized as "tech" based companies meaning not yellow iron, hand tools, clothing, climbing equipment or education. Of those in the tech category, more than half of them were considered business support services that help tree care companies to run their businesses more efficiently and more profitably, hopefully leaving a bit more in the budget for that new spider lift.

These companies help to find clients, manage clients, monitor urban trees, and optimize fleets with GPS and driver behavior tracking. Technology in the tree care industry is beginning to help companies of all sizes make more money without hiring more people or working any harder.

Two examples were Pittsburgh-based Davey Tree and PlanIt Geo.  Both showcased their full suite of GPS mapping and consulting along with their range of urban tree software offerings, demonstrating the best in the business and hinting that the best is yet to come.

GPS fleet tracking and onboard telematics are certainly being used but with the exception of our own smart tool tags, there was little talk of using technology to manage the utilization and maintenance schedules of tree care equipment. We expect this to change dramatically by this time next year and look forward to bringing our expertise and profit generating systems to this industry.

The other half of the tech companies were either marketing or education.

Three Days. Three Crowds.

In closing, our last observation was that the people from day to day seemed different. Whether you are planning to be an exhibitor or to attend the event in the future, our observation was that the first day, Thursday, had more people from large companies. Friday was a mix of the big guys, some smaller companies and students. The final day, Saturday, not surprisingly, seemed like people from small family run companies.

The session schedule did not seem to reflect these differences, so maybe it was just a coincidence, but it’s worth asking around if you are looking for a specific audience next time around.

Bottom Line

Our first TCI Expo experience felt like this: Safety. Safety. Safety. Revenue. Operational Intelligence. Safety. Profits.

We hope to see you next time.

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