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Applied Sweepers has launched a ride-on sweeper that looks set to take the marketplace by storm.
Oliver Dixon has driven it.
It is said that the Coca-Cola brand is the most recognized design on earth. Hardly surprising; in the same way as Transit has become 'man-in-the-street-speak' for panel van, so 'Coke' describes the contents of billions of bottles and cans consumed the world over.
And just what does this have to do with a precinct sweeper, you may ask. Simple; remember when Coca-Cola changed its recipe? A disaster ensued, and the company soon went back to the tried and the tested. Granted, Ford has revamped and redesigned aspects of the Transit over the last three decades, but the basic product has remained the same. The Ford Transit is now, and always has been, a van.
Applied Sweepers has, since 1965, been churning out its own iconic product from its Falkirk headquarters. The pedestrian-operated Green Machine is used worldwide, and, from a purely personal perspective, the only thought that crosses the LAPV mind when we, seemingly inevitably, bump into one on any of the five continents concerns surprise at the lack of an export award hanging in the Applied Sweepers foyer. The Green Machine can best be described as ubiquitous.
So it comes as something of a surprise to see the company adopting what looks to be a radical new approach to its business. Allan Galashan is nothing if not an innovator, and LAPV has got used to a regular flow of good ideas from Falkirk. Its "Parts-On-line" website initiative, the tie up with Heil to provide a class leading service network in the form of HS-AS; these are all products indicative of a company that chooses not to sit back for more than a minute. consider too the evolution of the Green Machine; constant improvement to the design has ensured regular sales, and a growing global market.
Which is why what fell out of the LAPV postbag came as something of a surprise. The brochure says '525 hi-speed green machine' on the cover, but of the traditional Green Machine, there is not a sign. Instead, staring back off the page is a compact ride-in precinct sweeper. Or so it seemed.
"It's a bit more than that" says Allan Galashan. "Much of Applied's success can be put down to keeping close to the market place, and identifying new trends. The 525 hi-speed is a machine designed for a market place that has evolved. Markets have their own dynamics, and they throw up niches from time to time. This machine has been designed to fill a niche that is growing both in size and in importance."
The quickest of glances at the specification underlines this comment. The 525 hi-speed Green Machine tips the scales at just under 2 tonnes, and boasts a payload of 450 kg, through a high tip hopper boasting a 0.750 cubic metres capacity. Joystick controls give a sweeping width ranging from 1.2 to 1.8 metres, and after passing through a variable speed suction shredder, collected material gets put through a Cyclonic primary dust seperator, a device more often seen on large quarrying plant, thus making end-of-day cleaning a simple task.
From this perspective, the 525 hi-speed is a high-end compact sweeper. But there is a bit more to this than meets the eye.
Over the past few years, there's been a trend for Local Authorities to sell off town centre depots, and to move out to the industrial areas. The trouble is the pavements and streets in the centre of town still need cleaning. Twenty years ago, the cleaner would walk out of his depot and straight onto his patch. Today, he's probably got a few miles journeybefore he gets down to business.
So what do you do? You could stick cleaner and machine in a van, and deliver him to his place of work. One job then requires two people, one van, one sweeper and, in all probability, a trailer to boot.
Alternatively you could raise the notion of the outdoor life, arm your man with a map, and preach the benefits of a daily ten-mile walk. Having proposed such, you then take 'your job' from where its been inserted, and 'phone the local Job Centre for another candidate.
One thing you can't do is leave the pavements and the streets unswept. The electorate starts to growl, the council gets an earful, and you get an asbestos memo.
Transit times are a big issue. Granted you could send a larger machine to do the work, and there's little doubt that the streets would glow with a commendable cleanliness as a result. Things start to look slightly tricky with the well-known litter trap that is the pedestrian underpass, and the sound of cracking paving slabs as a four tonne machine lumbers up through the precinct.
This is the niche to which Allan Galashan has addressed himself. The 525 hi-speed is a machine that can travel to the job at a nippy 20 mph, and, once there, do the work of a smaller walk-behind type machine such as the original Green Machine. It is, in other words, a hybrid.
The trouble with trying to be all things to all men is all too often you end up being not quite enough to anyone. this question will prove to be central to the success or otherwise of the 525 hi-speed.
Although sweepers of any size are ultimately designed to carry out the same task; namely to sweep and clean public areas, their respective designs have evolved along very different lines. Whether or not you can combine the two is a moot point.
Applied Sweepers looks to have done a pretty good job at taking the necessary elements from each genre, and combining them to produce a new breed of sweeping machine.
A 20 mph transit speed is eye-wateringly fast for a narrow (1100mm) machine. The prospect of it tipping over at the first example of over-enthusiastic cornering is an obvious problem.
Not to the Applied design team. Enter Vari-Trak, a beautifully simple solution that solves the stability at speed, productivity at work problem.
On the main control panel in the 525 hi-speed's cab is a rocker switch marked Transit and Sweep. Select the Transit mode, and the machine is limited to a 20 mph speed. (Up to 27 mph on unrestricted non-EU use machines). as you accelerate away, so the front axle expands outwards, from a narrowest track of 950mm out to a maximum of 1190mm. Stability is therefore markedly improved, whilst maneuverability isn't compromised.
Once you've arrived at the sweeping area, you select Sweep mode. This triggers deployment of the sweeping equipment, and limits the machine's road speed to around 8 mph. At the same time, the front wheels are pulled in-board to give a track of 950mm, returning the machine to its minimum working width of 1100mm.
And it's in Sweep mode that another of the 525 hi-speed's unique features sets it apart from the rest. The machine is driven via a continuously variable speed 4x4 hydrostatic drive, with the 31.3 bhp kubota D1105T three-cylinder turbocharged 1123 cc unit driving a hydraulic pump that, in turn drives hydraulic wheel motors coupled to each wheel. Four-wheel-drive allows the 525 to climb up slopes of up to 1:4, even in greasy conditions. Moreover, and probably more important, it also allows it to clamber up kerbs with consumate ease. This isn't just good news from the perspective of operator comfort; it also means that the perceived need to 'take a run' at the kerb is eliminated. How much damage is done by operators forcing machines up kerbs? Here, it's far less likely to be an issue.
In operation, the 525 hi-speed shows itself to be a class leader. Controls are simple. You can opt for automatic mode, and use the twin joysticks to control sweeping width, which runs from 1200mm to 1800mm. One foot on the throttle, and a hand on the steering wheel, and you're up and running. The full-length windscreen offers optimum vision in the sweeping zone, whilst the operator weight compensated seat, and the standard radio-CD player makes for a distinctly comfortable working environment. There's a two-speed heater fan, and the windscreen contains a heating element to facilitate rapid demisting and deicing. Air conditioning is an option, but the forward opening ventilation hatch on the roof and the innovative opening side windows will do much to reduce the heating effect of the large glass area.
There's a manual setting as well, which allows the operator to override machine-chosen settings should the environment require it. But many users are likely to tailor the automatic settings to suit their own needs.
This can be carried out because of the inclusion of the IQAN Electronic Machine Management Unit or MMU. This is the brain of the 525 hi-speed, and allows the machine to be programmed to suit individual operating conditions. Moreover, the IQAN's manufacturer, Parker Controls has now upgraded the available software for the on-board 525 IQAN system. Customers who order the machine fitted with a modem will not only be able to benefit from a service alert automatically transmitted by text message from the machine to the cleansing office computer.
There's little doubt that the 525 hi-speed Green Machine is a well-designed, beautifully built piece of equipment. We've driven it, and we're converted.
But the proof of the pudding is always going to be in the sales figures. The 525 hi-speed has been produced in response to a perceived shift in market conditions.
"We recently demonstrated a 424 machine to an organization that trialled it on residential footpaths where the amount of grit and general detritus made for heavy sweeping and fairly frequent plastic bag changes," explains Galashan. "Twelve years ago, it was sweeping this same residential street with the original 414 light duty petrol engined machine. The difference from 12 years ago is that the street is now swept on a bi-monthly frequency, whereas in the old days of the petrol machine, the same street was swept twice each week and the task was therefore relatively feather weight".
"Therefore, part of the market shift which has brought about the requirement for the 525 is the fact that CCT and Best Value has meant that sweeping frequencies have been restructured to basically get more for less. This means that some routes which were previously within the capacity of a pedestrian controlled machine have now fallen into a less frequently swept category and therefore the arisings are quite a bit heavier, necessitating collection into a conventional hopper with a conventional depot-tip system - demanding speed from site to tip".
It is hard to disagree with this assertion. It also justifies Applied Sweeper's decision to opt for a high tip hopper collection system, rather than the wheeled-bin collection system preferred by other manufacturers.
"Whellie bins are good for what they're designed for," comments Galashan. "That's as a receptacle for domestic refuse. Sweeping machines work in all weather, and, as such, the weight of the detritus that they've collected can vary enormously. Using a wheelie bin may seem like an elegant solution, but the fact remains that when used in wet weather; when you can't legally drain collected water through holes in the bin base back onto the ground - or heavier sweeping, after a certain weight, they're liable to br damaged or challenge the operator's physique when handling the wheelie bin during removal for emptying.
"We've opted for a relatively high capacity hopper, which can be tipped straight into the back of an RCV or a skip. Moreover, with a transit speed of 20 mph, the operator can travel to and from a tipping site in a short time, thus ensuring continued productivity."
We like this machine. More pertinently, so do you, as Applied has already started to take firm orders despite the fact that the production line is still building demonstration models.
"We've tried to produce two machines for the price of one," says Galashan. "I'm expecting to lose around 30 per cent of our traditional walk-behind market to this machine, but I'm also expecting to nibble away at the lighter-duty end of the Compact machine market."
There's little reason to expect this not to happen. Applied Sweepers have designed a machine to meet a need. This is true Solutions-Based Engineering, and one that we expect to be greeted with considerable warmth by the marketplace. The entry of the 525 hi-speed Green Machine to be the municipal marketplace could prove to be one of the most significant launches of the last few years.