Local Authority Plant & Vehicles is the preeminent magazine for municipal and Government equipment buyers in the United Kingdom.
For subscription or other inquiries please contact the Publisher at: Hemming Group Ltd, 32, Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SS, England. Tel: (+44) 20-7973-6400 Fax: (+44) 20-7233-5053
Let's face facts. Keeping the streets clean is hardly rocket science. Your average precinct or shopping parade is either awash with fast food cartons, old bus tickets and the like, or it isn't. Clean or not clean are, at the end of the day, the two descriptions open to us.
While the result of a cleaning program should not be too difficult to gauge, the means by which those results can be produced, day in, day out, come rain or shine, snow or heat wave can vary immensely. From the chap with the bag, litter-picker and bored expression right through to the state of the art, all singing and dancing, bells and whistles-bedecked sweeping machine, one factor remains as a constant. Do the job badly, and your public will notice.
This leaves the manager in charge of the cleaning process in something of a quandary. Resources are limited, and there is only so much he can do, and more pertinently, spend, before other calls on his budget are made manifest. Therefore a cast of thousands operating throughout daylight hours is something of a non-starter. Alternatively, a fleet of the larger type of sweepers will prove to be very effective in pedestrian areas, save for one overriding problem. People and large machinery rarely mix together with anything close to a gratifying result, and so the all-important element of being seen to be on top of the job by your public will be lost. It's all well and good having an expensive cleaning operation working through the middle of the night, but, to the fickle council tax payer, the proof of money well spent lies in what he sees, not what he knows.
The premise behind the original product produced by Allan Galashan and Applied Sweepers in 1965 took the best from both ends of this spectrum, and offered the cleaning manager a portable, efficient machine, that was able to produce good results in pedestrian-dense environments. A development program that has covered the ensuing thirty-five years has kept the so-called Green Machine; a sobriquet bestowed upon the Applied product by the City of Melbourne in 1989, at the fore-front of the pavement sweeping market. However, times have changed. In the earliest years of the Applied Sweeper, the machines tended to be used only in high profile cleansing areas; outside the Town Hall, for example. During the 1980's, however, productivity became a more pressing issue. Machines that had, until then, been utilised almost on an ad-hoc basis were suddenly required to be in service for days at a time. Applied Sweepers approached this problem by moving over to the heavier duty, water-cooled Kubota diesel engine range, and, in 1992, developed the first of its "Fold & Stow" ride-on models. This latter development offered greater productivity in more open areas.
As the l990's drew to a close, one of the more frequently observed trends observed in United Kingdom Street Cleansing practice was a continuing shift, away from small, town centre-based depots and storage sheds to bigger, central depots, more-often-than-not sited away from the centre, and towards the outskirts of the city.
This presented something of a problem. With the bulk of Green Machines being pedestrian-operated, and with the ride- on models hardly geared for long distance commuting, there was an increasingly pressing need to develop some means of transporting the machine to where it was needed, and then back again.
Transport costs are not cheap. Tying up a driver, a van and a trailer merely in the role of supporting a couple of street sweeping machines could not be proposed as being, in the long term, acceptable either from an economic or a manpower perspective.
This left something of an awkward conundrum on the computer screens of the Applied Sweepers' design department. The Green Machine had, by now, sold in its thousands, with municipalities worldwide (72 per cent of Applied Sweepers' output goes overseas, a fact which remains strangely unrecognised by the Queen's Award for Export people) using them to good effect. Among its attributes were its size; it was small enough to deal with the nooks and crannies of pedestrian areas and pedestrian-friendly enough in its appearance not to upset the rate-payers after whom it was clearing up; and its productivity; it was big enough to cover an area traditionally cleaned by around six broom and bag workers.
Applied Sweepers first looked at the development of a small, four-wheeled "Mini Compact'' sweeper as a means to solving the transport problem. After all, by now, the company had an enviable pedigree in the business of producing elegant and efficient street cleansing solutions, and logic dictated that it would be possible to transpose this expertise across to a different type of machine.
This would no doubt have been the case, save for one thing. You can’t argue with gravity, and, add a small wheelbase to a relatively high centre of gravity, and you get problems. Put simply, any Mini Compact machine that was small enough to deal with the type of terrain which the pedestrian-operated Green Machine was coping with would inevitably suffer from stability problems, both on uneven surfaces and on road cambers during its journeys to and from its place of work. Moreover, much was now being made of the need for any municipal machine to be "Pedestrian Friendly" in appearance. The pedestrian-controlled Green Machine had a high level of public acceptance, being both quiet in operation, and small enough so as to not be out of place in pedestrian-occupied areas. For all that a Mini Compact machine would be fairly diminutive, the fact remained that the driver would be in a cab, and therefore remote from the public. This, it was felt, would be unacceptable, both from a safety and a public relations viewpoint.
Rather fortuitously, Applied Sweepers' design department were not the only people to be addressing this problem. Pedestrian sweeper productivity was also being studied, in very much a "Real World" situation, just across the North Sea.
The City of Amsterdam was one of the many municipalities to use the Applied Sweepers Green Machine, and had added to its fleet on a regular basis. By 1999, 17 sweepers were in use in the City.
These machines were based at a central depot, and had, for the previous five years, been moved around their operating areas by means of 17 individual electric trucks. The City of Amsterdam was now faced with the replacement, not just of the Green Machines, but also of their attendant mules and, understandably, was not looking forward to the bill.
The City’s cleaning department had already compared the performance of a number of mini-compact sweepers, but, like the Applied Sweepers' designers, had run up against the fact that they were inherently unstable. Hence, operators were restricted to an operational speed limit of around five miles per hour, and productivity was at risk.
Rather fortuitously, the requirements cited by the City of Amsterdam were almost identical to those being discussed at Applied Sweepers' Falkirk head office. Essentially, the proposed specification boiled down to an ability to transit from depot to job at a minimum speed of ten miles per hour, with a high degree of security, stability and operator comfort. This latter point also demanded the inclusion of an optional clip-on foul weather cab.
Moreover, when the new Ride-On machine had reached its destination, there existed, so it was argued, the occasional need for the Ride-On module to be unhitched, thereby allowing the operator the total operating flexibility which was already offered by the standard walk-behind model. A few months later, the Applied Sweepers 424 HS (High Speed) Green Machine broke cover.
Like all of the Applied Sweepers’ product range, the 424HS is something of a head-turner, its good looks having much to do with the retention of one Dawson Sellar, ex of Porsche as a design consultant.
Although it is the new rear Ride On module that gives the 424HS much of its character, it’s well worth revisiting the specification of the front, or business end of the machine.
The fact that Applied Sweepers' products are in use with just about every local authority in the United Kingdom suggests that they come up to scratch. The company's overriding priority is the safe operation of the machine for both the operator and the public in the sweeping area. For instance, the safety impeller fitted as standard equipment pulverises glass and hypodermic needles so the operator can safely dispose of the debris collected, at no risk to himself.
A number of additional options are also available. These include a snowplough, large capacity leaf bags, voice message loudspeaker and specified body colours.
The build quality of the Green Machine is excellent. The impeller casing is constructed from tough lock formed stainless steel with 6mm replaceable wear-plates, which are available in optional hardened alloy. The impeller is formed up out of six steel blades with reinforced blade leading edges. Again, these are offered with optional hardened alloy steel blades. Applied Sweepers offers a lifetime warranty against the wear of these components.
The Ride-On module is attached to the prime mover by way of an articulated coupling. This locks down in order to reduce articulation through the vertical plane, thereby increasing high-speed stability. As an additional safety feature, the front sweeping gear is raised during the transit mode, reducing the likelihood of brushes snagging.
The rear unit sits upon twin 5.00 x 8 wheels with independent suspension. The operator sits an adjustable automotive-type sprung seat, and the module boasts height-adjustable handles and foot plate. In the case of the latter, it is good to see that it is nigh on impossible for the operator's feet to come between both units, as the join is complete.
Located at the back of the Ride-On unit is a capacious locker that offers stowage space for full bags. This is an important feature, from both a productivity perspective, and an aesthetic one. After all, there is precious little point in sweeping the streets if all that is going to happen to the collected litter is that it will lie by the gutter until collection. Offering this facility makes the 424 HS machine entirely self contained.
The entire modus operandi of the 424 HS machine is to provide a productive machine which reduces costs as far as possible without impinging on Applied Sweepers' already excellent record for getting the job done.
We are impressed. The 424 HS offers that rarity; an excellent compromise. Not only do you get the proven productivity of the other Applied Sweepers' products; you also get a degree of self-containment. Moreover, operator acceptance should be high; something which is becoming increasingly important. Applied Sweepers' equipment is on display in towns and cities across the planet. As a company, it offers a supreme example of that oft-quoted virtue, the solutions-based design ethic. The 424 HS has taken an already good idea, and extended it further.
Applied Sweepers has dominated the Street Cleansing market across the globe since its first machine saw light of day in 1965. Now, as productivity pressures increase, and fleet managers are faced with a requirement of maximum utilisation, the Falkirk-based company has launched a new generation of Ride-On Green Machines. Has Applied Sweepers re-defined the agenda it set thirty-five years ago?