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Walking away with the market
Michael McRitchie finds the top-selling Green Machine pedestrian sweeper a versatile tool for street cleansing, not least due to a dog clean-up attachment which is equally useful for cleaning up human waste - a grim commentary on our 24-hour society.
It is almost a decade since CCT and rising standards in street cleansing forced the widespread introduction of machines to replace the man with the brush.
Brooms, shovels and handcarts have given way to a new generation of vacuum sweepers which seem to be falling into four categories, the 11/13 tonne machine for highway use, the 7.5 tonne midi for non-LGV operation, the precinct sweeper, and the pedestrian operated.
These in turn are challenged by an increasing tide of litter as our 24-hour society eats on the move and drops packaging, uneaten food and worse wherever it is passing. The plastic pizza box is a good test for any sweeper.
It is fair to say that the big machines make an important contribution to public health and most big cities daily collect a tonne or two of putrescible waste from their streets. But heavy vehicles with moving parts do not mix well with pedestrians, and as more and more urban areas become pedestrianised the clear need emerged for a machine to clean them.
Enter Applied Sweepers of Falkirk, whose pedestrian operated sweeper was the right machine at the right time. Like the mini-excavator, many saw it as something of a toy and used it for token cleanup around the town hall. But today the Green Machine, greatly improved and more versatile than it was a few years ago, is to cleansing contractor as Hoover is to housewife. Applied claim to command 90% of the UK market, and exported 78% of their production last year despite the strength of sterling.
Applied began trading in 1965 and the first simple machines had Villiers engines, the company trying Kohler and Honda before plumping for Kubota's twin-cylinder diesel in 1992. Customers have contributed to the machine's steady improvement down the years, requesting features such as wander hose, stowable operator's seat, and the latest rapid transit HS which has a travel speed of 10 mph, twice that of the pedestrian version.
Applied Sweepers national sales manager John Hunt says that the HS version has developed because many authorities have moved to suburban depots from city center sites. This freed up valuable land but required transporters for the sweeping machines, transporters which often could not enter pedestrian zones during the day.
Achieving 10 mph required much more than raising the gearing. The sweeping gear is raised for travel, and a pitch lock automatically engages to prevent fore and aft 'nodding' movement. higher speed also requires brakes at the wheel hub, not on the transmission. It also needs a floor pan, full lighting system, mirrors and a beacon.
The two-wheel trailer with its suspension seat turns the machine into a four-wheeler liable for road tax at £100 instead of the £60 tricycle, and its operator must have a group B1 car licence. Pedestrian operators need a K (mower) licence.
Much effort was expended on the Construction and Use Regulations - one licensing authority initially ruled that the HS was a small articulated vehicle, because it was hinged in the middle. And a police force became very excited because operators on the tricycle version were not wearing crash helmets and the four-wheelers had no seat belts, requiring Applied to get a ruling from the highest level that neither helmet nor belt were required.
However, Amsterdam got its HS machines, as have many local authorities in britain, the latest being 15 for the London Borough of Bexley, and 10 for Lewisham.
Other features on the versatile Green Machine are a sad reflection on our changing society. Last year's Dog Excrement Attachment (DEA) comprises a wander hose through which deposits are sucked into a plastic bag within a stainless steel container. a disinfectant pressure spray gives a final cleanup.
This option is proving equally efficient for the collection of human waste. As clubs and pubs close in the small hours, many patrons emerge the worse for wear. The DEA will clean up vomit which is often down walls, as well as other deposits in doorways. The shelters along seaside promenades also require frequent attention. John Hunt uses a can of vegetable soup for a convincing demonstration.
He also says that while most authorities are increasingly encountering these grim problems, the DEA is cost effective in its original purpose.
"Why have someone running around on a dedicated machine looking for dog excreta when he could be sweeping as he goes?" he says.
A less obvious hazard is the hypodermic syringes now commonly found in nightlife areas. These are collected by the brushes, and shattered as they pass through the impeller, as are bottles and cans - increasing safety as well as reducing volume.
The 479cc Kubota diesel produces 12 bhp for RS, 14 bhp for HS models, and will run up to 10 hours on its 9.4 litre fuel tank. Lubricating oil is used in both engine and hydraulic system to avoid mistakes when topping up. Service is not difficult but essential on any hard-working machine. The sweeper itself needs to be washed out, while the fabric bag around the plastic waste bag acts as a filter and must be kept clean. Problems with some earlier units were down to poor maintenance - an example being the authority which kept to a light duty eight week inspection while double shifting its machines seven days a week. Applied employ 33 service engineers to support their machines in the U.K.
The variable speed 43cm diameter poly brushes give a sweep width to 1.14m. Waste goes into a 70-litre plastic bag which is easy to swing out and remove. Water sprays can be selected on brushes or into the bag, depending on the job.
I found the Green Machine easy to operate. The latest version is well balanced, quiet and smooth, though swinging any of these machines round obstacles and into doorways isn't as easy as it may seem, especially to those who take power steering for granted. It's fair to say there is a knack to it.
All these machines are heavy, but much less likely to damage paved areas than the precinct sweeper on its small wheels with high point loadings. It's clear, too, that the pedestrian sweeper is readily accepted during the day, when the precinct machine is not.
The new trailer with suspension on both axle and seat is much better than the early version, which I found bumpy and difficult to steer. Both control bar and floor pan are adjustable for height, important when the operator needs leverage to turn. Hop off the seat if necessary, and the machine can be turned in its own length. Applied say that productivity can be more than doubled when riding rather than walking.
You can even have a clip-on cab which gives adequate weather protection even without the side screens. This is another requested feature from owners who operate some distance from their depots.
With all these options, why not produce an ultra-compact sweeper? Well, Mr. Hunt says that the top of the line 424HS with every option is still half the price of a precinct sweeper. Anothe problem is that cabbed machines with very small wheelbases tend to be top-heavy, and have no rear vision.
"There are several small cab machines on the market, and it doesn't make sense to produce yet another. Over the years we have found that our customers want performance, reliability and service backup. Everything we do is geared to meeting those requirements."
Beyond that, he won't be drawn on the next generation of Applied Sweepers except to say that major developments are in the offing, and that he is confident that the company will maintain their 35-year lead.