Highways England has approved the use of an American-made scraping machine to remove road surface membranes instead of using a standard hydraulic excavator.
Highways England says that it has invested £650,000 into the development of the new Deck Scraper vehicle, made by Minneapolis-based National Flooring Equipment.
The Deck Scraper uses a blade to shave off the asphalt membrane, making it much quieter than a steel-toothed excavator bucket hacking at it.
Its adoption in the UK is down to Kier Highways and its subcontractor Currall Lewis & Martin (CLM) Construction, which is based in Oldbury.
Waterproof membranes are routinely used on structures such as bridges and underpasses to help protect the structure from corrosive damage caused by winter gritting operations.
It has to be removed to undertake concrete repairs, re-waterproofing and resurfacing and this is traditionally done with an excavator.
As well as the environmental impact of current methods such as dust and noise, there is a greater risk to the workforce using heavy plant often in a small area. The Deck Scraper is smaller than a standard excavator and does not need an arm or a bucket. It also gives the operator 360-degree visibility, Highways England said.
Kier Highways senior project manager Mark Sheppard said: “This was an interesting opportunity to develop a prototype specifically designed to make the task of waterproof membrane removal techniques more efficient, cost effective and better for the environment.
“By working with our design partners CLM and specialist manufacturer National Flooring Equipment, the project has culminated in the production of a method far removed from the existing techniques which are quite brutal and can often introduce additional damage to bridge decks as well as being extremely noisy and dusty.
“And we have been able to do that without compromising quality, output or negatively impacting on road users.”
Following two years of development and having undergone testing in the US, final trials were carried out at Kier’s depot in Telford and the machine can now be taken to the market by National Flooring Equipment.
Highways England contributed to the cost of developing the Deck Scraper through its £30m-a-year designated funds programme, ring-fenced for supporting innovation.
Highways England innovations lead for the midlands, Lisa Maric, said: “Current methods to remove the waterproof layer are quite antiquated with environmental issues and some risk to the workforce. We wanted to develop a unique machine that would be more efficient and improve the safety of road workers while easing the impact on the environment and communities.
“Instead of essentially using a steel bucket with teeth to remove the membrane, we can use a blade to simply peel it off – quietly, effectively and without damaging the road which will also save time and money.
“It is anticipated that thanks to the Deck Scraper, this method will now set the benchmark expected for membrane removal throughout the country.”