Roads are our primary infrastructure. Without them, we’re not going anywhere, literally.
Keeping them open is vital to our economic health. As access routes for emergency services and conduits to work for essential workers, they are important to our physical health. They are a critical link in the supply chain too.
But maintaining the road network is an ongoing and expensive activity. For local authorities and road authorities keeping them in good repair – in all-weather – means identifying problems early and undertaking remedial work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As road authorities everywhere know, that is easier said than done. Ensuring a smooth ride for passengers and road freight is hugely challenging. In England alone, some 184,000 miles of roads are maintained by local authorities and across the UK it is estimated that a council fixes a pothole every 17 seconds.
Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s innovation agency, has a portfolio of client companies that can help with these challenges. They provide innovative technologies to make the road network more durable, reliable and, most important of all, safer.
It is vital work, which is why, even at the height of pandemic restrictions, the companies that help keep our roads safe and accessible are recognised as essential workers. The work they do helps other key workers get to work too, including emergency services.
But roadways contribute to the health of communities too, providing access and connectivity for both individuals and businesses, of the kind that help regions to thrive.
Indeed, the Government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’ depends on the kind of increased connectivity between key regions that good road networks provide.
After all, even in today’s hyper-connected, internet of things based 5G world, roads remain the primary building block of connectivity. Just ask the local courier, on whose ability to get from A to B so much of global eCommerce depends.
Ireland has a fleet of companies which specialise in making roads safer and more reliable. Many of them work with local authorities across the UK.
These include Archway Roadmaster which, as you’ll see from the adjacent case study, delivers high-quality spray injected patching vehicles. They are a single person operation and have come into their own in the pandemic, as social distancing is simply not a problem. The Roadmaster brings innovation and high quality to highways departments, which is why the company currently works with more than 60 UK local authorities and won a Causeway Award for Irish Exporter to Scotland award 2020.
Multihog’s vehicles offer a wide range of functions. The machine, which is distributed in the UK by Multevo, offers a range of different applications including snow clearance, grass mowing, road repair, brush cutting and weed control.
It’s already working with a third of all UK local authorities including Derby City Council, where it provides road repair services and is used to de-ice cycleways in winter. It even has a water pump that can help reduce the driver risks associated with flooding in times of severe wet weather.
Technology company RetroTek’s measurement systems allow road authorities and road maintenance contractors to survey the road network to ensure reflective markings are operating to required standards by both day and night.
It is of huge benefit to road authorities everywhere as it both supports road user safety and reduces the risk of legal liability issues. Lack of proper visibility impacts on a local authority’s ability to collect fine revenue.
RetroTek provides greater efficiencies too, being vehicle front-mounted rather than truck mounted. Its smart reporting software enables councils to survey more roadway, faster. This is because it can cover a stretch that would previously have taken two passes, in just one pass, cutting drive time by half and reducing a local authority’s carbon footprint.
IDASO makes traffic monitoring, surveying and data collection easier, again saving time and money, while producing greater insight. It helps local authorities to make better informed decisions in relation to strategic planning, traffic impact assessments and property management, by making it easier to assess the impact on traffic of new developments.
Through leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud-based software solutions, IDASO supply timely, accurate and understandable baseline data and has been working with Lancashire County Council.
This is just a snapshot of the Irish innovators helping to smooth the road ahead for councils all over the UK.
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Archway making inroads as UK authorities look to curb rising cost of pothole problem
One-man operation, advanced data capture and COVID-compliance among Irish-engineered Roadmaster’s singular capabilities
The UK’s chronic pothole problem remains a thorn in the side of local authorities, with hundreds of thousands of new cracks, craters and crevices appearing on the roads every year, costing millions in repair work – and even more in compensation pay-outs.
To address the issue, many UK councils and local authorities have turned to Irish engineering firm Archway, whose Roadmaster spray-injection patching machine has quickly become the market-leading solution to a wide range of road defects including potholes.
Founded in 1990, Archway is based in Carrick-on-Shannon in the north-west of Ireland, a part of the world all too familiar with heavy rain, cold winters and deteriorating road conditions.
In 2012, having made a name for itself in the Irish market, Archway embarked on a trade mission to Scotland organised by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency. One of the local authorities attending the event asked to trial an Archway Roadmaster for the summer, and the rest as they say…
‘That was our big breakthrough,’ says Robert Rowlette, Archway’s General Manager. ‘Once we got a foothold in the UK market, word began to spread among councils and local authorities about the Roadmaster’s unique capabilities.’
While spray-injection patching itself is not new, the machine is unique in a number of other ways.
‘The Roadmaster is alone in its class in that it’s a single-operator machine, operated from inside the cab, so you never have anybody on a live carriageway,’ says Rowlette. “This is a major safety benefit, especially in the UK where incidents involving road workers are unfortunately quite prevalent.
‘With the Roadmaster, you also get an advanced data capture service that adds huge value to the machine,’ he says. ‘If there’s a pothole that the local authority has been told about and somebody damages their vehicle as a result, the motorist can claim compensation and this is a significant annual cost.
‘With our system, we photograph the defect before and after the work has been completed so [authorities] have time-stamped, geo-positioned proof of the work having been carried out,’ Rowlette adds. ‘So, our product can also help to manage and minimise claims against councils and local authorities.’
The data service also includes a daily ‘Centaur’ report with details of when shifts started and finished, the nature of work that took place, materials used, compliance with health and safety requirements, risk assessments, and all the parameters needed to manage the programme.
‘Single-operator machines are also more cost-effective over their lifetime because of the lower labour costs,’ Rowlette adds.
In 2014, the Irish firm appointed a dedicated sales manager in the UK and the business has been on a rapid growth trajectory ever since. Today, Archway supplies machinery to around 60 local authorities across Scotland, England and Wales, and is one of the leading contractors in the UK.
With Brexit on the horizon, Archway has also taken all necessary steps to ensure its UK customers have nothing to worry about come January 2021.
‘As soon as the [Brexit] vote went through, we immediately established a UK association company to retain access to the public procurement market,’ says Rowlette. ‘We have also relocated our stock holding for spare parts and consumables to the UK, so if you order by 11am, nine times out of 10 you’ll have that part on site the next morning.
‘We have invested heavily to put all the structures in place so that our customers in the UK don’t have to concern themselves with the impact of Brexit when dealing with Archway,’ he says. ‘Are we ready? We’re there or thereabouts. We’re very confident in our preparations.’
While getting ready for Britain’s departure from the EU, Archway – like all businesses – has also had to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Of course, COVID has had an operational impact on us because of the restrictions,’ says Rowlette. ‘But the one-man nature of the Roadmaster means it can comply with social distancing requirements, so our customers can operate the machine safely while also complying with those restrictions. Demand for the product remains very strong.’
Archway was recently named ‘2020 Irish Exporter to Scotland of the Year’ by Causeway, an alliance of businesses in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and the company looks well placed to continue its expansion among local authorities across the UK.
‘They’re great to work with,’ says Rowlette of the firm’s growing portfolio of UK clients. ‘Extremely professional, quite demanding – same as ourselves – and generally very receptive to the solution we provide. We’re very proud of the reputation we’ve built here.’