Pothole plan could help to fill huge gap in market
Ireland's back roads are famous for their potholes. Indeed, we are possibly the only country in the world where "pothole candidates" have been elected to parliament on the back of road fixing promises.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by this, considering that one in every six cars has been damaged by potholes.
Apart from motorists with broken springs, potholes cost county councils and the National Road Authority a fortune in road repairs every year.
Appropriately enough, an Irish company, Archway Products who are based in Co Leitrim, have invented a machine which is set to remove the blight once and for all, and in the process become a huge export earner.
Liam McNamee used to specialise in manufacturing bale wrapping and handling equipment for farmers. However, his patented Roadmaster Patcher is set to transform his fortunes.
The vehicle, which costs €250,000, has an automatic hopper and a robotic arm retrofitted on to the front of a flatbed Volvo truck, and can patch up roads in a fraction of the time using just one man, the driver.
On average it costs €60 to fix a one metre square pothole. In stark contrast the Roadmaster Patcher can do the same job for €8.
Although it took years to develop, Cork Co Council has now bought seven of them. Elsewhere, local authorities all across Britain are now inundating Liam McNamee's company with enquiries about the novel machines.
To repair a pothole, workmen with shovels and spades normally cut out a square hole around the crater with an angle grinder, dump the excess material and then fill the hole in with tarmac and gravel. Afterwards they roll the patch to compress the filling.
The Roadmaster Patcher, which is nicknamed the Dalek because of the robotic arm in front, automatically fills the potholes with an air-blown bitumen compound of tar and fine gravel, which is fed to the arm via the onboard hopper.
Liam McNamee takes up the story: "Normally, to fill a pothole you would have a gang of lads with tar and chips. With Roadmaster Patcher the cab driver does it all. He doesn't have to grab a shovel. He can move the robotic arm remotely from the cab with great precision using a joystick."
"It is a one-man job, and within two to three minutes you are on to the next job. It is very fast and the repair will last about six years.''
To ensure a lasting repair, the Roadmaster Patcher pothole filler uses crushed rock chips of a fine 6mm grade, which prevents voids forming which allow rainwater to seep in and accumulate.
Liam Mc Namee, who has an engineering and farming background, worked for many years as a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture.
As a hobby he was interested in building machines and in 1990 he took early retirement and set up Archway Products in Carrick-on-Shannon. He started out manufacturing agricultural equipment and later decided to design and patent a road maintenance machine.
"It took six or seven years to get it to the point where it is at now. Cork Co Council has seven Roadmasters and they are thinking of buying three more. Tipperary Council has three and most of the other counties have one or two machines," explains Liam.
With the equipment thoroughly road tested in Ireland, Liam McNamee has now decided to start exporting. "People don't just kick a tyre on this one and purchase – the buyers like to know that it actually works, from people who have used it successfully."
"There has been a huge interest in Britain, especially the past six months, and we have now sold seven machines there. At the moment we are also talking to people in Norway, and they are very interested."
"Due to the recession, more and more county councils are starting to see that this is viable. So it is a recession-friendly innovation, if you can say such a thing."
In Ireland, roads are resurfaced every six to eight years. However, in Britain it is once every 15 years, and in large parts of America the roads have not been resurfaced in over 20 years – so much so, the market for repairing potholed roads is vast. With this in mind, Liam McNamee has now developed a new filling material.
"We have a new patented material called Fibre Strand and it stretches rather than cracks and it is ideal for crocodile pattern cracks which you see on roads.
"In my day, when you had to fix a pothole you had failed. I am into preventative treatment – fix the crack before it gets bigger. Because once the water gets in, the frost will blow it out."
Archway Products currently employs 26 people. However, that number is set to grow if exports take off.
Sunday Indo Business