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FALCON Automated Cone Laying Machine completes on-road trials

Highway Care’s FALCON Automated Cone Laying Machine (ACLM) is the first of its kind to successfully complete both off and on-road trials as part of Highways England’s Innovation project and is now endorsed for use on the strategic road network (SRN). The FALCON ACLM started its on-road journey with Kier Area 9, with Kier also acting as the project management lead, before operating on the M4 through support from Balfour Beatty Vinci JV and Chevron Traffic Management, finally heading back to Area 9 where it completed its remaining testing.

Top line FALCON ACLM live-lane closure stats

  • Successfully completed 220 km of live lane trials

  • Over 50 solo-operator shifts completed, and total of 69 live lane closures

  • Over 210t of cones handled during live-lane trials

  • Average 176 cones per closure/shift, equating to approximately 3.18 Km per shift at a spacing of 18 metres

Overall FALCON ACLM total stats

  • Over 57,000 cones deployed

  • Over 756km of lane closed – proven durability

  • Over 744t of cones deployed

Commenting on the completion of testing,

Martin Bolt, Highways England, Head of Lean and Continuous Improvement, said:

“The completion of the on-road performance and reliability testing is another significant step in the transition from manual cone laying to an automated process. The reduction in risk of injury to two crew members over that distance and with that volume of cones is the reason why this project is so important.

“To see the vehicle complete the testing against the minimum requirements is a proud moment for us all and allows Highway Care to move into a first production run. I look forward to seeing the first batch on the Highways England network later in the year.”

So far, in completing the on-road live testing proving performance, durability and safety tests, over 24,000 live traffic cone cycles, across 216 km of live lane closures have been achieved in addition to almost 60,000 cone cycles from driver training, testing and off-road trials in 12 months.

The overall figure totals over 756km of lane closure which is further than the distance from London to Basel, where the first protype of the FALCON ACLM was built. This also equates to an average of 260 shifts completed in total and over 50 solo-operator shifts, which amounts to 52 weeks of reduced risk for two operatives and therefore less musculoskeletal injuries and lower risk of series injury from falling from a traffic management vehicle or the danger of working next to live traffic.

According to Highways England, an average 1m high cone weighs approximately. A typical 4km closure involves putting down – and later removing – approximately 260-300 cones, meaning that two workers will both handle between five-six tonnes per shift in cones alone.

One of the criteria for the new automated cone laying machine, is that it must be able to lay/collect a minimum of 400 cones at a rate of one every 10 seconds. When additional equipment such as frames, signs, lamps, sand bags are factored in, it is not unreasonable for workers to lift between eight and 10 tonnes per shift in total. A single kilometre of coning takes approximately 15 minutes to install and remove, resulting in an exposure time to live traffic of approximately two hours per shift, says Highways England.

To date, ergonomics experts have struggled to identify a suitable method of placing and removing cones that doesn’t have an impact on workers due to the twisting of the body required and environmental conditions that the work is undertaken in.

The project, which has been led by Highway Care, in partnership with Kier and funded in part by the Highways England Innovation fund, has been a real triumph in collaboration with not only these organisations both also other supply chain partners coming together as Tom Tideswell, Head of Innovation, Kier Highways explained:

“Over the last few months, the FALCON ACLM has been progressing to meet the reliability criteria of deployment/retrieval 24,000 cones without failure. It started in Kier Area 9 to capture performance in a maintenance arena. The FALCON ACLM was then trialled on the M4 Smart Motorway Project with Chevron and Balfour Beatty Vinci to test its capabilities for a typical major projects scheme. It then returned to Area 9 with Kier to conclude the cone count requirements.

To facilitate this collaboration between all parties has been essential to ensure this key element of the Highways England Innovation Project is achieved.”

But the project has not been without challenges, most recently through the global Covid-19 pandemic as Mr Tideswell continued;

“Training has been a particularly hard obstacle to overcome but was delivered efficiently and safely ensuring Covid precautions were always in place and adhered to. it is a true testament to what can be achieved when working together in our industry.”

But perhaps the greatest sense of pride has to come from Ben Duncker, Business Development Director at Highway Care, who has had more than a passing interest in the concept of automating the process of traffic management deployment. He said:

“We’re immensely proud of what has been achieved over the last 12 months, and since the conception of the project over 2 years ago. We managed to put together a fantastic team of people, and business, whom have enabled and supported this project, from start to finish, to achieve this hugely successful outcome.

To go from concept, to prototype, then into testing and final achieve a successful review by Highways England’s NSCRG allowing the system to be deployed on the SRN, whilst overcoming various challenges, all during COVID, and within 24 months has been a massive effort. But one we have met head on with the clear objective to succeeding in improving safety for road workers for many years to come.”

During the remainder of 2021, Highway Care and its partners will continue to work on delivery of the Pilot Fleet.

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