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Cone Alone

21 Sep 22 Balfour Beatty has put the UK’s first automatic cone-laying machine to work on its M25 maintenance contract. David Taylor reports

Automatic cone-laying machines are set to become a regular feature of highways maintenance contracts following news that the first specialised vehicle has been given UK regulatory approval.

The Falcon ACLM automated cone laying machine has been rolled out by Balfour Beatty’s Connect Plus Services consortium which is responsible for maintenance on the M25 for National Highways.

Cone-laying is essential to delineate traffic during routine road maintenance work, Balfour Beatty points out. It is also one of the riskiest duties for workers and is implicated in several accidents every year.

Traditionally, cones are laid out manually by workers riding in the back of a slow-moving truck, usually in proximity to live traffic. The Falcon ACLM, built on a Scania low-entry L-series chassis, is designed to reduce the risk of accidents by minimising the time that traffic management workers spend exposed to passing vehicles.

This article was first published in the September 2022 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.

The machine also improves efficiency and productivity, laying or collecting each cone in less than 10 seconds and spacing them out at precise intervals. 

According to Balfour Beatty, the machine also removes the need for workers to manually lift up to five tonnes of equipment per shift, further reducing health & safety risks.. It also frees up workers to be redeployed on other duties.

The Falcon ACLM has been developed by Kent-based Highway Care, with technology from Swiss firm Senn Engineering and R&D funding from National Highways’ Innovation Designated Funds programme. 

Phil Clifton, Balfour Beatty’s managing director for highways, said: “We’re delighted to become the first construction company in the UK to successfully roll out these revolutionary automated cone laying machines. This is yet another example of the investment Balfour Beatty has made to transform how we work on our roads, showing that we continue to lead the charge in setting a new standard for safety.

 “We hope the machines will radically improve the lives of highways workers by reducing their direct exposure to a live road environment – demonstrating our commitment to achieving zero harm and to sending our people home safe and well every day.”

 Martin Bolt, in charge of continuous improvement at National Highways, said: “We are continuously looking at ways to innovate and pioneer new products that improve safety on the road for both road workers and users.

 “The automated cone laying machine takes out the human element in the laborious task of putting out cones as well as eliminating an element of potential risk. It also frees up workers who can be redeployed to other traffic management duties. Working closely with our partners we are proud to have been able to create an innovative vehicle that would make this happen and are delighted to see it now being rolled out by Balfour Beatty.”

This article was first published in the September 2022 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.

Speaking for the Connect Plus consortium, service delivery director Andy Whitmill commented: “In limiting the exposure of our workforce to errant vehicles when setting out traffic management on the live carriageway, the automated cone laying machine is an important new tool in delivering our objective of zero harm.

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 “It also mitigates the possibility of musculoskeletal injuries by removing the manual handling necessary whilst placing and removing cones. The automated cone laying machine is a further commitment to our strategy to reduce on-site activities, especially in high-risk environments such as traffic management on a high speed road network.”

 Ben Duncker, business development director for Highway Care, said: “We are very excited after three years of development in collaboration with National Highways and stakeholders such as Balfour Beatty and Connect Plus Services, to see the first production vehicles arriving on the M25 network. 

 “We now look forward to the machines making the desired impact and improving the health, safety and wellbeing of traffic management operatives.”

 Highway Care’s Falcon ACLM was first seen in action in February 2020 when National Highways (then known as Highways England) released footage of a prototype being put through its paces at the Bruntingthorpe proving ground in Lutterworth, Leicestershire.

This article was first published in the September 2022 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.

The client specification required the vehicle to lay and collect at least 400 cones at a rate of one every 10 seconds. 

The Falcon ACLM is one of two designs evaluated by National Highways. A second machine, developed by competitor King Highway Products, has also been through the evaluation process.

In June 2021, after the Falcon ACLM had completed its on-road trials, National Highways released footage of the King Highway ACLM being trialled at Manston Airport in Kent. 

Whereas the Falcon ACLM resembles a fairly standard curtain-sided lorry with a rear-mounted articulating arm to handle the cones, the King Highway machine adopts a radically different approach, with a revolving drum body to feed the cones into the mechanism that lays them and retrieves them.

“The King vehicle is very innovative and quite something to see in action,” said National Highways’ Martin Bolt. “The off-road tests have been extremely promising so far and we are looking forward to taking this forward.

“We are always looking for ways to improve safety and so we were very keen to do what we could to support the testing of these automated machines which will not only reduce the potential risk to road workers but also take away a physically demanding and laborious task.

He added: “To watch these two vehicles develop from concept to prototype, testing and ultimately being used on our roads is incredibly rewarding and we are looking forward to both being routinely used for roadworks on our network.” 

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