A tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed between UEM Edgenta, the Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA) and the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) for improvement in the safety of expressway maintenance and operations.

“The Ministry of Works will continue to support efforts to modernise Malaysia’s expressways through the adoption of innovative and safer solutions which will enable the maintenance operators to reduce its workers’ exposure to live traffic via the use of mechanised solutions and at the same time, protect road users,” said works minister Baru Bian.

Alongside the MoU signing was the launch of new mechanisation vehicles for expressway maintenance, which is aimed at improving the safety of both maintenance workers and road users by minimising the former’s exposure to live traffic. These include the mechanised grass cutter, the mechanical road sweeper, the impact protection vehicle and the remote-controlled slope grass mower.

There are nine road sweepers, one grass cutter, one remote-controlled slope grass cutter and one impact protection vehicle currently being trialled in Malaysia. The remote-controlled grass cutter is currently in operation on the grass slopes of the LPT2 highway, while the rest of the mechanised vehicles are operating along the North-South Expressway.

Overall, the mechanisation of expressway maintenance work is estimated to reduce works’ exposure to live traffic by 88%, and increase productivity by 875%, according to UEM Edgenta. For instance, grass-cutting operations currently involve 18 grass cutting workers and three mobilisation team personnel, plus one one-tonne lorry and two vans per team.

Time elapsed per shift includes one hour for traffic management (deploying and collecting of cones and traffic signage), six hours for grass cutting and one hour for break time. The mechanised format does away with the one hour required for traffic management, which is added to grass cutting hours for a total of seven hours; this comes to the productivity increase of 875%, according to UEM Edgenta.

At the same time, the substitution of the current practice with the mechanised method requires just two workers, representing an 89% reduction in grass cutting workers, and a 100% reduction in mobilisation personnel and transport vehicles.

Each grass-cutting worker is estimated to cover ground at a rate of 800 sq m per hour and can complete about 4,800 sq m per day over a six-hour work period. This is compared to the hydraulic arm grass mower with front and rear arm attachments, manned by two operators, estimated to cover 84,000 sq m of grass cut per day over a seven-hour work period, without lane closure required. This is equivalent to 18 man-days of output with the manual method, says UEM Edgenta.

The mechanical road sweeper that was launched is capable of cleaning 10 times faster than the current type of sweeper used on Malaysian highways. This is the first sweeper that is effective in collecting large debris and waste items such as carcasses and retreaded tyre pieces, and emits almost zero dust, says UEM Edgenta. This has an effective sweeping width of 1,300 mm at an effective sweeping speed of 18-30 km/h, compared to the current suction machine’s capabilities of 600 mm and 5-6 km/h, an improvement of 436% and 217% respectively.

Also featured was the remote slope grass mower which is capable of mowing grass on flat surfaces as heavy bushes, as well as on slope gradients of up to 55 degrees. The mechanised method offers efficiency improvements of 525% on slopes, and 1,328% on heavy bushes.

The current traffic management practice for manual grass-cutting on slopes is carried out in ‘static mode’, where the maximum lane closure length is two kilometres for any one location.

This method is comprised of traffic management and safety vehicles, where the laying and collection of cones and signages upon lane closure and re-opening consumes two hours of work time. Here, each traffic management team is comprised of one one-tonne lorry, five staff, 250 cones and 29 signages, while the safety vehicle team consists of four one-tonne lorries and eight staff.

On the other hand, the mechanised impact protection vehicle (IPV) takes the role of traffic management in addition to impact protection, with is digital display board just ahead of the impact absorption structure. In place of traditional cone and signage deployment along with traffic management and safety vehicle workers, the IPV travels in tandem with the work vehicle ahead of it at a speed of approximately 20 km/h, whilst maintaining a distance of 30 m.

The single IPV requires just two workers, and compared to the traditional method of safety and traffic management, completely does away with the lorries, cones and signages, along with an 85% reduction in required workforce from 13 to two. This will make for a vastly reduced number of personnel exposed to passing highway traffic and therefore, lives at risk.