Worcestershire County Council
Ceramic insert plough blades have been in use on the Continent for over 20 years. The technology is well established and has recently been made available in the UK through a UK distributor of German manufactured blade rubbers.
This type of blade consists of substantial rubber compound detachable blade rubbers containing ceramic cylinder inserts at intervals of approx 6cm. The cylinders are in stacks of three within the rubber and make contact with the road surface to reduce the rate of wear of the blade and to enable the blade to run just in contact with the road surface. The rubber blade is capable of deflecting over ironwork and road studs because of the arrangement of the cylinders within the encasing rubber.
Operational trial in Worcestershire
The trial commenced in the 2011/12 winter season. Eight routes were selected to provide a mix of dual carriageways, principal rural and urban roads and other routes with particular emphasis on high ground to increase the likelihood of suitable snow conditions occurring.
Dual carriageways are predominantly flat in cross section whereas other routes are predominantly cambered and with less even or uneven longitudinal profiles. Cambered roads are principally responsible for increasing the wear on plough blades so that the centre wears away to match the camber. This occurs even with the ploughs set to ride clear of the surface by 25mm.
A brief snow event occurred in early January 2012 with some positive reports received from the drivers.
A more substantial snow event occurred over night on 5/6 February with accumulations of 10cm in many areas of Worcestershire, particularly on higher ground. During this event each route was ploughed three times.
Early on the morning of 6 February visual observation of routes ploughed with conventional and ceramic blades was made. Photographs are included in the Downloadable Casestudy.
The ceramic ploughs were found to be capable of removing snow to reveal the carriageway in one pass. A residual thin layer remained between the wheel tracks. Conventional ploughs leave a thicker overall layer which later accumulates between the wheel tracks with the passing of traffic.
During operations, when gritters were returning to depots and came across slush on the road left on other routes not in the trial, ploughs were lowered to remove all snow and slush from the carriageway.