A KEANE EYE: Change the ground, not the machine

Tracks are good for distributing ground pressure over a larger area than tyres, and this allows them to operate in soft ground conditions, or areas where the cost of tyre damage would be prohibitively expensive.The downside is that tracks can damage paved surfaces (unless you use rubber tracks), have high maintenance costs and have limited mobility. A lot of machines have mixed duty cycles, and there is potentially a lot of compromise involved if they are designed to handle the worst conditions that they may encounter.This is where TrakMats come in. Bog mats are not a new idea, but TrakMats are practical, flexible, made from durable high density polyethylene (a life of eight years in normal usage is claimed) and weigh only 35kg for a 2.44m by 1.13m mat. With hand slots on the long sides, they are easily handled by two people, and readily transported. Sydney-based TrakMats Australia has brought the mats to Australia and handles sales, while Coates has the mats available for hire through its national chain.Although clips are available to join mats at the corners (two-mat and four-mat clips are available), in practice these are rarely needed. Nubs on the surface act to prevent wheel slip, and the mats tend to stay in place.Perhaps the most common application for the mats is where trucks designed primarily for highway use need to access off-road areas that are wet, soft or where the weight of the vehicle would damage the surface.Such applications would include tippers, where the tipper could drop the load where it was required rather than just off the pavement, where loaders would then need to shuttle the material to where it was required.It could also be used for tippers taking excavated material from site, if a TrakMat circuit was laid to allow the tippers to loop from the road to the excavation site and back to the road, and would reduce, if not eliminate, soil pick-up from site, and the need for grids or wheel washes for vehicles leaving the site.TrakMats could also be used for concrete agitators and pumps, drill trucks, cranes and crane trucks, and vehicles delivering materials and ancillary equipment to site. In one instance, the mats were used to allow a pole borer truck to cross a creek and install power poles in an otherwise inaccessible location.There are environmental protection roles for the TrakMats as well. Where it is necessary for equipment to cross sand, a TrakMat roadway can be laid over the sand to prevent damage to a very sensitive environment. The mats can also be used in other sensitive areas that are prone to rutting. This has a snowballing benefit as when ruts become too deep, drivers create new tracks and with new ruts, and during rain water seeks out the ruts and erodes them even further.There are potential flow-on benefits in reduced fuel usage and vehicle maintenance by allowing vehicles to travel comfortably over the mats, and the disruption of retrieving bogged vehicles can be avoided.While TrakMats have been used to recover bogged vehicles, it is far better to identify problem areas and deploy the mats from the start, incorporating them as part of a vehicle management process for sites. In some instances they could be used to reduce double handling on sites by allowing restricted access to road-going vehicles. The practicality of the TrakMats, and their availability for sale or hire, should have them considered for a range of applications. In many instances it is more practical to use a mat to change the ground conditions than to change the equipment that operates on it.

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