Plant giant JCB has introduced a high-reach rig designed for the demolition sector. Northern Ireland-based contractor McCormack Demolition has taken delivery of the first machine to appear on a UK site. Paul Thompson sees it go into action in Belfast
THE SHORT drive from Belfast International airport into the city gives the visitor an instant snapshot of a town trying to rediscover itself after years shrouded in violence.
Tower cranes litter the city's skyline, a sure sign that the roots of recovery are taking hold, as the road dips down from the Black Mountains.
Reminders of The Troubles are never far away though, and the city's graffiti artists clearly have a greater grasp of politics than those in other towns around the world. Messages imploring people to vote in elections adorn the walls of a housing estate, political murals and road signs take you back to some long-forgotten news flash.
On a site just of the Falls Road JCB's newest offering to the demolition sector is being put through its paces.
Turn left at the Sinn Fein headquarters, which sports a massive mural of hunger striker Bobby Sands, and Ross's Mill sits straight in front of you.
Here, local demolition contractor McCormack is testing the latest addition to its plant f leet in a £350,000 deal with developer Carvill, which plans to turn the 19th century-built mill into a series of loft-style apartments and town houses.
The JS330 HRD package includes a 21 m-high reach rig sitting on top of a JS330XD demolition specification JS330 tracked excavator.
Although the JS330 is not really necessary for the relatively low-level project, McCormack boss Una McCormack was keen to try out her new toy.
'It's a reasonably standard demolition project and we don't really need to use the machine but we thought we would familiarise everyone with it here first before it moves on to another job, ' she says.
The former linen mill had barely stopped production before McCormack contract manager Michael Eastwood and his team moved on to the site. Just two weeks separated the mill's closure from the soft strip. The asbestos strip began in October.
'There were still bags and bags of yarn and fibre left behind that we had to remove, ' says Ms McCormack.
'Then we got on with the asbestos strip.' She claims the firm had been looking to develop its range of high-reach excavators to join its current fleet of two.
When the company became aware that JCB was developing an interchangeable boom for the demolition sector it despatched Mr Eastwood ? currently the National Federation of Demolition Contractors' site operative of the year ? and plant operator Kevin Kelly across to JCB headquarters to see the production line in action.
'We went over to see the production lines and what we saw was encouraging, ' says Mr Eastwood.
'It has very good stability and really good visibility, ' adds Mr Kelly, adding that the machine's 'touch' is second to none. 'You can actually feel a truss coming out of a wall, ' he says.
Naturally there have been a few teething troubles with the machine, the first full-specification demolition JS330 HRD sold in the UK.
'There was a problem with the oil pressure dropping and the nibbler attachment not working, ' says Mr Eastwood.
A quick investigation revealed a malfunctioning release valve on the nibbler and this, coupled with the tough pig iron used during the construction, caused the problems.
'It is exactly why we wanted to check it out first, ' says Ms McCormack. 'It will be moving on to a seven-storey tobacco warehouse next.' The introduction of the new rig, sold to McCormack by Newry-based JCB dealer PC Plant, will boost JCB's coverage in the demolition sector, according to director of demolition and recycling Ken Bainbridge.
'Our research showed that a significant number of plant purchases made by demolition contractors are specialised high-reach machines. By having a 21 metre-high reach rig we have now become a primary supplier to the demolit ion industry, ' he says.
But for Mr Kelly it is a far more simple tale.
'She has good stability and a there is great view all round. She just works well, ' he says.
Hazardous waste in Northern Ireland NEW RULES governing the disposal of hazardous waste have badly affected the demolition sector in Northern Ireland.
The number of hazardous waste disposal sites has been dramatically reduced across the UK during the past year, so much so that there are now no waste disposal centres in Northern Ireland.
All asbestos removed in the province has to be shipped across the Irish Sea to Scotland, then on to the nearest available waste site.
'It is a ridiculous system, ' says Ms McCormack. 'We have to ship it to Scotland.
There are so many dangerous consignment notes and certificates we have to get validated.'