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The groundbreaker


Construction would get nowhere without its machines. In the first of a new series, we take a look at biggest, the best and the most unusual bits of kit that grace construction sites and meet the people who drive them. Long-standing driver Martin Cornwell, (left) was the obvious choice to be the Wirtgen WR2500K's operator when earth mover O'Keefe developed a customised soil stabiliser. Emma Forrest meets him and his machine

STABILISING soil with lime or cement is a messy business. Spreading it in advance means any wind is likely to blow up clouds of dust and the powder gets wasted. And all work is likely to grind to a halt in winter as the ground becomes increasingly mired.

So any machine that allows you to carry on working all year round is likely to be in demand.

This was the thinking behind the development of the Wirtgen WR 2500K, O'Keefe Soil Remediation's adapted stabiliser that spreads lime from an incorporated hopper.

Having started with O'Keefe at the age of 20, Martin Cornwell was one of the firm's most experienced drivers and 'the obvious choice' to drive the machine, according to operations director Mark Jones.

Mr Cornwell was part of the O'Keefe group that visited the USA, Scandinavia and Germany in a bid to find a manufacturer for the kit. He was then trained up by a team from Wirtgen.

'I have always been interested in new technology, ' he says. 'You have to go forward and you need new technology to stay ahead of the game. I reckon this machine puts us a year ahead of our competitors.'

The 2500K's growing fame means Mr Cornwell is regularly called on to do demonstrations for visitors, but he admits the stabiliser took some getting used to.

'It couldn't be more different from riding a tracked machine. It has to be handled very gently, ' he says.

'It needs a lot more maintenance, care and attention than a usual 360.'

At its current home - Morgan Vinci's site on Contract 310 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at Rainham Marshes in Essex - the machine moves at 20 m/min on this job, turning ground that resembles lumpy unmade pastry into something you can crumble between your fingers.

'If the supplies are there, we can do 1,500 cu m a day. They have had trouble keeping up with us. It has kept 35 lorries going delivering chalk and 20 machines going on the site. Normally they would come to a standstill in the winter, ' says Mr Cornwell.

Like a true earthmover, he gets satisfaction from seeing mud turned into something useful.

The only trouble Mr Cornwell says he has had with the machine was in South Wales.

'It doesn't like rocks, ' he laughs.

There are five other drivers able to use the Wirtgen WR 2500K - all of them trained by Mr Cornwell. And although his colleague Steve now does more driving than his own foreman role allows, Mr Cornwell is never far from the machine.

'I'm with it, even if I'm not driving it, ' he says.

Wirtgen WR2500K

Milling depth: 0-500 mm

Max. milling width: 2,438 mm

Power output: 448 kW

Maximum speed: 200 m/min

Operating weight: 39 tonnes

Do you drive a machine we should know about?

If so, Construction News wants to hear from you.

Contact Emma Forrest on 020 7505 6748 or email: emma. forrest@construct. emap. com.