The more-or-less biennial Interbuild show at Birmingham's NEC closed its doors last weekend after what must have been its busiest event yet. I've not seen any visitor data, but my experience during the day I spent there was enough to convince me it was busier than ever.
Sadly, however, the number of exhibitors with any relevance to the paving and hard-landscaping trades was at an all-time low.
Obviously, hiving-off the Civils Show (see review November 2005 ) will drain away (excuse the pun) many of the potential visitors from that sector of the industry, but even so: scanning through the list of almost 1,000 declared exhibitors, I'd highlighted a total of 15 as being "must see", and, to be honest, ten of these were 'courtesy visits' as I know the exhibitors involved had nothing new to show me.
So, it was touch and go whether the 200 mile round trip to the NEC was worth the effort, but working on the assumption that there is always something unexpected to see, coupled with a genuine need to see one particular exhibitor face-to-face, I fuelled-up and headed south.
It's when you hit the traffic queues while still on the motorway, a good 3 miles from the venue that you begin to wonder whether it was a good idea. It took almost as long to travel from the M6/M42 junction to the disabled car park at the NEC as it did to travel from Warrington to the hold-ups, and that includes a 15 minute delay at the inevitable 'incident' between Knutsford and Sandbach services.
I've never seen the NEC so busy, and the vast majority of those visitors were heading for one part or another of the Interbuild extravaganza. Fortuitously, the people I needed to see were all squeezed together in Halls 6-7-8, which had been merged into one vast cavern for the event, but even so, there was a fair deal of trudging and traipsing ahead of me.
I normally start these reviews with a look at some of the bigger exhibitors, but I want to break with tradition and start this one with a product/exhibitor that I feel deserves precedence simply because he's a tryer. A couple of years ago, Richard Evans exhibited a truly innovative and award-winning idea at the Civils sub-show within Interbuild. It's a simple plastic cross that can be fitted to new kerbs prior to installation to prevent spalling caused by accidental knocks while being laid, and to maintain a 3mm-ish joint between adjacent kerbs when laid, and thereby minimise end-spalling should there be any movement in the completed carriageway.
It seemed such a wonderfully simple idea, and I know that several kerb manufacturers had "expressed an interest". However, it now seems that interest was self-serving: they were only interested in quashing Richard's plans because his brainwave would reduce the number of damaged kerbs, which would mean reduced sales for those manufacturers. Such short-sighted tactics make me puke and I hope those responsible for such an attitude trap their genitals between two roadkerbs. Richard's innovation could save thousands of pounds in replacement and remedial work, all of which is stumped up by the poor bloody council tax payer, yet for the sake of selling a few extra kerbs, it's been pooh-poohed by the industry. Shame on you!
Anyway, Richard is not one to rest on his laurels and he's been busy developing a few other ideas that are intended to make life easier for those that build the roads. Some of his ideas are going to struggle to achieve any commercial success, but his new 'marking tool' has real potential. In fact, Richard was selling them from his stand at the show, and there was plenty of interest. Again, it's a simple idea - instead of relying on a pencil, a nail, a piece of slate or whatever, Richard has produced a composite marker tool that produces a clean, white line, roughly 2mm wide, that is visible on any material. Being a block and kerb layer by trade, he's aimed it at those noble trades, and having tried it out for myself, I have to admit it's a damn sight easier and more visible than my favoured piece of broken roofing slate.
Richard reckons that, assuming a typical "every day" usage by a block layer doing the cutting-in, each marker will last 6-8 weeks. The commercial aspect of this little wonder is still being developed, and we discussed a number of possibilities, including making them available via this website. I'm convinced he has another winner, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of these markers in the very near future.
As a special promotional offer, Richard is offering users of this website the opportunity to try out his marker for themselves. You can order a pack of 10 markers, enough to last your average contractor a whole year, for just 10 quid, including VAT and P&P.
Email me if you're interested.
Another idea is the "Easy Man" segmental seating unit that's used for raising manhole covers and other ironwork. The sections interlock, and with each piece being just under 20Kg, there's no problem with HSE handling regulations. They offer a fast, simple and cheap alternative to the more traditional 225mm of engineering brickwork. Again, development is ongoing and I'll try to keep interested parties up-to-date via this website.
And another cracking innovation that was shamefully overlooked by the show judging panel, is this stunningly simple drain stopper from Advanced Sewer Products , For more years than I want to remember, I've been skinning my knuckles while attempting to fit and remove drain stoppers in cramped manholes and ICs. All that twisting and forcing of an uncooperative wing nut, having to squirt half-a-can of WD40 onto the thread, and then hitting the damn thing with a hammer in the hope of getting it ... just ... that ... bit ... tighter ... for the air test when the BCO is due any minute, could soon be a thing of the past thanks to this deceptively simple idea.
Instead of a wing nut and bleeding knuckles, this little beauty relies on a simple lever and cam principle. You place the "Camstopper"™ into the barrel of the pipe, and lift the lever - simple as that. The lever exerts force on a cam, which then squeezes out the chunky rubber diaphragm to create an effective seal. To release, simply flip the lever downwards and remove the Camstopper™ in seconds. Even better, to comply with sewer entry regulations, there's a special fitting/removal tool that will be launched later this year that allows the Camstopper™ to be fitted and removed from the surface , at depths of up to 3m. No need to clamber into the chamber, and with so many of the modern ICs having a restricted diameter, this is bound to become an essential tool for every professional drainage contractor.
Polymeric jointing products have been proliferating faster than dodgy dossiers over the last couple of years, and Bond It is another addition to the fold. As with many of its potential rivals, it's sand-based and relies on the pre-mixed polymer jollop to go into action when exposed to the air. It is supplied in 15Kg buckets, which you simply empty out onto the paved surface, brush into the joints, tool as necessary, and then slope off to the alehouse to waste all that time you've saved by not having to be on your hands and knees pointing with mortar.
There only seems to be the one colour, which, judging from the tea-light sized sample given to me, seems to be a reddish-buff, but as most of these products go dark browny-green with detritus after a month outdoors, that may not be too much of a problem. However, the coverage rates claimed on the tri-fold leaflet that accompanied the sample are bordering on fanciful, in my experience.
The Bond It sales bod told me his kids are at the same school as the Reichskinder, and that he would give me a call this week. Not a peep - after the best part of 30 years in the trade, you'd think I'd learn not to believe a single word a sales bod tells me, wouldn't you!
Time for some actual paving, I reckon. For reasons best known by the show organisers, Formpave were tucked in at the edge of the Timber Zone and it was quite a surprise to see them there. As ever, their distinctive textured Cornish setts were attracting a deal of attention, and the Aquaflow SUDS paving intrigued many of the visitors to what was a very busy stand. Sales manager, Michael Conway, was as disappointed as me by the lack of interest from others in the paving manufacturing trade, but the upside is that more buyers and contractors were automatically drawn to Formpave's display.
While Formpave were bravely flying the flag for the concrete block industry, CED were doing something similar for the natural stone sector. It's a guaranteed certainty that nay display put on by CED will be flush with dozens of types of stone in all sorts of combinations, and this was no exception. The one item that did most to catch my eye, and the eye of several other visitors, was a range of tumbled granite setts imported from China. These are being promoted as alternatives to reclaimed setts, and the mix of colours is certainly appealing. At around 50 quid per square metre, they could prove tempting to those looking for a clean, pitch-free sett with that old-and-battered look.
One concrete; one stone, and with a sort of cosmic serendipity, I managed to find one clay pavior manufacturer. Coleford Brick and Tile , based not all that far from Formpave's place on the edge of the Forest of Dean, are probably better known as manufacturers of bespoke handmade facing bricks, but they also create very distinctive pavers and tiles for both internal and external use. I was very taken with this 280x50mm paver laid in a herringbone. The extreme length-to-width ratio gives it a unique styling and the mellow colouring with rustic texture make it ideal for heritage projects, barn conversions or any job looking for something a little bit out of the ordinary.
Returning to those "Best in Show" prizes, the Best Landscaping Product award went to the Axostone coloured macadam from LaFarge. It's a good product, but there was a pitiful total of three entries for this award, and two of them came from LaFarge. Axostone is a clever twist on an old idea, allowing the binder to be removed from the surface and so expose the aggregate to create a more naturalistic finish, but is that really the best new landscaping product of the past two years? LaFarge's other contender was the Artevia coloured and imprinted concrete. Again, it's a good product, but it's hardly an innovation - PIC has been around for decades.
Despite the overall lack of presence from the hard-landscaping sector, one paving product was reasonably well-represented: Pedestal supports. these are those little gizmos that are used to support flags/slabs on roof decks, carrying the paving above the membrane and thereby allowing surface water to drain through and be directed to outfall underneath the flags/slabs. Buzon are a Belgian manufacturer and their pedestals are distributed in Britain by The Outdoor Deck Company - which probably explains why the display was very heavily skewed towards decking, so much so that I was on the point of giving it a wide berth when I just happened to spot the pedestals supporting something that looked like an old pallet.
A couple of aisles further up, Wallbarn were promoting a similar-looking pedestal, although using Small Element Paving to illustrate its use, which immediately gave them the edge, as far as I was concerned. They have a wider range of products, ranging from simple support pads to fully adjustable pedestals, than can be used to place paving over any roof deck or similar area. The demo they provided was informative yet straightforward, and just when I was about to be impressed, the sales bod went and spoiled it all by claiming their website was number one in the world for paving. Sales bods! They can't help themselves, can they!
I hardly think it's worth wearing out my fingertips any further. There were plenty of tools on show, and anything with a power lead attached to it was guaranteed to attract attention from the many builders in attendance. Sadly, at least a couple of exhibitors hadn't noticed that it's the 21st century and were using scantily-clad dolly birds to lure the sweaty-palmed types into their sales clutches. Other exhibitors have wised-up and realised that what really attracts young builders (and the hundreds of students that were doing the grab-as-much-free-stuff-as-you-can dash) is a computer driving game. Sod the fact that there's no connection between simulated Formula 1 racing and a roof window; if you install a computer game, they will come. And while they're drooling in the queue waiting for their turn, you can pester them with facts and figures about insulation, K-values and thermal co-efficients.
Overall, I was disappointed, but maybe I shouldn't be, because I was forewarned that there was little of real interest to a die-hard paving nut like me. Compared to a show such as External Works or even Glee, there's not enough there for our trade, and I can only hope that this parlous state of affairs is remedied in time for Interbuild 2007, scheduled for October 29th-November 1st, otherwise, I might just stay at home and watch repeats of Bargain Hunt instead.
Special award for sheer pointlessness - the carpet shown in the photo opposite: yes! that really is a carpet. Would you want that in your living room??