After a good run at Fen Farm near Milton Keynes, SED , considered to be Britain's major plant and site equipment show, upped sticks and moved 35 miles due north to the Rockingham Motor Sport venue on the outskirts of Corby in Northamptonshire. There'd been moaning and misery for the last few years regarding the traffic problems at the Fen Farm site: some days, it could take 30 minutes to get into or out of the site, so a decision was taken to find a new site, and Rockingham put up a good case. The track organisers are accustomed to marshalling large crowds: race days regularly attract 50,000 or more visitors, along with their cars, coaches and charabancs, so a few diggers, cranes, dumpers and 20,000 navvies shouldn't be a problem.
The Sat-Nav system in my jalopy told me I had just 5.6km (3½ miles) to go when I hit the traffic on the way in. One hour and twenty five minutes later, I crawled onto a jam-packed parking area, to be told there were no disabled parking spaces (none at all or just none currently available was not made clear) and sent off in the general direction of Leicester to find some god-forsaken parking space a good half-mile from the display site. I found this unacceptable, so I turned back and barged my way into the parking area closest to the main entrance and forced a bewildered attendant to allow me to park a much more reasonable 150m from the entrance. If he'd had the cheek to ask for the £5 parking fee after what seemed like an interminable delay, I was in the right mood to separate him from his genitals.
Then there was the queue to get through the registration corral. Those of us lucky enough to pre-register could sail through in under a minute, but hundreds had, seemingly, turned up 'on spec' and a colleague wasted a further 15 minutes filling in a form and shuffling through a maze towards a badge-printing machine. I'm sure collecting names and addresses is important to someone, but I don't know why – if someone wants to buy summat, or request further information, surely they will give their details to the exhibitor.
SED is a great event if you like your 'kit', and had the weather been better (and my back not quite as uncooperative), I could happily have spent the day wandering at my leisure, but with rain promised for early afternoon, and the best part of a couple of hours wasted in queues both traffic and pedestrian, I thought it more important to head for those displays that had a direct relevance to the paving trade and then, time and the elements permitting, have a look at the heavy machinery later in the day.
So: I made a beeline for the Probst stand on Avenue E, because they always have the widest range of specialist paving tools and tackle, and this year the display was to be supplemented by a live and continual demonstration of machine-lay concrete block paving. Probst UK had teamed up with CBP manufacturer, Marshalls , and machine-lay contractor, On-Level Paving from Norfolk to provide what was, for many visitors, their first view of the machine-lay technique. At times, the assembled throng were three or four deep, desperate to get a better view of what many are predicting will be the big growth area for commercial paving in the coming years.
Interpave General Manager, John Howe, was watching, but after acknowledging my presence, he managed to slip away yet again before I could pose any awkward questions about the Hard Landscape Training Group . Not to worry, my chance will come. Watch this space!
On the opposite corner, Probst were showing off a dedicated vacuum lift kerb layer that is yours for around £50-60,000. Machine-assisted kerb-laying is fast becoming the norm and new machines of one form or another almost monthly. Some have a distinctive 'back-yard workshop' styling, but this particular piece of kit looks and handles like a professional machine should: sweetly, simply and reliably.
Just a couple of stands down from Probst, another mechanical laying aid company, Al-Vac showed their wares. Not as extensive or as eye-catching a range as their near neighbours, but they did have an intriguing range of lifting attachments for all sorts of kerbs and channels. The unwieldy-looking flag/kerb lifter is actually quite nifty and remarkably versatile.
And across the way, looking somewhat lost amongst the much bigger exhibitors, was Richard Evans with his paver markers that have generated so much since being shown at Interbuild and reviewed on this website . The good news is that Richard is really chuffed with the response, and has now developed a range of coloured markers for those that like that sort of thing. However, stocks are precariously low and it will be a couple of weeks or so before he has enough to be able to start sending them out to all those contractors that have placed orders. Since the end of the show, Tobermore Concrete Products have invited Richard to attend their Layer's Evening up at Leyland on June 8th where he'll be able to demonstrate his remarkable invention to a dedicated audience.
Next to Richard, the much-admired Red Rhino Crushers were very proudly showing-off their incredible Micro Crusher 4000 series, winner of the SED Award for Excellence in the Recycling category. Small enough to fit through a typical doorway, this little concrete chomper can churn through 6 tonnes per hour, of hard material up to 400x170mm, and output at any size from 70mm down to just 5mm. Several of the contractors using this site are big fans of the Red Rhino kit, so it's good to see their judgement has been acknowledged in the form of a credible award.
And then onto another well-respected company, probably the most misquoted name in the paving industry, Wacker , which may want to consider the inclusion of an “h” in their name judging from the feedback to this site. I didn't get a chance to speak to anyone, partly due to limits of time, partly due to the throng of people milling around. I did spot at least a couple of new vibrating plate compactors.
Speaking of plate compactor's Bolton's very own MBW had a neat little paver plate at a very reasonable price, and I promised them a mention, and the same for Leach Lewis , distributors of the excellent Norton Mini-Clipper Portable Bench Saw that is ideal for cutting block pavers and bricks.
There were several other companies offering plate compactors, power screeds, and general site kit, such as the excellent Belle , probably best known for their mixers but also making a name for themselves with their plates. However, there just isn't the space to list everyone (see the SED site if that's what you want) and much of what was on show could not be considered new.
The Concrete Zone has always been a big attraction for me over recent years, and I was quite looking forward to spending an hour or so there again, but the 'program' was more or less exactly the same as last year, and the year before. Good as it might be, the weather was closing in and I couldn't justify spending time watching the same old thing. I know several of the exhibitors involved in this section of the show, and I hope they'll take my comments as constructive criticism: please come up with a new schedule for 2007. There's a lot more to concrete than formwork, levelling and stencilling. You have a fantastic opportunity to address the trade – make better use of it, please.
It would be easy to assume Probst was the only display of any real interest to the paving trade, but that is unfair to other exhibitors who didn't have the 'wow-factor' of a block-laying demo, but for me there was a sense that Probst stole the show. The only other exhibitor showing machine-lay kit were Hunklinger and their efforts paled in comparison to that of the triumvirate of Probst, Marshalls and On-Level paving.
My other abiding memory of this first year at Rockingham will be the bloody awful traffic. It took a good 40 minutes to get back onto 'clear' roads once I'd decided my poor owld back could take no more. Given that the whole raison d'etre for changing location was poor traffic, I would say that this first year of a fifteen year agreement was an unmitigated disaster. I will go again in 2007 (May 22nd-24th – put it in your diary now!) but if the traffic is anything like this year, I will not be prepared to sit there for another hour-and-half: I'll turn around and head off home. If I want to get stuck in traffic I've no need to travel 150 miles, I can do that on the M6 at Knutsford any day of the week! So, Mr Bresnahan, my message to you is GET IT SORTED!!