Sweeper designs face the 'Scrapheap Challenge'

Sweeping along the road to TV fame, far from the serious day-to-day business of engineering state-of-the art equipment to meet the demanding environmental standards, a leading British manufacturer faced an entirely different test when Johnston Compact Sweepers' Chief Engineer, Mike Hasler, lent his expertise to one of the teams competing in the popular Channel 4 show, "Scrapheap Challenge". In an episode broadcast recently the challenge was to build a road sweeper and Mike Hasler was drafted in as one of the "experts" to assist the Chaos Crew. In this report for LAWE, he recalls the event, and gives some behind-the-scenes insights into the way the programmes are made

Anyone who has an interest in tinkering about and making things - ie engineers - would have to admit to more than a spot of envy towards the teams taking part in Scrapheap Challenge. The whole concept of botching something up out of bits of rubbish and getting the hands dirty is irresistible. So, imagine my delight and surprise when I found myself invited to be the "expert" for a team building a road sweeper in Los Angeles - all expenses paid. Yes, I could manage that.

Frequent communications with the organisers led to certain items being available for the build - let's face it, you wouldn't really expect to find an ex-PowerGen Land Rover in a junkyard in California, would you?

Both teams duly gathered in Los Angeles. My team - The Chaos Crew - were old hands, having for a previous challenge built a hydraulically operated demolition device, which took the form of giant pincers mounted on an old Transit. This would have won easily had not a hose burst.

Our competitors were from Jaguar in Coventry who took the whole thing very seriously indeed - as anyone who saw the programme might have noticed. The judge was Roger Hoadley, MD of Scarab.

Scrapyard search
Scrapheap Challenge rules require that the teams have no knowledge of what they are to build prior to the event, so, on the morning of the build day, before dawn, we were off to the scrapyard to do the preliminaries - sound, lighting, make up (well lashings of suntan lotion actually) and our designer boilersuits. Then the challenge was announced and the ten hours allowed for making the machine began.

We duly "found" the Land Rover, but unfortunately the auxiliary engine I'd asked for turned out to have been difficult to adapt, so we had to think again , and quickly. The alternative design involved making the Land Rover front wheel drive and welding a third axle upside down to the chassis. This, in turn, was connected to the rear prop shaft with one wheel flange used to drive the elevator and the handbrake on the opposite side used as a clutch. The elevator was of the squeegee type and based on a lightweight conveyor used for loading missiles into aeroplanes.

Inevitably, we ran out of time so development would have to take place during the challenge, but, at least, we had everything running OK.

The Jaguar guys had built a "pooper-scooper" with a small auxiliary engine directly driving a home-made impeller. Material was drawn through a wanderhose and passed through the fan into a truncated Transit panel van.

Result in the balance
The competition took place in the car park of a tourist attraction in Irvine - 40 miles or so from the scrapyard. Vast amounts of litter, mostly newspaper, were scattered about and we had 30 minutes to collect as much as possible.

Both machines worked pretty well, but our complete lack of development ment that bulldozing was a big problem. Nevertheless, we were able to pick up a good quantity of litter.

The opposition, on the other hand, were able to cruise round the car park picking up coke cans and heavy gravel with their "pooper scooper". That is until their fan was smashed by the gravel hitting it, which is fairly inevitable with this sort of design.
Even so, as the challenge was to be decided on weight, we started to get a bit worried when the collected material from each machine was hung from each end of a giant balance. Victory had been snatched from our grasp. We were all exhausted and filthy dirty, but the runner up's champagne went down a treat and helped soften the blow. After all, it's not the winning - it's taking part (bah, humbug !) and we'd all had a fantastic experience.


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