Minnesota Showcases Innovative Transportation Machinery

The focus of a recent demonstration day was on innovative equipment used for a variety of road projects not related to resurfacing.

by Carolyn Lange, West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn. / May 24, 2016
A Menzi Muck truck Menzi Muck

(TNS) -- A machine that spit out 500 traffic cones in a neat row, a remote-controlled traffic flagger operated from the side of the road and a “Menzi Muck” machine that can maneuver in ditches and tight spaces where other machines cannot were all demonstrated Wednesday in Willmar to highway maintenance workers from around the state.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation holds a demonstration day every couple of years to provide a show-and-tell of new technology and innovative equipment that districts use in the field.

This year the event was at the District 8 headquarters in Willmar.

“There’s some really cool stuff here today,” said Craig Gertsema, MnDOT District 8 maintenance supervisor.

Previous demonstration days consisted of snow removal equipment and road resurfacing technology.

But this year the focus was on innovative equipment used for a variety of road projects not related to resurfacing.

There were about 15 pieces of equipment demonstrated and some were brand new and “hadn’t even been used out in the field yet,” Gertsema said.

The District 6 office in Owatonna brought their cone-setter, which they had just received Tuesday along with a primer on how to operate it.

Housed on the back of a MnDOT truck, the cylindrical contraption and robotic arms smoothly plunked down traffic cones on the road and then picked them back up. The unit holds 500 cones and can be operated by one person in the cab of the truck.

There are still a few bugs to work out, said Adam Miller, who demonstrated the unit to the applause of crews who were hoping their district could either have their own unit or borrow the one from District 6.

Besides added efficiency, the cone-setter is also safer than the traditional way of setting cones in a construction zone.

“There’s no hanging out the back trying to set cones out from the tailgate,” Miller said.

An auto-flagger, which zipped around the parking lot at the whim of a man holding the remote-control device, eliminates the need for a second real-life flagger at a construction site and “keeps people out of harm’s way,” said Gertsema.

Given the distracted drivers on the road, Gertsema said auto-flag operators can be off the road and safely guide motorists through construction zones.

There was also a “shoulder reclaimer” that quickly ground up road shoulders. A compact vehicle with a telescoping arm and a saw blade on the end reduces the need for large bucket trucks for cutting tree limbs. And the “pauselli” post-pounder quickly pounded in and pulled up guardrail posts with a relatively small unit that can replace a truck, boom and chains.

Al Soukup, from the Metro District, demonstrated the octopus-looking Menzi Muck machine that can bend and gyrate into different contortions to allow access into challenging locations for things like digging up broken stormwater pipes along highways or repairing road washouts.

“It’s made to get in really muddy situations or go down steep embankments,” Soukup said. “It’s kind of made to go where nuttin’ else can go.”

Made in Switzerland, the Menzi Muck is not common in the United States, Soukup said. District 6 has had their Menzi Muck for two years. “It does a good job and is trouble-free so far,” he said.

The demonstration day gives maintenance crews “a look at new and innovative equipment and gives us the ability to know what other districts have to better utilize equipment,” said Tim Zierden, from the District 6 office in Rochester.

“A lot of stuff you hear about, but you get to see it actually operate and if it’s going to work for you in your district or not,” he said. “It’s always a fun event to come to.”

Another benefit of the demonstration day is becoming aware of tools that all districts have that could be used by another district for occasional situations that don’t warrant buying their own piece of equipment.

“We know where to go to borrow stuff and share equipment,” said Zierden.

©2016 West Central Tribune (Willmar, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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