Thursday, June 8, 2023

Innovative Suspended Platform for Structures Over Water

Richter, the largest firm of temporary works designers in the UK, and ScaffFloat, a UK-based start-up that has developed a patented plastic float that allows the design and build of pontoons and workboats out of standard scaffold components, have partnered to offer a new and innovative access options for bridges, piers and other structures over water where access is needed for inspection, maintenance, build and demolition.

The suspended ScaffFloat platform is built off-site and then lifted in the water. The one shown in the photo is 16m x 6.4m but they can be made to almost any size. Once afloat, the self-propelled system can make passage along the waterway to the bridge, even if this is miles from the launch site. Once in place under the bridge, lines or anchors are used to  temporarily hold station while a MEWP on deck is used to make the connections to the underside of the bridge. A hoisting system is then used to lift the platform up under the bridge together with a payload of equipment, plant, materials, and scaffold. Once in place, bracing can be applied to stop sway and the scaffold can be quickly and safely punched up from the ScaffFloat beams to give access to the top side of the bridge for contractors. If needed, encapsulation or netting can also be added to capture any paint or debris released during the planned works. When works are complete the platform can then be lowered to the water and re-positioned, or if needed multiple platforms can be placed side by side.

There are an estimated 15,000 structures built over the water in the UK alone, from large commercial piers and ferry terminals to thousands of rail, vehicle, and footbridges over rivers, canals, and other waterways. All these structures need continuous maintenance; the ones made of concrete need regular inspection and repairs to cracks and weathering, and any made of iron or steel need blasting, painting, and often strengthening. All of this work requires an access system, normally a suspended scaffold, to be installed before works take place.

Installing a suspended scaffold is not without its challenges, with scaffolders having to work over water or in an intertidal zone with potentially deep or soft mud. Appropriate and adapted safety measures are often required and it can be very tricky to get scaffolding materials to where they are needed, particularly on larger bridge spans, in city centres or for rural rail bridges which are not near any road or track access. In addition, it can sometimes take weeks or months to erect a scaffolding structure which can seem disproportionate if there is only a light scope of work and access is needed for a short time.

This innovative ScaffFloat platform will offer several advantages to projects where traditional solutions may struggle to be viable. The first and most significant is cost saving: if a full scaffold is not necessary the ScaffFloat can offer a much lower cost access solution. Second is speed as the ScaffFloat platform can be mobilised by a 4-person team, launched, and lifted under the bridge in 2 days. The third benefit of this system is a reduction in disruption to the top side of the bridge; this is particularly useful in city centre locations. The ScaffFloat can come ‘plug and play’ with full welfare facilities and materials. Fourth is safety as workers are always working within full TG20 compliant edge protection and finally, the ScaffFloat platform has an advantage on navigable waterways where a full scaffolding structure would reduce air draft and impede navigation. This is because the ScaffFloat system can be designed to always leave sufficient space under the navigable channel for vessels to pass.

Hybrids of the ScaffFloat platform can also be offered. One example would utilise an additional floating pontoon below the suspended platform that can hold and carry heavy materials to and from site, in particular blasting media & water. Another example would be to support the installation of traditional suspended scaffold, the suspended ScaffFloat could be used to get materials to site and then the platform can be used to load out from and provide access to scaffold the underside of the bridge.

Toby Budd, MD of ScaffFloat said “ScaffFloat has come a long way since it was launched two years ago. The system has really proved itself now and we have completed over 50 projects and provided 5,000 hours of safe floating access to contractors around the UK and abroad. This suspended offering is another big step forward for the system, really exciting.”

He added “We are specialists in floaty things and recognise where our strength lies. This is why we now partner with Richter and 48.3 on a project like this, they do what they are good at: making sure the design meets all industry standards and if necessary they can provide a Cat 3 check, and we do the floaty and hoisting bit on site and make sure it all goes to plan.”

Mark Parkin from 48.3 said “We have been working with the ScaffFloat system for over a year now. We can see a real opportunity for this suspended platform and hope this partnership will be a good fit for our clients. We can offer scaffolders and principal contractors a turnkey service on the access design and temporary works, as well as the design for the ScaffFloat and hoist system. We can also carry out the analysis on the bridge structure and certify the connection points needed.”

ScaffFloat say they are all about partnership working to deliver value. They work with a number of forward thinking scaffold companies in the UK to deliver projects together, and see this new access offering as no exception. Toby added “Whilst we could deliver this service on our own, we would prefer to partner with a local scaffold contractor and I would welcome any companies out there that would like to work with us to give me a call, my mobile number is on the website’’

Globally the scaffold industry is worth over £64 billion and is growing by 5% a year. A recent industry report by KBV said “Over the projection period, lightweight suspended scaffoldings will acquire substantial traction.” which indicates this new offer by ScaffFloat could be popular given time and cost saving and safety.

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