Their bubble wrap is off and they’re loose now on our streets – hopefully heading to a road near you.
Caithness, Skye, Lochaber, Ross & Cromarty and Inverness are each now home to one of Highland Council’s new fleet of pothole repair machines.
The JCB Pothole Pro is advertised as being capable of mending your average-sized pothole at half the cost and in under eight minutes.
That’s about six times faster than traditional pothole repairs.
The total cost for the five machines is £1 million.
With so much hype around these Highland pothole machines, P&J reporter Donna MacAllister joined the road crew for a repair job near Inverness to see one in action.
Get ready, get set, go!
As soon as I arrive on Culloden Road the all-new pothole machine gets to work on a sorry-looking 6m² section of tarmac.
It’s noisy but not ear-splitting and seems quite nimble.
Matthew White, a council roadworker who has been newly trained to use the machines, is getting ready to cut up the road.
And this can now be done from the comfort of its cab, the days of standing out on the road with earmuffs and shaky body pneumatic drill over.
It may seem counterproductive to dig down into the road even more to repair it, but that is how the Pothole Pro works.
Matthew programs the machine to gouge out a few inches down and a few inches across to make the problem patch a uniform size and its edges straighter.
This gives the new tar a much better chance of sticking and, crucially, staying stuck.
The stopwatch begins and the machine begins chewing up the road with neat little munches.
It only takes a couple of minutes for the road to get chewed up – and all the old tar that it brings up can be used again for other jobs.
Pneumatic drilling but not as you know it
Now it’s time for the hydraulic cropping tool drill to move in and start straightening all the edges.
Only look if into expensive machines or potholes: I had a closer look at the new Pothole Pro for an article yesterday – the bubblewrap is now completely off Highland Council's new 5-strong fleet and they're out now on the roads. Edge trimming… @JCBmachines
— Donna MacAllister (@macallister_dm) April 29, 2022
Amazingly, the machine even clears up its own mess.
After the straight edges have been cut, a big brush head moves in to vacuum up all the mess.
I want to take it home to pick up all the cats’ hairs on my living room carpet.
In one quick movement, the big brush head swoops into the air and tips the old bits of road into its big back-end bucket.
Stop the clock – proper job
We stop the clock and see from start to finish the process has taken just over eight minutes.
What the Pothole Pro doesn’t do, however, is actually fill the pothole itself.
So next come the hot-box tarring crew who are following close behind to fill the hole with that precious back tar liquid.
With such a neat, uniform gap to fill, it takes just minutes for the skilled crew to have it filled and smoothed over.
Machine is a ‘gamechanger’ for Highland potholes problem
Surveying the speedy Balloch job alongside me is senior council roads engineer Andrew Hunter.
With his arms folded he says matter-of-factly that cutting, cropping, and cleaning a pothole to get it ready for tarring is by far the longest and most difficult part of the job.
He explains that when using typical pothole repair methods, that part would typically take up to an hour even on a good day.
“So you could say this machine is a gamechanger,” he said.
“Using the Pothole Pro machine is far more efficient.
“The aspiration is that it will allow us to do more permanent pothole repairs. At the moment, we go and pour some cold tar.
“With the best will in the world, and with all the bad weather we get, it will just pop back out.
“With this machine, we can now do permanent fixes, and really we want to be doing permanent where we can.”
Repairing hundreds of square meters of Highland potholes each week
Highland Council has done the maths and reckon that they can repair around 400m² of road in a week with this machine.
The £1m price tag also included driver training, three digging buckets and a flail that can be used for scrub cutting in the hope that it will make the machines extra versatile.
Pothole Pro operator Matthew and his Inverness crew are already setting targets after reading that Stoke-on-Trent council managed to complete four years worth of permanent pothole repairs within three months using the machine.
They say if Stoke-on-Trent can do it, why can’t they?
It’s only been out on the roads repairing Highland potholes for a couple of weeks, and Matthew says he is still “finding his feet” with the controls.
But the team is excited by progress so far and by reports of its prowess elsewhere.