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Home News An Overview of Power Sweeping Equipment Technology
An Overview of Power Sweeping Equipment Technology
Mechanical Broom Sweepers  This sweeping industry informational white paper is a collaboration between Ranger Kidwell-Ross, Editor of, and Roger Sutherland, Vice-President of Pacific Water Resources, Inc.


Its intent is to assist U.S. and international sweeping industry professionals in reaching a better understanding of the differences between the major types of sweeping equipment being used in the American road sweeping marketplace. First, a brief overview is provided of some of the emerging concerns in the sweeping industry.
Since its inception, sweeping has been used to remove what might be termed ‘cosmetic’ or ‘political’ debris from roadways and other paved surfaces. It has been so-called because of consensus that if a streetlooked clean, it was clean. Today, however, this reason for sweeping is undergoing significant re-appraisal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as by public works professionals and others throughout the country.
That’s because recent studies have shown that more than 50% of heavy metals and other serious pollutants are attached to particles that are 60 microns in size and smaller (as a comparison, a human hair is about 70 microns in width), even though particles of this size compose a relatively insignificant amount of the total weight and volume of a typical sweeper’s hopper load. It has been confirmed that even though a street may look clean (before or after being swept), there still may be a significant loading of small-micron, pollution-laden debris on it. From an environmental standpoint, it is exactly this material that it is most important to remove. A high level of increased emphasis, by the EPA and others, is now being placed upon the removal of small-micron debris as a Best Management Practice (BMP) for reducing stormwater runoff pollution.
These small-micron particles are now seen to pose a significant environmental concern. That’s because with rainfall they tend to run off into stormwater systems as total suspended solids (TSS), or to get pounded into the air by passing cars (or blown into the air by wind) as fugitive dust (PM-10s). Either way, these particles pose an environmental challenge. According to EPA estimates, 30,000 people in the U.S. are killed each year by pollutants attached to small-micron dust particles, and 1,000,000 more sustain serious lung impairment. And for pollutants such as zinc, which tend to become dissolved in water, there is not even any effective way to filter them out through sophisticated catch-basin or other stormwater filtration technology.
Following are brief overviews of the major types of sweeping equipment available, as well as examples of usage and applicability:
Mechanical Broom Sweepers
Mechanical broom sweeping technology may be likened to cleaning with a broom and a dustpan. For years, mechanical broom sweepers were the only machines that were used for road sweeping by municipalities and departments of transportation. Mechanical broom sweepers are still the primary machines in use by municipalities around the US.
Typically, these machines have a 'main broom' that runs transversely 鈥? from one side of the sweeper to the other 鈥? such that the broom bristles contact the paved surface the full width of the sweeper unit. The broom rotates in a clockwise fashion when viewed from the left side of the vehicle, and collected debris is swept onto some type of a conveyor belt for transfer to a containment hopper.
Mechanical broom machines may or may not be outfitted with a 'gutter broom' on one or both sides of the sweeper. Gutter brooms are relatively small (typically 36 to 50 inches in width), are located to the left, right, or both sides of the sweeper, and are primarily used to transfer debris from the gutterline into the path of the main broom. Even though mechanical sweepers are usually outfitted with a series of water spray nozzles, because they have no vacuum component, they still tend to create a substantial amount of dust in dry weather.
In recent times, it has been recognized that modern air sweepers have many advantages over mechanical broom sweepers for general road sweeping usage. One reason is that most mechanical sweepers only give the illusion of leaving a clean pavement surface. Although large debris is removed by mechanical broom sweepers, they are virtually ineffective at removing particles 60 microns and smaller. Studies have even shown that from an environmental standpoint mechanical broom sweepers may actually have a negative effect on the amount of storm water runoff pollution.
This is because the action of the broom tends to break larger particles down into smaller ones, creating more small-micron particles than there were to start with. And, whenever debris pickup is via an elevator, rather than involving any type of air/suction action, a large amount of these small particles are left on the pavement's surface.
Any municipality with a fleet of mechanical broom sweepers should re-evaluate its street sweeping needs, given today's EPA requirements for reducing storm water runoff as part of its storm water management plan. Because modern regenerative air sweepers can remove a much higher percentage of the more highly polluted small-micron debris, material removal may be significantly improved by replacing current mechanical broom sweepers with regenerative air sweepers. The latter are also much less expensive to operate. However, especially for snowbelt areas of the US, initial spring sweeps may still have to be done by mechanical broom sweepers. However, some mechanical sweeper models are now available for use without dust suppression water.
Advantages: Mechanical broom sweepers remain the standard for sweeping extremely heavy or packed-down material such as road millings. This type of sweeper is also still required for 'spring cleanup' in snowbelt areas of the U.S. where a large amount of sand and other abrasives are put down in the winter as traction aids. Some mechanical sweeper models are now available for use without dust suppression water. Disadvantages: A mechanical sweeper is a poor choice where environmental concerns exist about storm water pollution or air quality. Also, mechanical sweepers are significantly more expensive to maintain than comparable air sweepers, due to having so many moving parts (including continuous ground contact by main broom and mechanical movement by the elevator system). Because of the vast improvement in air-based sweepers in the last few years, they are now better suited for many types of general road sweeping.


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