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Access ropes: innovation required!

Richard Tregoweth - Friday, October 14, 2011

Arborist rope research and development departments need to start looking beyond climbing lines and concentrate their considerable resources on the development of a new access line.

In Treetools opinion, the innovation life cycle of the arborist climbing line has almost reached its zenith; the latest offerings from all the major rope manufacturers are, in reality, more of the same. Apart from weight reduction, climbing line development has stalled.

Of course there are new climbing lines being produced all the time, but many of them are 'house brands' offering nothing more than color choice or a different 'feel'. True innovation in climbing lines, it seems, has long since past its due-by date.

Without wishing to teach the rope R&D department how to suck eggs, Treetools believe the real opportunity for innovation lies in the development of a totally new access line.

Ideally, this access line would be 100% static under a passive load, 10-11mm in diameter, and be very lightweight with a robust sheath capable of handling toothed ascending devices with ease.

Hold on a minute you say, these access ropes already exist!

Correct! But they are missing one important feature: the elusive holy grail (for access rope technology at least).

The ideal access rope must be capable of morphing from 100% static under passive load to become 'dynamic' or energy absorbing when a dynamic load is applied, thereby 'catching the climber, say in the event of anchor point failure while ascending the line.

We understand a number of rope manufacturers are already experimenting with possible solutions to the static/dynamic rope conundrum.

Some are working on controlled core failure, where the core breaks allowing the sheath to absorb the energy generated in the fall. Others are approaching from the opposite angle; the sheath fails and the energy is absorbed by the core. The latter approach has the added advantage of visual inspection for rope damage.

Both of these scenarios require the retirement of the rope (not unlike dynamic rock climbing lines) following any significant event. This would not be such a big issue because access lines are not typically exposed to dynamic loads on a daily basis.

Treetools shall follow these access rope developments with interest. May the innovation proceed - watch this space!

The access rope used in the video above is 11mm Tree Access by Teufelberger. European access lines are EN 1891A certified, that is, they have energy absorbing capacity built in but this also means they are NOT 100% static under a passive load.

Another Teufelberger access line Globe 5000, regularly used by tree climbers, is 100% static but offers no energy absorption capacity whatsoever. Unfortunately this limits the appeal of Globe 5000 to experienced climbers only.

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