White lines, yellow lines, rumble strips… We take them for granted but the material they’re made from is designed to operate in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable. They’re replicated in laboratories like the one tucked at the back of Hitex International, a leading manufacturer and applier of road markings based in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
Here, Steve, one of the company’s most experienced chemists, mixes, heats, weighs and generally tests road marking formulations to destruction like some bearded wizard of the white lines.
In one corner of the lab is a portable skid resistance machine. It has an arm fitted with a calibrated rubber slider designed to pass over a sample of road marking. As it does so, it brushes it, generating a skid resistance value or SRV. A white centre line should have an SRV of 45+.
Close by it is a retroreflectometer for testing the night and daytime reflectivity of road marking samples. Beads derived from recycled glass provide the reflectivity.
Elsewhere in the lab, Steve (he won’t reveal his surname – “Confidential,” he says, only half jokingly) tests the colour fastness of road markings. He tells how Hitex saved the day on the M3 when Highways England noticed the orange-painted emergency refuge areas on the smart motorway were bleaching.
“We developed a more UV-stable pigment in the lab for them,” he says, proudly. I don’t bother asking for the recipe. Confidential, probably…