Highway-class asphalt pavers will get a bounce from the Fast Act’s reports Construction Equipment, reports Construction Equipment.
Long before Intelligent Compaction, there was high technology in asphalt pavers. That technology continues to evolve as both managers and manufacturers strive for the smoother mats called for by stricter state specifications.
And there is no doubt the market will see even more technology, as it is poised to finally reap the benefits of longer-term federal funding. Manufacturers tell Construction Equipment the market for asphalt pavers over 21,000 pounds was up anyway, even before the feds stepped up.
“The market is up a bit over the previous year,” says Jon Anderson, marketing segment manager for Cat Paving.
Jonathan Oney, product manager, Paving and Milling, for Atlas Copco, agrees. “There’s steady growth for this class of pavers, and we’re forecasting about 4 percent increase in the number of heavy highway and bridge projects for 2016, due to the recently passed federal budget, which will also impact state funding for these types of projects,” Oney says. “I feel that the market will continue on the same trend for several years—steadily increasing demand for equipment with more highway and bridge projects being funded by federal and state governments.”
With the Fast Act set to kick in, buyers are gaining confidence. “Contractors feel more secure about making a large investment in paving equipment,” says Henry Polk, product marketing manager, paving projects, Bomag Americas.
“The passing of the Fast act will obviously help grow highway development, and provide predictable funding for the asphalt pavement industry,” says John Mooney, product manager, Volvo Construction Equipment. “I think that market expansion started to begin midyear in 2015, in anticipation of the bill. Therefore, the demand for pavers may increase to levels we have not experienced since the great road projects.”
There is also increased consumer demand—for good roads. But not everything is rosy. Lower fuel prices don’t always translate to a drop in liquid asphalt prices, which is something else managers need to consider as part of their overall buying decision.
“We have not seen fuel prices this low for a long time, and people are logging more road miles than they have in a long time,” Mooney says. “People are going out and doing what they love to do—travel. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that lower crude oil prices and lower prices at the pump do not mean lower liquid asphalt prices. The modern refinement processes for liquid asphalt delivers more light fuels than ever—leaving less heavy oils, which does not lower asphalt cost. The good news is liquid asphalt prices are predictable, so states can bid more work and contractors may feel more confident as they manage the risk of competitive price bidding.”
Also working in managers’ and OEMs’ favor is a backlog of projects caused by the now decades-old infrastructure problem. “We’ll have a lot of catching up to do to improve our state and federal highways,” Mooney says. “The road equipment markets may expand for the next couple of years thanks to the bill, but will be limited by manageable growth from contractors as they look for not just new equipment, but the right equipment. All while juggling risk of adding more new crews, adapting new technology, and working with ever-increasing strict specifications and techniques.”
Several buying trends have emerged in the meantime. Contractors are looking for more choice, efficiency, ergonomics, and technology, including telematics capabilities.
“They are asking for technology that promotes efficient, high-quality operation,” Cat Paving’s Anderson says. “Reliability, easy service—things that keep operating costs low.”
Vogele’s manager of Commercial Support and Development, Laikram Narsingh, says buyers are looking for a choice of two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and six-wheel drive tracked units, with equal-width front-mount screeds versus unequal-width front-mount screeds versus rear-mount screeds. They’re also looking at automatic grade-control systems, lights for night paving, 3D control options, and telematics capability.
Comfort has been a factor, too. “Contractors have been asking for comfort updates, and Bomag has responded to some of these,” Polk says. “Most notable is relocating the screed generator. This has greatly reduced noise levels for the entire crew. Uptime kits and spares lists have also been created for each model. Contractors have been asking for these suggested maintenance items.”
Atlas Copco has also had a focus on ergonomics for comfort, as well as ease of use. “We incorporate ergonomic operating stations and design the pavers for easy maintenance,” Oney says. “For example, the F800 features two operator platforms that swing out from the side of the paver. The platforms help eliminate operator fatigue that can occur while straining in a stationary seat to get a clear view of the paving surface.”
One manufacturer sounds a practical note about buying technology for the sake of technology.
“When looking at pavers and paving crews, the contractor is faced with how they update their fleets,” Volvo’s Mooney says. “While manufacturers keep developing newer technology and telematics offerings, the bottom line is that the contractor needs equipment that is reliable and dependable—equipment that crews can feel comfortable with and can operate without strings attached.
“I would dare say the average mature paving crew will want proven technology over the technical promise of advance design being forced on the industry,” Mooney continues. “The contractor will eventually adapt the high-tech industry of tomorrow, but today they are generally very conservative in buying practices. They lean toward designs and dealers they know and trust, and giving their crews what they know and trust.”
“Consider dealer support,”Anderson says. “Whom would you trust if the machine goes down? Also, focus on features that make the machine easier to operate and support—things that get you going right away in the morning and keep you working all day long. Look for features that contribute to factors such as smoothness, helping you maximize awards or reach bonus. Consider also your crews, what keeps them comfortable, confident and in control.”
“Pavers are expensive; they must provide a long trouble-free life so the equipment manager’s investment decision is a difficult one,” Mooney says. “Buy what the paving crew can operate efficiently and effectively. Remember that all equipment needs service and repair, so purchase a paver that can be easily serviced, and quickly and financially practical to repair. Finally, buy from a manufacture/dealer that understands the industry.
“When the paver is not paving due to service, repair, parts, damage or for many other reasons, everyone needs to be onboard to get that paver making money again. So consider carefully, and ask the questions to verify the paver will be supported well into the future. If there is any concern, then you are not making the right decision,” Mooney says.
Narsingh’s suggestions are feature-based. “Consider a Tier 4-Final engine with Internal Dousing for regeneration, instead of an External Dousing burner system for regen,” he says. “Also consider 24V LED balloon lights with rigid frames, rather than inflated halogen balloon lights, as well as onboard diagnostics with LED on solenoids.”
Bomag’s Polk: “If switching from a rubber tire to rubber track paver, or vice-versa, make sure to give the operator a break-in time period to get used to the new drive system. There are subtle operating differences between the two.
“Also look at current and potential applications,” Polk says. “If the paver will be working on a high percentage of new construction, then a track paver is preferred. Tracks help to reduce ground contact pressure to 12 psi, which helps to eliminate rutting and improve traction. If a contractor has a steady workload of overlay projects, then a rubber tire paver may be the best option.
States are now implementing thermal specifications that cap temperature differentials across the mat to as little as 25F in addition to mandating practices to eliminate material segregation. Pavers that reblend material in the hopper, at the last stage of the paving process, help to reduce temperature differentials across the mat to less than 10F and virtually eliminate all signs of material segregation.
“There is a night-and-day difference in thermal and material uniformity behind the screed of a Remix paver versus a traditional slat conveyor paver. Without reblending, segregation in the truck will be reflected in the mat behind a traditional slat paver,” Polk says.