Tue November 23, 2021 – Midwest Edition #24
New technologies are reshaping the asphalt pavement industry, and the pace of change is accelerating as high-tech tools grow both more sophisticated and accessible. During Season 3 of “Pave It Black,” NAPA’s podcast covering the people and issues affecting the industry, hosts Richard Willis and Brett Williams interviewed industry experts to dig deeper into the innovations that are most affecting the realm of asphalt pavement — and that promise to change the way the industry operates long into the future.
In Episode 1, Nicholas Webb, founder and CEO of LeaderLogic and the keynote speaker at the 2020 NAPA Annual Meeting, detailed his thoughts on the concept of innovation and how it promises to impact the asphalt pavement industry. He emphasized that meaningful innovations often are “less about bright, shiny objects” and about creating “layered value that serves your customer and your organization” and improving processes.
“If we can be active observers and pay attention to ways to improve the quality of life of our customers and our stakeholders, we can do some really incredible things that have big impacts,” Webb said. “You don’t have to create an iPad in order to deliver value to the universe. Some of the greatest innovations have been simple, straightforward, and, by many people’s definition, almost obvious.”
Webb’s appearance set the stage for a season filled with first-person accounts from operators into the many ways that technology-based innovations are altering the way they do business.
Dan Gallagher, president of Gallagher Asphalt, discussed the growing electrification of vehicles and how that affects the asphalt industry — an industry funded in part by gas taxes through the Highway Trust Fund. Gallagher said he believes electrification of vehicles ranging from trucks to pavers will “offer a lot of advantages” for the industry and that the funding now coming from gas usage can be replaced with other efforts. “I’m really optimistic that there are a lot of good options for paying for roads through some kind of user fee,” Gallagher said.
Katie Peabody, senior business analyst with Lakeside Industries, joined “Pave It Black” to discuss the far-reaching impact of new developments in computing technology. “Everything is definitely evolving,” she said. “As an organization, we realize the importance of these technologies in order to continue to thrive in the industry, even though it isn’t always easy to adopt and utilize technology. If we don’t start embracing the tools available to us across all the technology platforms, there could really be missed opportunities to grow the business … [and] stay relevant within the industry.”
Dan Ridolfi, president of California-based LASTRADA Partners, dove into how data analytics and artificial intelligence can help operators “focus on what matters.” Ridolfi explained, “What we have the ability to do today is expand the databases, and that’s kind of what’s exciting about our world. I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, and I’ve watched in the last five to 10 [years] technology really start to get integrated in our industry. And now the next iteration for us is to bring that data together.”
Brent Carron, president of Valley Paving in Minnesota, explained the benefits of thermal profiling, a tool not widely used in the industry, but one that offers an opportunity for contractors to ensure high-quality asphalt pavements. “Once you see the thermal profile, it might get your mind rolling into some different ideas,” Carron said. “I think with all technology, you find things out in your process that you’re not thinking about in the development stage. And you can use this information in many other ways to improve your quality, rather than just meeting the requirement. And I think that’s the key benefit to this.”
Dan Ganoe, vice president of operations for Lindy Paving in Pennsylvania, discussed the implementation of e-ticketing and how to move to a paperless world. “We’ve been exploring e-ticketing in one shape or fashion over the past 10 years,” Ganoe said. “Internally [we] use it for our own benefit as far as being able to get a visual idea of where crews are production-wise and where plants are production-wise throughout the day, the night, and the weekend. Over the past four years, it seems there’s been a lot more movement within the field to move toward e-ticketing.”
During National Work Zone Awareness Week, Todd Hendricks, Jr., president of Ohio-based Pioneer Industrial Systems, shared that his company is pursuing two robotics solutions for road maintenance projects: sealing cracks on roads and setting and picking up cones in work zones. Hendricks observed that a wide range of robotics possibilities exist to help get workers out of dangerous situations. “It’s all being driven by worker safety. It’s a tough job,” Hendricks said. “And that’s some of the attractiveness here … making it safe, putting them in the controlled environment of the truck cab versus being on the road, and trying to improve some efficiency along the way.”
Mike Wills, area manager for California-based Granite Construction, said technology is allowing for much more efficient deployment of trucks to sites, such as through an app that Granite uses with drivers. “It’s like a big glass window that we have to break through,” Wills said. “Because there is a lot of resistance, we still have brokers that don’t want to do it. But once we’ve broken through that window, and people see the benefits to all parties, once they get past that, and really embrace this, they won’t go back.”
Ben Adomyetz, sales representative and estimator for the Rogers Group in Alabama, described how software can help asphalt operators plan, track, and communicate, such as during the transition from the bidding process for a project to the project itself. “At some point in time, there’s got to be this project handoff, where the information that was bid goes through a filter or a clearinghouse during the budgeting process and that becomes the bridge,” Adomyetz said. “That brings us to where the boots on the ground are. That’s going from macro to micro, getting down to the actual job of what we’re doing, and how we get there.”
Carl Pittman, a civil engineer with Apac Mississippi, and Jessica Lewis, a graduate student at Mississippi State, provided their insight into the ways that drones have increased safety and efficiency at project and plant sites. “The real success in a drone program is going to come down to how you use that data,” Pittman said. “You can go collect all the data you want. If it sits in an Excel spreadsheet, and never goes anywhere, you’re not really doing much with it. Our big successes come after ‘the fly’ and after the process and what we do with that data and how to use it to benefit our operations.”
(Reprinted with permission from the National Asphalt Pavement Association)
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