Be nimble, be quick

May 5, 2015

New partnership helps solve asphalt supply problems

Commerical and small municipal paving contractors often find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

Most take pride in being nimble and flexible, selling on the advantage of quickly servicing the needs of the customer more so than the larger, more established asphalt producer/contractor in the area. They make a living on contracts that the “big boys” typically do not touch. 

Often adjusting their paving schedules, these asphalt contractors will commonly work odd hoursnights and weekendsto accommodate customer requests. Yet, most of these “nimble” operations are missing one critical component to the supply chain: the asphalt mix. They are at the mercy of the asphalt producer’s supply schedule. 

“We had difficulties getting the mix when we needed it,” commented Harvey Lalli, president of Superior Asphalt Products Ltd., Abbotsford, British Columbia. Even though there were several large asphalt plants in the area, the producers’ paving crews and schedules took precedence, leaving Superior Asphalt without mix and frustrated. “Nights and weekends were the hardest times to get mix,” he added. 

Dedicated work

Superior Asphalt has been part of the Abbotsford paving industry for more than 35 years, providing private, commercial and small municipal paving services. Over the years, the company’s reputation for delivering a quality product fueled its growth and the demand for more and more asphalt. 

The Abbotsford market is saturated with asphalt plants operated by large regional and multinational producers making mix for a metro population of only about 175,000 people. The fifth-largest city in British Columbia, Abbotsford lies just north of the U.S. border and less than 50 miles southeast of Vancouver. 

As Superior Asphalt’s mix needs grew, so too did the challenge of getting the asphalt from these suppliers when the paving crews needed it. Keenly identifying the problem, the company’s leadership began looking for a solution to get a dedicated provider of asphalt that would be able to supply mix whenever it was needed. 

Superior Asphalt considered purchasing a plant of its own, but even with the temperate West Coast climate allowing for year-round paving, the challenge of competing with the established producers made this a difficult prospect for the family-run business. So, too, did the company’s previous experience with an asphalt plant. “My father owned a plant for a while in the 1980s, but he didn’t have the support structure to operate it profitably,” mentioned Harvey. 

While purchasing a plant outright was not the right prospect for Superior Asphalt, the company had to get control over its mix supply. The fact that they could not get the mix they needed, when they needed it, limited the company’s growth potential.  

At about the same time the company was struggling with these supply issues, Alpha Asphalt, a First Nations business (people whose ancestry can be traced to the aboriginal people who inhabited British Columbia prior to the arrival of Europeans and Americans) presented a solution to Superior Asphalt. It would allow Superior Asphalt to focus on paving operations, while giving them a dedicated supply of mix to the paving operations. 

Willing to relocate

In 2010, Superior Asphalt entered into a partnership with Alpha Asphalt Ltd. 

“As part of the partnership, Alpha Asphalt owns and provides day-to-day operation of the asphalt plant,” explained Randy Rizzo, plant operations manager for Alpha Asphalt. “Superior Asphalt is the primary, dedicated paving contractor to which we supply our mix.” 

The two-way relationship also is beneficial to Alpha Asphalt and First Nations people. “This is the first business endeavor in this industry for a First Nations company,” said Chief Justin George, president of Alpha Asphalt and grandson of acclaimed late actor Chief Dan George. “The business will help create employment and economic development for our people.” 

With the partnership in place, Alpha Asphalt worked with Roger Johnson Consulting Ltd. of North Vancouver to search for an asphalt plant that would fit specific criteria. 

“First, we were looking for a plant that would meet the tough air-quality standards for the region,” said Roger Johnson, president of Roger Johnson Consulting. They also carefully considered production capacity and plant configuration. “Second, we looked at smaller plants for Alpha Asphalt that would fulfill the contract with Superior Asphalt but would also leave room for growth,” he added. 

With Abbotsford nearby British Columbia’s largest metro area, the emissions standards for the region are modeled after some of the most stringent U.S. standards. “We are in a sensitive air-shed area, where people are very concerned about air quality,” mentioned Rizzo. Even before the plant was sited, local residents and the local newspaper, The Abbotsford Times, raised fears and concerns over the plant being a potential source for air pollution. 

After reviewing several small plant designs, Alpha Asphalt purchased the Terex E225P super portable counterflow drum mix plant from Terex Roadbuilding and financed the deal through Terex Financial Services. 

“The plant met all the criteria we were looking for,” said Johnson. 

Capable of producing up to 225 tons per hour, the E225P asphalt plant allows Alpha Asphalt to make mix for Superior’s paving crews plus gives the company additional capacity to make a salable product for other paving contractors. 

Built for quick, low-cost portability, the base plant configuration can be moved in only five loads: counterflow drum mixer; baghouse; self-erect silo; four cold-feed bins with scalping screen; and liquid AC tank/control house/fuel tank. To facilitate portability, the base plant has only 20 “plug-and-play” cable connections. 

To meet their specific needs, Alpha Asphalt modified the plant’s configuration. They upgraded to twin 140-ton silos and a 20,000-gal liquid AC tank, and they added a RAP bin with conveyor. The fuel source for the 75 million-BTU drum burner is natural gas. “It’s a cheap and clean fuel source, but you sacrifice some portability,” said Mike Rodriguez, district manager for Terex Roadbuilding.  

As equipped, the new plant configuration can be moved in about nine loads. “Our main base of operations will be the Abbotsford location, but we will move the plant should the right opportunity present itself,” said Rizzo. 

The plant is on Sumas First Nations land in Abbotsford, which is managed by the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). “This required permission to use the site from the INAC, but Alpha Asphalt was instrumental in helping obtain this approval,” explained Rizzo. “With that hurdle crossed, the next step was the emissions test.”

As soon as the plant was up and running in August 2010, emissions tests were performed. The standards to meet or exceed were: particulate concentration of 90 milligrams (mg) per cu meter; volatile organics: 60 mg/cu meter; opacity: 20%; and carbon monoxide: 200 mg/cu meter. 

“The plant passed with flying colors,” said Rizzo. “Our particulates averaged 60.49 mg/cu meter. Organics were 20.56 mg/cu meter. Opacity was 5%. And CO tested at 59.16 mg/cu meter.” 

Open opportunities

Perhaps more important than passing the tests, Alpha Asphalt has won over public support for the plant. With a preschool located approximately 500 meters from the plant site, Alpha Asphalt is motivated to ensure smooth continuing operations. 

“We had an open house for neighbors and community members just after opening, and many people could not tell the plant was running,” added Rizzo. “In addition to low emissions, the plant is very quiet.” 

Less than six months into production, the partnership and asphalt-plant investment are already paying dividends for both Alpha Asphalt and Superior Asphalt. Alpha Asphalt has a dedicated customer purchasing mix from the Sumas First Nations plant site and is making mix for other paving contractors in the area. Superior Asphalt’s overall paving operations are now more efficient and flexible, since they have mix whenever it is required. They also are seeing new customers. “Our flexibility is opening new doors and opportunities for us,” mentioned Harvey. 

Rizzo is already looking ahead to the next production phases for the plant. Alpha Asphalt will soon run up to 30% RAP in the mixes, further lowering asphalt-production costs. 

“We also have the plant plumbed for producing warm-mix asphalt,” he said. “This will allow us to lower mixing temperatures and further lower plant emissions.” 

Out of this unique partnership, frustration has now turned into opportunity and growth, not only for Superior Asphalt but also for the First Nations business of Alpha Asphalt. AT

About The Author: Zettler is with Z-Comm, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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