EQUIPMENT FOCUS: Plant profitability

March 10, 2011

Asphalt-paving contractors often have to deal with a long list of frustrations: long waits at the asphalt plant, high costs for the hot mix and then long drives back to the jobsite. An obvious solution is to buy an asphalt plant, but the cost can often be prohibitive, ranging anywhere from $500,000 to $4 million. And even then, permits, environmental regulations and market conditions may not make the purchase a viable option.

While purchasing a plant isn’t feasible for everyone, thorough research could reveal a legitimate opportunity to improve productivity and profitability.

Potential buyers first need to look at the size of the market; determine the capacity being used; look for customers who could drive up demand; investigate the number and sizes of paving companies that work in the area; and analyze what percentage of new bids a new plant would be able to supply.

However, don’t assume bigger is always better, since capacity could be wasted if it greatly exceeds demand. For help determining market capacity, contact a knowledgeable plant manufacturer.

After deciding that the market can support another producer, begin exploring property locations. In particular, look at the rules and regulations, since they often vary greatly from region to region. Permitting rules and fees also vary from state to state, and acquiring a permit can take six to 12 months.

Look into any transport restrictions that may apply to the area. A new producer will need to establish trucking provisions to transport material from the plant to the jobsite if it hasn’t already been set up.

Portability requirements also should be considered. Some circumstances better lend themselves to a stationary plant, while a portable plant will be the better option when jobs are considerable distances apart or in a market with little growth and small population density. Typically it’s easier to get a permit for a portable plant’s location.

Clearly, an asphalt plant is a big investment. But fortunately, it will usually produce a return on investment (ROI) faster than similarly priced equipment, because a paving company will gain greater efficiency upon controlling its own supply and can sell the rest of the product. However, a plant that is not fuel-efficient or doesn’t produce the appropriate tons per hour will cost more over the course of its lifetime, even if it costs less upfront.

Most contractors who consistently produce as little as 50,000 tons per year will find the benefits will quickly outweigh the costs. The majority of new plants will realize a return in three to 10 years.

It also is important to know the characteristics that will help maximize ROI. A plant with a dual-drum configuration will maximize fuel efficiency while minimizing pollution, while those with a separate mixing drum will allow more mix flexibility, which will pay off in the long run.

Owning a plant means no more trucks waiting in line at a competitor’s plant, especially during peak paving months. It also means paving crews won’t be held up waiting for the truck to return with hot mix.

If it’s decided that getting into asphalt production is the right course of action, the company can look forward to controlling its own destiny and a steady growth in profits.

Several drum options

Two additions to the Hamm HD+ tandem roller line offer a variety of options, including conventional vibration, high-frequency compaction, the exclusive Hamm Oscillation compaction and even a split-drum option. The HD+ 90, with an operating weight of 10 tons, and the HD+ 110, with an operating weight of 11.5 tons, are both 66-in. rollers. Separate adjustments can be made on both drums so that they can be precisely set to the requirements of specialty or high-performance asphalts.

Thermal profile

The MOBA PAVE-IR offers contractors and agencies a new, nondestructive method for detecting thermal segregation in real-time. Using infrared sensors, the system produces a thermal profile for the entire project. It delivers real-time QC/QA data to the operator on a full-color TFT touch screen and stores all files for additional analysis. The complete job is documented with GPS coordinates and a temperature scale, and paving speed and paver stops also are recorded. This allows contractors to adjust their operations to maximize profits and reduce segregation.

Spray paver

For roads that have minor cracking or raveling but are structurally sound, an ultra-thin bonded wearing course is a cost-effective and efficient solution for rehabilitation. The Roadtec SP-200 paver sprays a tack coat down just in front of the spreading augers, and the screed levels off a ¾- to 1-in. lift of hot mix. The SP-200 holds 2,100 gal of emulsion and can pave at more than 100 ft per minute. It is especially useful for slower-moving urban projects, but also can perform high-production work with the bonded wearing course.

Fine-tuned

Offering up to 30-ft paving widths, the full-size Terex CR562 rubber-track paver features a 16.7-ton hopper capacity. When using the available hopper insert, it can even handle loads of up to 27 tons. It also has the Frame Raise and Three-Point Suspension systems, which let the operator fine-tune the head of material and maintain a consistent material feed height at the screed. The CR562 is powered by a 260-hp Tier III-compliant engine, and a unique cooling system keeps the paver running cooler and the engine compartment cleaner for optimum reliability.

Compact paver

A compact, lighter-weight design lets contractors haul Caterpillar’s AP555E asphalt paver along with other necessary jobsite equipment, helping to minimize costs. An advanced material-handling system reduces segregation potential for higher mat quality. Four individual pumps enable each conveyor and auger to deliver the exact amount of mix to the screed. Three propel/steering modes increase paving efficiency. The Maneuver mode even lets the paver turn within its own footprint, making it ideal for work in tight quarters. An interactive interface also assists the operator.

Versatile rollers

The CB54, CB54XW and CB64 asphalt compactors by Caterpillar can be used on all phases of asphalt compaction, reducing the need for a variety of rollers. They feature versatile vibratory systems, reliable water-spray systems and quick access to service compartments. The five-amplitude vibratory system can apply extensive amounts of force for superior performance on thick lifts and tough mix designs. A new frame design also provides a clear view to the drum surface and spray bars.

Intelligent compaction

BOMAG has introduced the Asphalt Manager II, an intelligent compaction quality-control tool for heavy asphalt tandem rollers. The BOMAG Evib stiffness value is displayed in real-time to assist the operator in minimizing the required number of roller passes while maximizing density and smoothness. Surface quality is optimized and aggregate crushing can be prevented. The AM II system operation is efficient via a simple menu guide. Manual mode delivers exact vector direction for application versatility, while automatic mode allows amplitude limitation for thin asphalt layers.

Customizable plant

Asphalt Drum Mixers has added a warm-mix asphalt system to its Milemaker-series asphalt plants. As a result, the plants can now introduce water or other chemicals into liquid asphalt entering the plant. The dual-drum plants use counterflow technology, which operates separate drying and mixing zones to achieve the maximum level of heat transfer and fuel efficiency. Milemaker plants, which are available in portable, relocatable or stationary versions, meet all federal and state specifications. A wide range of components can further customize each plant to the customer’s needs.

Simplifies paving

The M310 truck-mounted slurry seal and microsurfacing paver from Bergkamp lets operators easily calibrate the machine, control production rates and simplify maintenance. It uses an EMCAD System that displays current and average material ratios, total material used and material application rates. The M310 carries 10 cu yd of aggregate, 600 gal of both asphalt emulsion and water and 80 gal of additive. Aggregate is delivered to the pug mill by a 24-in.-wide belt-over-chain conveyor, which eliminates slippage, and new material can be loaded at full rate without affecting production settings.

Extreme conditions

The Dynapac F1000T (tracked) and F1000W (wheeled) asphalt pavers are built to handle extreme conditions in remote locations. The 10-ft-wide pavers are made with heavy-welded frame construction. A high-performance outboard auger drive and high-capacity slat conveyor system are designed to eliminate center-line segregation. The conveyor system can deliver 600 tons of asphalt per hour, and the paver is powered by a 230-hp Cummins Tier III engine. The F1000 series also features the lowest deck height in the industry.

Advanced technology

Volvo’s PF6000 series of highway-class asphalt pavers utilize advanced technology to maximize paving performance. The auger and conveyor drives each use sonic sensors to handle material more precisely. Chains on the conveyor system are automatically tensioned and automatically clean themselves. A hopper capacity of 14.38 tons gives each paver a practical production rate of 820 tons per hour. The pavers feature dual control stations, and each seat can be extended beyond the machine’s edge for increased visibility. They also can fit several different screeds up to 10 ft wide and have a maximum paving width of 26 ft.

Reversible compactor

At 158 lb, the Doosan BXR-60H offers 3,417 lb of centrifugal force, giving maximum compaction to walk-behind compactors. It is especially suited for creating smooth movement and maximizing productivity in graded aggregates, sand and mixed soils. With a plate size of 14 x 19 in., the BXR-60H is recommended for a maximum depth of 13 in. Dual eccentric-shaft technology delivers the maximum compaction force and productivity, and the reversing feature allows the operator to easily change direction with a single lever.

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