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The Dutch Roll Out a Better Road

Monday, February 2, 2015

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Training, and treating, paving crews as professionals could be the startlingly simple answer to dramatically stronger roads, according to new research being put to the test throughout the Netherlands.

While some researchers labor for years over incremental material advances, an engineering doctoral student at the University of Twente has happened on a cheaper, faster and possibly more effective solution to failing roads: Do a better job teaching and monitoring the people who put down the asphalt.

RoadPaving / kozmoat98

"Road rolling requires much more than just driving your roller up and down a stretch of road," says Frank Bijleveld. Proper paving "requires professional skill and expertise."

Working with 11 road construction companies, the university has put Frank Bijleveld's theory to the test in more than 50 asphalt paving projects across the country.

And it's working.

'More Than Just Driving'

Until now, Bijleveld says, paving was "never systematically and routinely put to writing" but relied mainly on pavers sharing what they knew. Technology was never used, and certainly no lab ever took a scientific look at the process.

All of that sold pavers and their work short, he said.

"Road rolling requires much more than just driving your roller up and down a stretch of road," Bijleveld says.

Driving the roller is "rather easy," but proper asphalt paving "requires professional skill and expertise."

What's so hard about it? Consider this, Bijleveld says:

"On arrival to the construction site, the asphalt has a temperature of some 150 degrees Celsius [302 degrees Fahrenheit]. Asphalt compaction is to take place within a specific range of temperatures, but in practice determining whether the asphalt is at the right temperature is often based on the workers' own gut feelings.

Marc Ryckaert / Creative Commons 3.0

Work on the Netherlands' A50 Motorway was one of more than 50 projects nationwide where Bijleveld's research was tested.

"Things get more complicated when considering there are many types of asphalt. And, naturally, the asphalt cools down more quickly in winter than in summer.

"So, road rolling requires a great deal of professional skill and experience. 'What's the ideal driving speed? What's the asphalt's current temperature? What has my colleague driver done already? Should I have the roller start vibrating now?' One error of judgement, and you would immediately damage the new road."

Tech Assists

The 50-plus road projects were systematically monitored and recorded for this research, the university reported. "New technologies allowed for the monitoring of all material movements on the construction site, including asphalt temperature during laydown, asphalt compaction and the weather conditions."

Using GPS, laser, infrared and other technologies provided the roller driver with more information about the process and allowed for precise monitoring of the installation process.

Meanwhile, crew feedback sessions allowed the workers to share and implement "the experience and expertise of their colleagues, thereby improving the process," the university said. Lab experiments simulated and refined asphalt application strategies.

Twentse Weg-en Waterbouw BV

GPS, lasers, infrared and other technologies allowed for monitoring of all material movements on the construction site, including asphalt temperature, compaction and weather conditions.

Measurements were recorded 24/7 for two weeks during one project. A learning model was tested at another, while feedback was continually provided to an asphalt crew over one day at a third location. A fourth site focused on low-temperature asphalt.

Stronger Roads

The result: road quality that is "10 to 30 percent higher" than others laid in less-meticulous fashion, with the expectation of a commensurately longer life with less maintenance, the university said.

Bijleveld's doctoral thesis, Professionalising the asphalt construction process: Aligning information technologies, operators' knowledge and laboratory practices, was researched in cooperation with the ASPARi (Asphalt Paving Research and Innovation) Network, a group of Dutch organizations working to improve the performance of the asphalt road construction industry.

ASPARi plans to take the new findings further, enhancing the crews' professional development by providing them with real-time data that links the lab with the work site. The network is also developing a broad educational program covering the asphalt paving process that will include professional and university education.

"Taken together, all this will result in the further professional development of road construction and improved asphalt roads," the university says.


Tagged categories: Asphalt; Construction; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Quality Control; Research; Roads/Highways; Worker training

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