Today we can build underwater tunnels that connect countries, construct impossibly tall free-standing structures and design and raise suspension bridges that are miles long. However, we still struggle with arguably the most important and valuable aspect of our infrastructure to connect all of these, our roads.
Although over €5 billion was promised for Irish road improvements in 2018, in The Project Ireland 2040: National Development Plan 2018-2027, we still see the blight of potholes on our roads. Surface failures can arise in areas where the appropriate density of materials wasn’t achieved, and so with our current road condition crisis, we can see where it is possible to improve the current way of working.
The paving process involves a considerable amount of planning and designing with issues such as environment, traffic, terrain properties, utility works, nearby residents and maintenance costs all important considerations for new road projects. For ongoing maintenance projects, conditions of the existing roads must also be assessed, as there can be huge repercussions if the work is inaccurate – potentially doubling a project’s costs.
Challenges when paving
The logistics of transporting the hot mix asphalt is essential as, not only does the material need to be laid at the correct height, it also needs to be the correct mixture of compounds. In addition, since the material needs to be the right temperature, it also needs to arrive on time since delays can cause the material to cool in transit.
This is because the material is transported in a vehicle from a batching plant and arrives hot. If it is too cold, the material is not as malleable as it should be and starts to go hard – meaning it does not bond correctly when laid. This can result in water entering inside the road surface, freezing and then cracking to create potholes. To avoid this, the paving material must be laid at the correct temperature as well as the correct level.
Compacting the asphalt on the road once the material has been laid is also an important part of the process, as the material also needs to be rolled at the correct temperature. To guarantee the right temperature, compaction systems feature an in-built temperature sensor. However, if the paver ahead is paving too fast, by the time the roller with the compaction system catches up to the material, it is unable to bond together correctly – which can also cause water ingress and, later, potholes.
The future of paving
It is clear, then, that the future of paving lies in the adoption of technology. By recognising the benefits of innovation, there is now a huge opportunity for the industry to transform paving workflows and increase project productivity and accuracy by investing the latest road resurfacing solutions.
One such solution that is helping to maximise productivity and increase accuracy on paving projects is Topcon’s SmoothRide™ technology. Beginning with the design stage of the process, the solution uses scanners placed on a vehicle and driven across the existing surface at around 55mph, to collect data on the millions of points on the surface and provide a complete and accurate scan.
Using powerful software, operators can find the imperfections in this data – such as the depressions in the road where trucks sit and use this information to design the changes that need to be made.
For projects like airport runways or large motorway projects, where time is tight and resurfacing needs to be done quickly, investing in technology can also have significant financial benefits, since the paving can be carried out at driving speed – eliminating the need for costly road closures.
Technology has the ability to revolutionise paving and significantly increase productivity and accuracy on projects. With resistance to technology among those familiar and comfortable with traditional methods, it will be down to leading manufacturers in the industry to highlight the benefits that new technology can bring to paving, to encourage operators and contractors to embrace innovation.