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Volvo Road Institute — Teaching the ABCs of Asphalt Paving

Thu January 13, 2011 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

There is a slight parallelism between the state of the country today and in 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed landmark legislation intended to shore up the nation’s defense and strengthen business and trade. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, also referred to as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, provided $25 billion (almost $200 billion today) to construct the Interstate Highway System. Faced with a looming recession and a 5 percent unemployment rate, Eisenhower hoped the Act would help kick start the economy.

It did, and succeeded in driving forward a key aspect in the nation’s construction industry — asphalt.

By the mid-1960s, highway construction and the asphalt industry gained tremendous momentum. And the technology was changing. Asphalt pavers were moving from tamper to vibratory technology, and the addition of systems such as automation for grade and slope controls caused innovations and created unknowns for the contractors, state agencies and manufacturers in the asphalt industry.

Training the industry workforce in the operation and functional capabilities of new and re-engineered machines and systems became more and more needed. Blaw-Knox recognized this and in 1965 established a company-sponsored factory training providing not only instruction on the maintenance and operation of Blaw-Knox equipment, but also best practices and knowledge for the betterment of the asphalt industry.

In the 1970s, Blaw-Knox established a formal training center in Mattoon, Ill., where courses in operations and maintenance and mechanical training were available for industry-wide participation. In 1997, the training facility officially became the Road Institute and sales training was added to the curriculum, to include hands-on operation and application training for sales staff.

“For more than 45 years, the Road Institute has been recognized throughout North America as the premier educator for asphalt industry professionals,” said Steve Blackwelder, then director of global training for Road Institute, which is now operated by Volvo Construction Equipment.

The training philosophy is comprehensive: to not only teach participants how to operate the equipment, but also to educate them on best paving practices and on how to recognize common problems that occur on a paving job and how to correct those problems.

Courses at the Volvo Road Institute are structured to include both classroom instruction and hands-on learning applications for asphalt pavers and compactors. Instructors are asphalt industry veterans bringing nearly 60 years of experience to each class. Steve Neal is the paving instructor and Wayne Tomlinson is the compaction instructor for the Volvo Road Institute. Neal and Tomlinson respectively have 37 and 22 years experience in the asphalt industry and in service and training.

Classes are held in Chambersburg, Pa., and in Phoenix, Ariz.

“Many of the attendees have been around pavers for a long time,” explained Peter Fleming, former paving instructor at the Road Institute and now product trainer of the European Volvo Road Institute, established in 2009. “They learn on the job and sometimes only learn the very basics. It’s our job to give them the complete picture.”

A majority of attendees at the Road Institute are paving crew personnel and supervisors. However, because of the commitment and reputation Road Institute has acquired over the years, it has attracted other professionals as attendees, such as state highway administrators and asphalt production professionals.

One such attendee, John Morgan, a technical sales representative of MeadWestvaco, enrolled in Road Institute to expand his current knowledge of asphalt paving. MeadWestvaco (MWV) produces a warm mix asphalt additive called Evotherm.

Morgan represents Evotherm to asphalt producers as well as contractors and DOT administrators. In his business, Morgan has a vested interest in understanding paving operations and best practices.

“Over the years, I have acquired a background in asphalt and road construction through my professional interaction with contractors and state DOT administrators,” said Morgan, “but to be honest, there is no substitute for hands-on training.

“At the Road Institute, I had the opportunity to crawl around and get inside the equipment. I listened to the instructors talk about the operation of the equipment, proper maintenance and what happens when it isn’t properly maintained.”

Morgan attended a three-day course on asphalt paver and compactor operations and maintenance. The first day is spent in a classroom learning basic equipment operation and paving and compaction principles. The objective of this particular course is to introduce standard operation of paving equipment and teach best practices to lay a superior mat.

Attendees learn the difference between a wheeled and tracked paver and which is best on certain jobs. They learn how screeds smooth and initially compact the material, and they are introduced to asphalt compactors and the various rolling patterns for compaction.

“We talk about theory,” said Tomlinson. “We look at how the machines work, how the screed smoothes and seals the asphalt material, what amplitude and frequency are in compaction, and other such topics.”

Additionally, instruction is provided on various asphalt compositions and differences between Superpave, stone matrix asphalt, warm mix versus hot mix, and reclaimed asphalt. Tomlinson explained that they also discuss compaction density requirements, the importance of the sub base, and how slight changes in moisture affect placement and compaction.

As important as all that information is, the most fundamental portion of the classroom instruction is best paving and compaction practices. For instance, Neal will instruct on the factors that affect the screed and how to control those factors to achieve the perfect mat, and Tomlinson will discuss consistency in the rolling patterns and maintaining the correct rolling speed for proper impact spacing.

The next two days the class receives in-depth, hands-on training outdoors. Days two and three are conducted outside in a large flat area where attendees will put into practice the classroom lessons to enable them to operate the equipment correctly and efficiently.

Day two begins with up-close familiarization with the equipment. Tomlinson and Neal take the class around each piece of equipment they will be operating to discuss proper maintenance procedures and point out the major control systems. Important daily and weekly checks of the pavers and compactors are reviewed in detail by the paving crew.

“We take them to the next step; to the heart of the course,” Neal said, operating the equipment and applying what was learned in the classroom the previous day to an actual paving job.

The purpose of these two days is to give everyone good practice. And practice is what they do. The Road Institute team takes each class through an actual paving operation using a mix of damp sand and gravel as a substitute for hot mix asphalt.

“We find sand and gravel closely mimics hot mix asphalt and you can see any mistakes made in the mat during the process pretty well,” said Tomlinson.

Neal directs the paving portion of the day and Tomlinson takes over for the compaction. A Volvo PF6110 tracked paver is used with an Omni 318 screed. The class paves a mat 50 yds. (46 m) long and 12 ft. (3.6 m) wide. The students run the paver and the screed using manual controls as instructors observe. After a few yards, the group stops to assess the operation and mat.

There are several stops along the mat to discuss, adjust and solve problems that inevitably show up, and the different roles played by the paving team — from the paver operator, screed operator, truck driver to the rest of the team to make certain that each segment of the operation is working properly.

After the first mat is laid down under Neal’s direction, Tomlinson takes over and the group focuses on compaction, using a Volvo DD38HF double drum compactor.

“I use the smaller model because it reacts quickly to the operator’s control and will exaggerate any mistakes made,” said Tomlinson.

Each attendee gets a turn on the machine to roll and compact the freshly laid sand mat. The class is instructed on the various rolling patterns they learned the day before, such as the five-pass pattern or a side-by-side pattern.

As each student takes his turn on the compactor, the rest of the class observes and has in hand a scorecard. For each turn, the remaining students observe and give a letter grade, A through F, on how well the operator did.

“When we have a paving crew, they will generally get all A’s,” explained Tomlinson. “If someone has never run a compactor before, it can be tough to operate for the first time.”

Also on-site is a Volvo DD118HF highway class asphalt compactor. Although attendees do not get a chance to operate the large compactor on the mat, they are given a walk-around of the machine, taught operational and maintenance procedures and provided the opportunity to operate the compactor off to the side.

After the first lesson in compaction, it’s time to lay a second mat and learn joint matching, by laying the second length of the mat next to the first. Here the fundamentals of making and looting a joint are discussed. At an appropriate time on this second run Neal discusses material management and methods of correctly handling the controls to ensure that the material passes through the paver and under the screed without destroying its homogeneous blend.

On the third day, the attendees are introduced to the automatic grade and slope controls on the paver and the use of electronic controls for leveling.

“A preset wire guideline, which has been leveled by a laser, is set up along one side of the training area. As the paver moves along, its electronic grade sensor reads the wire and the automatic controls keep the screed at the desired grade and slope. The screed operator makes slight adjustments when necessary.”

The automatic grade control is also known as a “joint matcher” because when laying a second mat it senses the previously laid mat as its reference and keeps the screed parallel to it. The automatic slope control allows the operator to set, adjust or maintain the slope across the mat.

If it is a hot joint, the new mat is laid to the same depth of the first mat. If it’s a cold joint the second mat needs to be approximately 25 percent deeper, and it is up to the roller operator to compact the joints. Tomlinson instructs on rolling the joint, meaning to compact by rolling it like an unsupported edge and pinch it from either the hot side or the cold side of the joint, whichever is specified.

Although a safety statement is made during the class opening on the first day, the final session is focused on job site safety. Photographs of actual job sites highlighting safety issues are provided to the attendees. Safety is placed at the forefront of every operation.

The Road Institute has come a long way from the early days of Blaw-Knox staff members traveling with portable models to explain away the mysteries of new and innovative paving systems to state departments of transportation, dealers, and to contractors using the machines. Tens of thousands of industry professionals have attended the Road Institute over the last 45 years. There are many repeat attendees participating in the 16 courses offered over a 9-month period each year, from contractors sending new employees, as well as paving veterans for refresher training.

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