For many, it wasn’t their first Australian Asphalt Pavement Association (AAPA) International Knowledge Transfer, and the opportunity to engage with some of their European counterparts over two weeks was too good to miss.
Attendees visited the government road agencies, research bodies, suppliers and manufacturers in the United Kingdom, France and Germany, and attended the 2016 Eurasphalt and Eurobitume (E&E) congress in Prague, Czech Republic and 8th RILEM conference in Nantes, France.
Roads & Civil Works Magazine talks to three delegates from the tour about the innovations, ideas and technology they encountered in Europe and their relevance within the Australian road sector.
Erik Denneman attended the Knowledge Transfer in his former role as Team Leader – Pavement Technology at ARRB, and noted some interesting developments in pavement materials, road construction and asset management.
He cites the use of cold mix asphalt technology in France, solar roads from Colas, and even the “self-healing asphalt” at the University of Nottingham in the UK as some of the interesting research projects happening in Europe.
Another highlight was what France was doing with warm mix asphalt, particularly from an occupational health and safety perspective for workers. “There were some real gems in terms of technology,” he says.
One thing that piqued his interest was to see the management of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) in action.
“We visited an asphalt plant in the UK which was doing some very interesting things. They use a lot of RAP, but they also test that material every day,” he says.
The daily testing of the aggregate grading and binder properties, he explains, allows proper management of the resource, which is something that is specified in Europe, but not always to the same extent in Australia.
“That kind of stockpile management is not currently in our specifications,” he adds.
French research organisation IFFSTAR also has a big focus on RAP and looking at what happens if asphalt is recycled multiple times.
He says there was also an interesting paper at the E&E conference about the reuse of RAP by separating it into components.
“When we visited Highways England in the UK, I found the asset management of their network interesting, and a lot of the things there are doing is relevant from an Australian point of view,” he says.
Highways England is employing a new asset-led delivery model, which aims to improve how it maintains its road network.
Rather than using asset support contracts as it has in the past, the organisation is aiming to establish contract arrangements that best suit the particular type of work required.
The new approach comprises of four different types of contract: maintenance and incident response – providing routine maintenance and responding to incidents from Highways England depots; design – taking briefs from Highways England and turning them into well-defined packages of work, including repairing and reinstating the network after incidents, where necessary; specialist services – such as weather forecasting and laboratory testing; and capital project delivery – delivery of work including emergency repairs.
Despite the leaps and bounds being made in innovation in Europe, Dr. Denneman asserts that the European road industry encounters the same roadblocks as Australia.
“We’re facing all the same problems: budget constraints, lack of information,” he says.
Nick Argyopoulos, Managing Director of NA Group, also attended the Knowledge Transfer and agrees that the asset management strategies being employed by Highways England are extremely relevant to Australia.
“In the UK they’re moving back to self-management,” he says. He explains that by becoming more hands-on in the process, the road authority is making everything more self-contained, giving the organisation better control and value for money. He says it also gives smaller contractors more opportunities to secure contracts.
Mr. Argyopoulos attended the Knowledge Transfer tour to the United States in 2014 and attended the tour to Europe to investigate the types of innovation being used, particularly in the European context and how Australia sits with the rest of the world.
For Mr. Argyopoulos, that innovation mainly came in the form of German-based Wirtgen Group’s developments in the asphalt plant and equipment space.
The group visited a Benninghoven (a Wirtgen Group company) asphalt plant in Germany, which employs a comprehensive Quality Assurance (QA) document control system. This is bolstered by thermal imaging technology the company developed for transporting material from plant to site.
“They can start out with Benninghoven plant and actually track the mix on the road to the job,” he says.
The Knowledge Transfer attendees were also shown the Vögele (another Wirtgen Group brand) RoadScan temperature measurement system. The RoadScan system, attached to a Vögele paver, can effectively monitor the temperature of the mix as it’s being laid.
Mr. Argyopoulos explains that the comprehensive approach to material delivery and application is fantastic and is something he believes has a big market in Australia.
“We’ve expressed our interest in the road scanner and are making sure that when the technology possibly comes to Australia we’re earmarked for a trial,” he says.
Reflecting on the differences between Europe and Australia, Mr. Argyopoulos says that our European counterparts are perhaps more open to trying different things in the road innovation space.
“The big challenges to Australia in terms of innovation is we’re very unwilling to try new things,” he says.
Nigel Preston, Bitumen Technical Director at Viva Energy Australia, explains that for him, there were many points of interest on the trip, both from a bitumen supply point of view and from his own personal perspective.
Dr. Preston says there are a lot of similar challenges between the Europe and Australia, particularly in relation to the supply and quality of bitumen.
“We raised a number of issues that the bitumen industry in Australia is facing, and we made sure those questions were asked and answered by the relevant people in Europe,” he says.
He says Europe has a relatively simply penetration-based specification for paving grade bitumens, which is considered to be quite satisfactory. But like Australia, the polymer modified binder specification is a bit of a “clunky” specification that could do with improving and having some performance-related tests to characterise the material.
However, he asserts that unlike Australia, Europe doesn’t employ a durability test on bitumen.
“Overall, Europe is broadly doing the same things we’re doing. We’re monitoring RAP use, exploring warm mix asphalt technology, low noise surfacing and more,” he says.
Like Dr. Denneman and Mr. Argyopoulos, Dr. Preston notes the similarities in challenges between Europe and Australia.
“The major challenge the road industry faces in all first world countries is funding, and where it’s going to come from,” he says.
Dr. Preston says the mentality of “doing more with less” in the road sector is fundamentally flawed and will be increasingly detrimental to maintaining the road network.
He adds that one of the main issues is that when funding is pulled from roads by government, there are no immediate consequences, making it an easy target when it comes to budget cuts.
“That was a clear topic that came out of talking to the Brits, French and Germans – there is not enough money given to maintain the existing network,” he says.
Following the trip, some of the delegates spoke about a few of the key ideas and innovations they encountered and relayed their experiences to industry at the 2016 AAPA National Workshop Series: Are you building a new safe road?