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Reflections on an evolving industry

Downer's CEO Infrastructure Services ,Sergio Cinerari, talks to Roads & Civil Works Magazine about how far the flexible pavements industry has come in 30 years and what the future may hold.

Downer's CEO Infrastructure Services ,Sergio Cinerari, talks to Roads & Civil Works Magazine about how far the flexible pavements industry has come in 30 years and what the future may hold. In 1984, Sergio Cinerari was 22 years old and looking for a change in direction, something different.

He was working for a mechanical engineering business in Melbourne when he learnt that asphalt and road pavement services provider, Emoleum, was recruiting cadets. Despite having little knowledge about the roads industry, Mr. Cinerari’s curiosity was piqued.

“At the time, it was one of those industries that people didn’t know much about – the road sector was a pretty small industry, with state road authorities doing much of this work through direct labour forces,” he says.

Mr. Cinerari saw two options: “I could work for a large road surfacing contractor or I could stay where I was.

“I went just to have a look, but I came to see that this industry is different.” Upon seeing the opportunity to work across the business, rather than within one core area, he was sold. The company took Mr. Cinerari on and supported him while he studied at Melbourne’s RMIT.

It was Mr. Cinerari’s curiosity and ultimate decision to try something different that instigated a long and successful journey in the flexible pavements industry.

“I started off in the bituminous sealing business with Emoleum, which was owned by Mobil, and from there I went into asphalt contracting and running asphalt crews,” he says.

Mr. Cinerari then proceeded to work in asphalt production and delved into the material blending aspects of the industry and a range of roles or “myriad” as he puts it – ultimately ending up at the road maintenance services company, RPC Roads, in 2000.

Mr. Cinerari joined Downer after it acquired RPC Roads in early 2003, taking on more managerial roles. In 2006 Downer acquired Emoleum, a coincidence that, Mr. Cinerari jokes, has seen his career come “full circle”.

More than 30 years later and after working through a multitude of positions within the roads sector, Mr. Cinerari is now Downer’s Chief Executive Officer Infrastructure Services.

Reflecting on his career and the plethora of roles he’s undertaken, it’s clear that Mr. Cinerari’s passion and excitement for the industry is as present as ever.

He explains that the fact an individual can enter the roads sector and work across a diverse range of roles is a benefit to the industry and the delivery of Australia’s road system. “There is so much more to this industry than you would think,” he adds.

“When you think about it, we have an immediate impact on people. Roads are a system to get around – a source of economic development. When you construct or rehabilitate a pavement, that in itself has an immediate impact on people and their standard of living.”

It is Mr. Cinerari’s contribution to the roads industry that saw him inducted as an Australian Asphalt Pavement Association (AAPA) Life Member in September. His unique perspective and experience is also something that offers great insight into the evolution of the Australian flexible pavements industry.

How has the industry practice changed in just 30 years? Mr. Cinerari says we’ve seen some major evolutions across the face of the industry.

He puts the magnitude of these changes into perspective.

“A really simple example I think about is back in the 1990s. We were called to a meeting led by VicRoads, who said that we were going to be doing road-surfacing work at night,” he says. The road authority wanted to resurface a highly congested intersection in Melbourne, recalls Mr. Cinerari, and resolved that night work was the best way to do it without disrupting the public.

“This was unheard of at the time. I recall the company that got the job – Readymix –used equipment to light up the job that was akin to the lighting on a movie set.”

Following this instance, the practice of night-time works quickly caught on. “Now we just take it as the way we work – we are now a 24-hour operation for much of the year.”

The shift from day to night-time pavement works is a significant one, one which reflects the industry moving towards more community-focused outcomes.

Mr. Cinerari says customer engagement and consultation has now become a vital part of the road sector’s approach to undertaking works.

“What we see now is that the community has direct and immediate access to communicate with asset owners and, therefore, it makes us all more accountable,” he says.

He says the communication between the asset owner and the public is clearer and more accessible thanks to the prioritising of customer engagement and developments in communications technology.

“The focus used to be solely on the technical outcome, with less attention to the road user. Now the focus is on delivering a quality outcome to the community so that user expectations are met.”

The change to working during the night rather than disrupting peak traffic during daytime is a key example of how the industry has embraced this emphasis on the end-user.

Since Mr. Cinerari began in the industry, he says a more safety-conscious focus has emerged too. “The focus on safety is another emphasis that has shifted for both worker and customer,” he says. More emphasis is on making sure the workers get home safe and the road users can travel safely during road construction and maintenance works.

Along with this major social change is the shift towards more value-for-money outcomes, which also benefits the end-user, explains Mr. Cinerari.

This focus on cost-efficiency affects how companies in the roads sector operate, particularly in how they disperse their labour.

“We’ve seen this industry become a whole lot more integrated. Road maintenance goes hand in glove with road rehabilitation, which also goes hand in glove with road construction,” he says.

Mr. Cinerari explains that this progression toward end-user and value-for-money outcomes over the past few decades has drastically changed how the industry interfaces, communicates with, and better meets the needs of the public. “The more we seek value-for-money solutions, the more sure-fire ways we can meet road user expectations.”

This progression has also helped fuel the flexible pavements industry’s development into a greener and more sustainable sector.

In the past 30 years, bag houses, for instance, have become a mandatory component of any Australian manufacturing plant.

Odour control systems are also another green-minded feature of the contemporary asphalt plant. “There are now sophisticated guidelines as to what is acceptable,” adds Mr. Cinerari.

“There’s more emphasis on the technology in the way we use materials, so that we get better value-for-money solutions with more variable materials.

“Plants are more automated and the people using them are better trained in producing asphalt.”

Mr. Cinerari says reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP), for example, has come a long way in a few decades. “In the mid to late 1980s, RAP was just made up of two to three per cent of any given mix and, if you were really daring, that could be five per cent.”

He says that asphalt manufacturers these days are producing up to 75 per cent RAP in their mixes.

The emphasis on recycling pavements has evolved into the practice of repurposing post-consumer waste products into roads, something that was unheard of three decades ago in Australia.

Rubber tyres, glass and even printer toner cartridges are some of the waste products being diverted from landfill and reused in road construction in parts of Australia.

“Who knows what will be recycled next?” says Mr. Cinerari.

This kind of green innovation is brought on by the industry, which was unheard of in the 1980s.

“When you look back at the industry, it was government-led and input-driven,” explains Mr. Cinerari. “We’ve seen a shift towards becoming outcome-driven and authorities now look to industry for innovation.” The industry has embraced this through bodies such as AAPA.

As for some of these industry-led innovations already in development, Mr. Cinerari says there are some great ideas that will change the flexible pavements industry exponentially and perhaps more so than in the past 30 years.

A perpetual pavement, for example, is an industry-devised concept has set the benchmark for the type of road Australia should be aspiring to create. “The concept of perpetual pavements is about building what you need not for now, but for the future,” he says. It is a road technology that is exactly what its name implies – perpetual.

Theoretically, with the right material, pavement design and structure, the top layer of the road can be removed and recycled every time maintenance is required. This means the road could essentially be 100 per cent recyclable or “closed loop”.

The way in which the industry has evolved over the past three decades has opened up a wide range of possibilities of where the industry might go to next. Mr. Cinerari is enthusiastic as to what some of these new innovations may bring.

“You think about the road asset right now – we’re only using the road at its peak and outside of that peak it’s an underutilised asset,” says Mr. Cinerari. He refers to a road’s functionality as an asset to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’, one that is used in line with the weekday morning and afternoon commuter peaks. The additional function of a main road in the off-peak, could be tapped into by some of the innovative ideas and technology coming through in Australia and around the globe.

User-pays models currently being assessed in the market may change how these assets are used.

Autonomous vehicles, likewise, may change the way in which roads are built. “For example, a standard three-lane carriageway could now be built with four lanes as autonomous vehicles stay on track and therefore allow for tighter tolerances between moving vehicles,” he says.

At the rate in which technology advances, it may be near impossible to predict what Australia’s road network may look like in 30 or even 50 years’ time. “We might even use some sort of pavement that we don’t have now,” says Mr. Cinerari.

He concludes that the road network will always be here and will always be a necessary asset, even if it may come in a different form in the decades to come.

“I think that in 50 years’ time, the way in which we build roads will change dramatically,” he says.

“Who knows what will happen and what the future road will look like, but I do know it will be perpetual, it will be closed loop, and it will be smart.”

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