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Young Stabiliser of the Year: Damian Volker

The 2015 AustStab Young Stabiliser of the Year, Damian Volker, talks to Roads & Civil Works about his win and his ten years with TMR.

The 2015 AustStab Young Stabiliser of the Year, Damian Volker, talks to Roads & Civil Works about his win and his ten years with TMR.In 2005 an unfortunate knee injury put Damian Volker’s dreams of soccer stardom to rest, but as the saying goes: when one door closes, another opens.

Immediately after his sporting career ended abruptly, Mr. Volker started working as a cadet with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) at its Herston laboratory and began studying for an Advanced Diploma in Civil Engineering part-time.

Nearly ten years on and this young TMR cadet is now Senior Technical Officer – Pavement Rehabilitation Unit within the organisation’s Engineering and Technical Branch. He has also been named the 2015 AustStab Young Stabiliser of the Year.

The 33-year-old was recognised for his extensive efforts within the stabilisation industry at the annual AustStab Awards of Excellence in July.

The coveted title is awarded to a professional, 35 years and younger, who has shown significant achievements in the pavement stabilising sector. Not only this, but the individual has demonstrated an understanding of the role of stabilisation and shows proficiency in the use of communication skills in such projects.

Technical advice Mr. Volker has provided on many multi-million-dollar projects has led to significant improvements in production, quality and efficiency as his advice highlights the avoidance of key issues and “pit falls” learnt from other projects.

“This award signifies the collaborative partnering approach between TMR and industry to achieve value for money stabilisation innovations and enhance the outcome for road users,” says Mr. Volker.

Christopher Cleaton from Stabilised Pavements of Australia and Matthew Kovess from Downer were also nominated for the award. Aside from this honour, Mr. Volker has won the TMR Chief Engineer’s Award twice (in 2012 and 2013), and was nominated for the 2014 ‘Unleash Potential’ TMR Cubie Award. He has also been nominated for the 2015 TMR Cubie Award, the results of which will be announced soon.

Mr. Volker’s success is a testament to his journey with TMR. His decade-long career in the department exemplifies the importance of the next generation of road engineers and technical officers and the enthusiasm that leads to success.

Even as a TMR cadet, Mr. Volker was thrown headfirst into the action, working on a range of projects around Queensland. He came under the tutelage of Michael Janosevic who mentored him during his cadetship and sparked his interest in different aspects of stabilisation, including foamed bitumen.

“And from there I was part of a pavement investigation and surveillance team,” Mr. Volker explains. “I think, for me, beginning in the TMR laboratories followed by performing detailed pavement investigations was a valuable foundation for understanding material properties and failure mechanisms.”

Over the years he transitioned from the post-construction area of stabilisation in the Herston laboratory into the pre-construction sector, focusing on design, reviewing specifications and finding solutions to problems. Today, due to the travel required in his role at TMR Mr. Volker has continued his studies in a Bachelor of Civil Engineering via correspondence through Charles Darwin University.

Mr. Volker eventually began working closely with Jothi Ramanujam (also known as Rama), TMR Director of Pavements Rehabilitation. He cites Mr. Ramanujam as another mentor, one who helped extend his interest in concepts such as foamed bitumen, cementitious and lime stabilisation particularly through their collaboration on projects around the state.

It was his work with Mr. Ramanujam that was highlighted in his Young Stabiliser nomination and subsequent win. Most notably, Mr. Volker provides assistance to Mr. Ramanujam by ensuring that where a particular type of stabilisation is recommended for a project, his technical support and advice is such that the project has an excellent prospect of success. Mr. Ramanujam says Damian’s success is due to his attention to detail, hard work, dedication to duty and passion particularly in the field of stabilisation. “Damian is always keen to get the job done right,” adds Mr. Ramanujam.

Two recent TMR projects, south of Rockhampton, for instance, were successfully stabilised this year with a triple blend (lime, cement and flyash) to improve the sub-base and a foamed bitumen stabilised base combination.

Mr. Volker incorporated the old, highly cemented and heavily cracked bases into the pavement, which would otherwise have been removed and replaced. This process was undertaken by pulverising the profiled material and carefully blending it with imported, granular crushed rock. No additional sub-base material was required. This solution, using foamed bitumen, maximised the use of the existing pavement and resulted in enhanced sustainability and a cost saving of more than 10 per cent on these projects.

Mr. Volker’s innovation is now being considered as a potential solution for other projects on the Bruce Highway rehabilitation program.

What adds to Mr. Volker’s innovative mind is his enthusiasm and passion for the stabilisation industry.

“To be able to take a project from the very start through to construction and develop new ideas for the next project is very satisfying,” he says. Mr. Volker highlights technical procedural meetings on projects as an exciting arena for discussion.

Taking these innovative ideas and transferring the knowledge onto others is a responsibility Mr. Volker has gradually taken on in his last three years at TMR. He has been heavily involved in the Centre for Pavement Engineering Education (CPEE) courses run in coordination with AustStab. He explains that these training courses are a great opportunity to demonstrate what TMR is doing and how lessons from those projects can help the stabilisation industry as a whole.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to make sure previous mistakes aren’t made on other projects, to identify and avoid the pitfalls and identify what works and share best practice.”

Mr. Volker surmises that now is an exciting time to be a part of the stabilisation industry.

“What really motivates me are the detailed pavement investigations, performance research and putting innovation into practice, especially around reusing materials, optimising additive rates and improving sustainability,” he says. Sustainability and green-minded solutions, such as foamed bitumen bases and triple-blend subgrade stabilisation are becoming more and more popular, he adds, and they help make it an attractive industry for the young engineers and technical officers who have a mind for innovation and environmentally sustainable solutions.

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