by Mary Weaver with Photos by William Weaver and Stacie Newmann where noted
Large asphalt plants in the Snow Belt often close down for the winter. Their customers make do with cold mix or warm mix for road patching. Fifteen years ago, however, Superior Asphalt’s owner Jeff Kresnak spotted a potential niche market for his young company in supplying western MI customers with a high quality Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) straight through the bitter Michigan winters. Armed with a top-of-the-line Bagela BA10000 asphalt recycler, and with a variety of lab-tested mixes using an average of 20% RAP, he started his new marketing plan. Since then, with many improvements in both the ingredients and the process, their winter hot mix has become a huge success. The company, with its first large HMA plant located in Caledonia, near Grand Rapids, has been in business since 1983, and has grown exponentially in recent years.
Nine years ago, Kresnak hired Bill Zetty as Yard Manager and Paving Foreman, a wise move. Zetty is as conscientious and hard working as they come.
“If customers came with a concern, I was accountable,” Zetty explained. That was because he ran the operation virtually by himself until his 19-year-old son James recently came on board to help. “I developed relationships with our customers, because I was dealing with them directly. I constantly asked them for feedback on how the winter HMA mix was working for them.”
“Bill is a very ‘hands-on’ kind of guy,” explained Superior’s PR Director Stacie Newmann, as we watched Zetty working nimbly in their yard. First, he would jump into a CAT IT14G loader to reload the Bagela with more mix. Then he’d hop into a CAT 262C skid steer outfitted with a pneumatic hammer attachment, to break up larger chunks of RAP for future use. Next, he would direct municipal trucks backing up for their loads of HMA for the day while at the same time, checking the temperature of mix fresh from the Bagela. During our visit, his readings indicated the mix temperature was 388 degrees, even after it had been dumped into the cold bucket of the CAT loader.
“Based on customer feedback, I kept raising the temperature of the mix, so now I set the Bagela at 365 to 390 degrees F. That is about the top of the possible temperature range without material losing volatiles,” he said. “When I started adding the Warm Mix Engineered Additives, like BituTech RAP, and BituTech WA1, I tried cooking it at about 100 degrees lower to make a Warm Mix. That wasn’t enough heat. My customers encouraged me to take the temperature back up to make sure the mix was pliable and would compact dependably even after many hours in their insulated trucks on cold days. Our company truck, for example, can be loaded with HMA from the Bagela at 7 AM, be in the truck all day, and by 4 PM, 90% of the mix will still be hot enough to be usable.”
The Bagela is easy on the fuel. Capable of putting out a ton of HMA every 6 to 10 minutes, it uses only about a gallon of diesel fuel per ton. The Bagela heats with indirect, convection heat. The flame never touches the asphalt inside the barrel, so there is little odor. The white “smoke” a person sees coming off the trucks when they are filled, is not smoke, but steam. “We check to make sure it’s not smoke with a mirror,” explained Zetty. “The film on the mirror is not greasy, just wet.
“We’re the only company around here offering a variety of mixes to suit different situations,” he said. “They are made up of virgin aggregate and some RAP. All the mixes are designed in our lab. I can choose the mix that’s best for the job.”
Heating the mix evenly to a uniform temperature is the key to a good winter HMA product. No matter what the ambient temperature, the Bagela BA10000 makes this possible. “With the Bagela, the ingredients feed in at one end of the barrel, and the finished mix comes out the other end, just like our main plant does. The Bagela has three segments, with a series of paddles and flights. In each segment, the chunks break down more and more. By the end, all of the mix has been heated to the same temperature. This produces a more consistent, workable mix.”
Zetty has found a more productive way to use the Bagela BA10000, however. He has made some important modifications to enable it to put out 100 tons of HMA per day. That is especially helpful for emergencies like when a water main has broken and a large section of roadway must be replaced after the pipes have been repaired.
“This machine was actually designed to be used on parking lots to dump asphalt right into the hole. The Bagela has a hitch on the front so you can maneuver it without a truck right to each hole that needs to be filled. Here at the plant, we put it up on blocks, and put a heater underneath it. That gives us the ability to produce more material. Crews who haven’t seen us in action can’t believe we can make 100 tons of HMA per day in the Bagela in winter. The way we situate our Bagela, we can dump the HMA right into our customers’ insulated trucks. That way, we are not losing heat by putting it into a loader bucket and taking it across the parking lot.”
They set-up the Bagela with a cement vault loading area located directly underneath it. That way, Zetty can produce extremely large amounts of HMA very quickly, for emergencies. He can then store it at a high temperature in the cement block area until all trucks have been filled.
“We’re on call for emergencies 24/7. It’s company policy. My customers have my cell number, and they know they can call me any time,” continued the indefatigable Zetty.
“To meet emergencies, when guys are paving all night after a water main has been repaired, I work all night filling the cement block loading bunker. I preheat the bunker. Then I keep making the Hot Mix and dropping it on the ground. The mix heats the concrete, and the sheer bulk of the mix keeps it hot.
“There’s a trick to loading trucks when the bunker is full,” continued Zetty. “I first take a load out of the center, where it’s hottest. Then I take the next load out from the side, where it’s cooler. I alternate back and forth. That way I end up with truckloads that are a consistent temperature. The paving crew will have enough Hot Mix to repair even a large section of torn-up road by morning.
“Then when 7 AM comes, my retail customers are lined up waiting for the 50 tons or so they’ve ordered. We keep busy, but we usually have only a couple of late-night emergencies where we need 100+ tons of mix in one night during a winter, usually on weekends.
“Most of the municipalities in a large surrounding area are our customers,” he added. “Another supplier may come in with a lower bid, but in the end, the municipalities notice how quickly the mix cracks or doesn’t crack in winter, and the crew members report back whether the mix stayed pliable and compacted well in the cold. When the guys tell me how well our hot mix worked for a job, I’m glad to hear that. I’m constantly looking to improve.”
Superior Asphalt has a sister plant in Lansing, Lansing Asphalt. The company takes pride in being Michigan owned and Michigan operated. The plants have won both national and state awards. Owner Jeff Kresnak’s business success is a striking testament to his hard work and good judgment. Kresnak literally began with only a shovel, a bucket and a pickup truck, PLUS the willingness to work very hard (alongside his well-chosen employees). Today, he heads up a company that owns the first two newly permitted asphalt plants to be constructed in Michigan in 20 years, one built 2010 and the other in 2013. His philosophy is that each job deserves the best the company can give. For more information on Superior Asphalt, give them a call at 616-451-3200 or visit their website at http://superiorasphalt.com/.