How New Equipment is Addressing an Infrastructure Crisis
by Lynn Marsh, president of Road Widener LLC
Roads are perhaps the most crucial piece of infrastructure around the world and one of the greatest technological achievements of mankind. Ironically, the glistening asphalt of an open road cues daydreams of escaping technology: windows down, tires humming, freedom. But trying to keep up with the billions of people using one of the world’s oldest industrial advancements to escape their modern technology tethers has left road crews in a scramble.
The rising demand placed on roads is steadily exceeding road crews’ capacity to maintain, let alone improve, roadways. Between 2008 and 2017, U.S. highways in poor condition rose 25% which has significantly grown the demand to complete road repair projects year after year. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, vehicles traveled more than 3.2 trillion miles on U.S. roadways in 2019.
Road repair projects are on the rise, but limited budgets require a reevaluation of methods and efficiency to ensure the available funds can stretch far enough. With crews facing a growing backlog of jobs, contractors are looking for ways to improve efficiency and get more done with the same amount of time and workers. However, some entities worry that learning new technology may result in lost time. That’s where equipment attachments come into play.
Attachments provide a realistic, effective solution by utilizing equipment that contractors are already familiar with. By changing workflow, minimizing maintenance, lowering equipment cost, allowing for smarter labor and increasing ROI. These new attachments are changing the foundational methods of road construction that have traditionally left road crews in the dust. Here’s how.
A New Method
Road construction tasks like backfilling and aggregate placement have typically been viewed as a four-step process. Roadway materials are piled on the road, scraped into place, compacted and then crews sweep and clean what remains off the road. Although larger machines and added crew members can help complete projects, another perspective to increase efficiency and safety is to minimize the number of steps in the process with the use of material placement attachments, which will also cut down on labor.
Material placement attachments take the complex four-step process using expensive equipment and simplify it. With this method, a single operator connects their skid steer, loader or other common host machine to the attachment and loads road material into the hopper at the top. Then, the operator drives alongside the road as material feeds down the hopper onto a conveyor which then carries the material to the edge of the attachment, dispensing it through an adjustable width opening exactly where it’s needed. Some attachments can even dispense up to 20 tons of aggregate in under 10 minutes with all machine adjustments made by a single crewmember from inside the host machine using a remote control. To further increase the efficiency of material placement attachments, some manufacturers offer dual and single, left or right side, dispensing configurations to take on numerous roadways around the world.
Streamlining the process saves money and makes money. Crews can not only do more work in a day but do more with their budget by cutting out steps without adding more self-propelled machines or workers. And those savings continue into the future with a drastically lower cost of ownership when compared to self-propelled machines.
Reducing by Attaching
Traditional self-propelled machines see most of their maintenance downtime and costs from engine, transmission and associated parts repairs. However, attachment efficiency truly shines when considering these profits lost to maintenance.
In an effort to reduce maintenance, material placement attachments can connect to the engine and hydraulics of common, proven workhorses, like skid steers and loaders (wheel and tracked). In the case a host machine needs to be serviced, crews can quickly and easily hookup the attachment to another machine. Without an engine or transmission of their own to upkeep, these attachments have the power to reduce maintenance by up to 90% with just a few grease fittings to look after.
When considering this type of equipment, look for manufacturers that offer an optional universal mounting plate and easy hydraulic connections for their attachments and if they can connect to any host machine in a fleet. One advantage of choosing an attachment with a compact design means less parts to keep track of and less transportation requirements and jobsite clutter. Another benefit is the ability to conveniently fit the attachments on the same trailer as the host machine to be transported to and from jobsites.
Reducing maintenance reduces downtime, ultimately providing crews with the opportunities to take on more jobs and save money. Saving money during the process pays back an owner throughout the season, but what about out the door?
Savings from the Get-go
Engines, transmissions and driveshafts. These high maintenance parts are an expensive, but necessary, piece for jobsites. The addition of material placement attachments help combat expenses by connecting low-cost, essentially maintenance-free hydraulic hookups to a host machine which then powers the attachment. Cutting out the unnecessary parts slashes prices by up to 80% and allows contractors to invest in the host machines they know will support their fleet from multiple angles, not the paving machines that see months of off season. And the host machine to power the attachment? These common machines cost pennies on the dollar when compared to dedicated, single function road construction machines. Not to mention, most contractors probably have multiple machines that would excel as a host machine already in their fleet.
Overall, material placement attachments are low-maintenance and cost significantly less than self-propelled machines but also provide savings by repurposing labor.
Smart Labor, Not Less Labor
Remaking road construction by utilizing attachments reduces unnecessary steps, lessens the amount of equipment needed and drastically lowers maintenance requirements, but that doesn’t mean crewmembers await a similar fate. Contractors now have the freedom to assign these crewmembers to different tasks that benefit the jobsite, and in times when labor is scarce, a way to keep getting work done. The freedom that efficiency provides allows contractors to put crews to work in areas they didn’t have the capacity to work in before and expand their road construction operations. Contractors report up to 50% savings in labor which could potentially double a crew’s work capacity when using road construction attachments. In addition to that, labor savings can benefit crews from a safety perspective, as well.
It’s one thing for a machine to go down, but what about a crewmember? Road construction is a high-risk job on the best of days, and reflective markings and cones only go so far on narrow roadways. Crowding numerous crewmembers around a roadside to spread-out materials or to make machine adjustments is an unnecessary risk. However, utilizing attachments that cut out multiple steps in the process takes crewmembers out of harm’s way. Additionally, remote-controlled attachments allow the host machine operator to remain in the cab while adjusting the dispensing speed and machine positioning.
A Way Forward
The poor conditions of roadways across the world and the limitations of traditional machinery are inspiring equipment innovations. The new road construction methods that material placement attachments offer are proving to be assets not just in times of infrastructure crisis but for creating a system of sustainable roadway management.