Contractors looking for a silver lining in this economic cloud might not have to look any further than the infrared industry. With tight budgets, many clients are looking toward maintaining their asphalt instead of replacing it. And interest in infrared repair is growing.
But the infrared industry was growing long before the economy turned. Since infrared came on the market, the number of contractors offering infrared services has grown. Most of these contractors, both large and small businesses, are adding infrared as an extra revenue generating service to their pavement maintenance businesses. Or they're adding it as a niche service to either stay competitive or get ahead of their competition. Some larger companies are also turning to infrared as a way to keep their employees busy during down times. Infrared offers these contractors and their customers a green technology for recycling asphalt.
Along with the increase in contractors using infrared has come an increase in the applications it is used for. Infrared has long been used as a method for seamless pothole repair, but contractors are also using it for tasks such as decorative asphalt, thermoplastic application, removal of oil spots, and joint seam heating. Infrared reclaimers can also be used to keep asphalt hot throughout the day or reheat stockpiled asphalt when the asphalt plants are closed.
The uptick in interest is not the only trend this industry has seen over the last few years. Some manufacturers have seen a shift toward larger heating units and all-in-one truck-mounted infrared equipment. Bob Kieswetter, president of Heat Design Equipment, says infrared equipment is trending toward larger units to accommodate full lanes and larger areas of asphalt.
"Everything tends toward larger and larger all the time; bigger boxes, bigger heating chambers," says Ray-Tech Infrared Corporation's President Wes Van Velsor. "And typically, when you develop one thing, it leads toward the development of something else."
But don't think the smaller, portable units are going away any time soon. "I think they [smaller, portable and large, truck-mounted units] will grow proportionately," says Joel Marshall, Asphalt Reheat Systems' marketing and sales manager. "A small maintenance contractor won't be able to afford a full truck-mounted unit but he will still want to compete. And in that case the smaller, walk-behind units are more affordable."
Contractors have many different sizes and options of infrared equipment to choose from. And that is continuing to grow.
Infrared enters attachment market
KM International, for example, introduced the KM 4-78 detachable unit for utility tractors this past spring, says KM International's Kurt Schwartz. With four independent heating zones, the unit can heat up to 72 sq. ft. This infrared attachment allows customers a more mobile and flexible unit to fit in areas larger equipment might not. Featuring the same quick release as other attachments, the KM 4-78 is an easy addition to many utility tractors.
Although the unit could be attached to a skid-steer loader, it was designed specifically for utility tractors. "The utility-type of vehicles have the oscillating steering that makes tight turns and takes tight corners and can be used to get into hard to reach areas," Schwartz says.
Walk-behind units get larger
Asphalt Reheat Systems also introduced a new unit this year. The new portable, walk-behind unit features a 4-ft. by 6-ft. infrared heater. Featuring a stainless steel design similar to its 4-ft. by 4-ft. unit, the new 4-ft. by 6-ft. unit has the ability to run with one or two propane tanks. The unit's redesigned wheels can be easily arranged for compact transportation and more versatile heating patterns and a split channel option allows zone heating of a 2-ft. by 6-ft. area instead of heating the entire panel.