Five years ago it seemed that Morsky Construction Limited (MCL) had said its final farewell to the asphalt paving business. It was 1989 when the Saskatchewan-based earth and base contractor first entered into asphalt paving construction with a completely new spread of equipment - asphalt plant, pavers and rollers. But as declining job prices, higher risk of potential penalties and fewer tendered quantities contributed to lower profit margins, Brian Morsky and his team decided to get out of the paving game after 16 years.
"We decided to get away from typical highway paving and focus on specialty jobs and other more innovative work like micro surfacing and remixing additives," said Allan Barilla, general manager of MCL. "Given the economic conditions, we thought we could run smaller, highly specialized crews and generally just try to put less stress on ourselves and hopefully increase our profit margin."
It wasn't a complete change of direction for MCL. The family-owned company had previously purchased two Wirtgen W2500S remixers to add road recycling and stabilizing services to its repertoire and would continue to perform that work. Much of MCL's specialty expertise had been initiated while it was still a strong paving player as well.
MCL couldn't be blamed for making a change when they did. In fact, two of the company's local competitors re-focused their paving operations as well. But a funny thing happened in the five years since the transition - the Saskatchewan paving market turned around. The government placed more asphalt work on the market and contractors were getting better prices for paving work. On top of it all, companies running asphalt plants were too busy to supply asphalt to anyone other than their own crews.
The outlook for MCL changed as the company prepared to tackle a 16-mile-long project on Provincial Highway 35 near Tisdale, Saskatchewan. The contract called for the existing asphalt surface to be recycled to a depth of six inches while fresh gravel was mixed in to create a new base. The problem was it appeared unlikely that MCL would be able to find an available subcontractor to produce and lay the 67,000 tons of asphalt required for the new road surface after the preparatory work was done.
"Between supplementing our own work and opportunities for our specialty work decreasing, we realized we had to get back into the asphalt paving business," said Barilla. During its previous paving stint, MCL operated a Cedarapids 8835 asphalt plant with a wet wash system. MCL was always pleased with the plant's performance - but its 275 tons per hour (TPH) size and the wet wash inconvenience were issues.
"It was a medium sized plant," said Barilla. "It often wasn't worth the teardown and setup time to go after 10,000- to 15,000-ton projects. Companies with smaller plants could whip in and do the job more efficiently. And on large jobs, the bigger guys had 300 to 425 TPH plants and could get things done more quickly. We were kind of stuck in the middle."
MCL went through an exhaustive research process to find a new asphalt plant that could better suit its operation. The company assembled a list of particular specifications it was looking for, most important that the plant be extremely portable and capable of producing 225 TPH. But MCL found that most manufacturers were unable or unwilling to build a plant that could match the required specifications.
"They couldn't make the plant we were asking for," said Barilla. "Most of them wanted to sell us on something bigger that would give us larger capacity capabilities in the future. But that would mean everything would be bigger, and we wanted to make it more portable."