A common misconception is that compact, commercial-class pavers (basically anything 16,000 pounds or less) are simply smaller versions of larger, mainline-class pavers. But aside from both being used to lay down hot, black asphalt, the two machine classes are completely different in design, capabilities, and quality expectations.
That's why so few manufacturers offer both commercial- and mainline-class pavers. It's also why the price of a commercial paver averages between $25,000 to $100,000, whereas mainline pavers range from $200,000 to $500,000. The game is basically the same, but the factors that make a good player are not.
Gravity or conveyor fed
Commercial pavers can be separated into gravity fed or conveyor fed — depending upon how they deliver asphalt from the hopper to the screed. Given a contractor's preferences and workload, each machine type has its advantages and disadvantages.
Gravity-fed units are the least expensive, typically priced between $25,000 and $50,000. Usually weighing less than 10,000 pounds, gravity-fed pavers offer 50 horsepower or less and provide maximum paving widths of 13 feet. As the name suggests, these pavers rely solely on gravity to feed asphalt from the hopper to the screed assembly. As asphalt is dumped into the hopper by feeder trucks, the paver's bed is hydraulically raised until gravity takes effect and draws the asphalt toward the screed, out of the paver, and onto the work surface.
Gravity-fed pavers aren't considered high-capacity or high-production machines. Though some contractors will pull 500 to 600 tons of material through them in a day, 200 tons-per-day is more common. So gravity-fed pavers are commonly used for driveway, small parking lot, and general road maintenance applications, but not for more demanding paving jobs.
Conveyor-fed commercial pavers, on the other hand, are often considered the Swiss army knife of compact paving equipment because they can handle such a wide variety of applications. Whereas the largest gravity-fed units offer maximum paving widths of 13 feet and engines generating up to 50 horsepower, these capabilities would depict the smallest equipment offerings of conveyor-fed pavers.
Conveyor-fed pavers rely on a system of conveyor belts that move the asphalt from the paver to the screed assembly. Because of this more consistent and controlled delivery, conveyor-fed units allow for much greater asphalt capacities. Even a smaller conveyor-fed paver can average 500 tons per day, while the largest 16,000-pound units often handle up to 1,000 tons per day. In fact, it's not unheard of for a contractor to push up to 2,000 tons per day of asphalt through a large, conveyor-fed paver. Therefore, conveyor units are typically considered production machines.
The increased capacities of these units also allow for a much higher quality finish. With any paving job, every time the paver stops, a bump is formed in the mat. This diminishes the overall quality of the application. Gravity-fed machines stop frequently because once the hopper is emptied, the paving train must stop so the bed can be lowered and the hopper refilled.
By relying on conveyors, not gravity, to deliver asphalt to the screed, conveyor-fed pavers can continuously receive new asphalt while pushing the feeder truck. And since hopper capacities are typically larger on conveyor-fed machines, even when the feeder truck empties, there is enough hopper capacity to continue paving while swapping a new, full truck into the operation. This allows for continuous paving and virtually seamless results.
The weight of a conveyor-fed commercial paver also helps it produce high quality results. Because they're heavier than gravity-fed machines, conveyor units can accommodate larger, heavier screed assemblies. Generally speaking, the heavier the screed, the more structurally sound it is and the better finish it produces.