The hot mix asphalt (HMA) industry in the United States is undergoing major, positive, and long lasting changes. There are new mix designs, new installation methods, new density and compaction requirements, and more stringent smoothness and "rideability" requirements. No longer is it enough to simply, "make it black and don't look back."
To cope with this progress there is a new breed of paving contractor, using a new generation of technologically advanced hot mix asphalt paving machines coming onboard. Today, even the small to mid-sized asphalt paving company, with one to three full-time laydown crews, must have the management, personnel, technical expertise, field experience, and equipment previously demanded of only the larger paving contractors.
Typical of this new breed is R.W. Colby Paving Inc. of Dracut, MA. Four years ago, 39-year-old Warren Colby, a well-educated man with 20 years' experience in the asphalt industry, felt that the time had come to strike out on his own. Having started out as a laborer on an HMA crew, Colby worked his way up to roller and paver operator, followed by a seven-year stint as a foreman, which led to a superintendent's position. When the company Colby was with was acquired in a buyout, he became part of the new firm's asphalt operations team, helping oversee the day-to-day operations of 12 asphalt crews.
By then Colby had a successful track record, an impressive income, and a secure future. But he wanted more. So together with his wife Renay, they formed and incorporated their company in April 2000. With Warren Colby as the firm's hands-on president and Renay as chief operating officer, R.W. Colby Paving is involved principally in small to mid-sized hot mix asphalt paving projects for about 90% of the time. The remainder includes prep work, dig outs, and fine grading. The firm covers a territory that includes all of Massachusetts and the southern portion of New Hampshire.
The right mix of pavers
One of his first equipment acquisitions, after defining his target market, was a LeeBoy 8000 paver. This was followed by LeeBoy's 8500 paver, and the recent acquisition of LeeBoy's new 8816 machine.
R.W. Colby recently purchased the larger 8816 because of the opportunity to expand into new markets. A thorough, realistic investigation indicated that there was a definite need for a competent contractor in R.W. Colby's service area to pave medium-sized parking lots.
"The 8816 has enabled us to enter a new market where there is a need and still be competitive," Warren Colby says. "I can put down more tons per hour with it and it has more power to push large, fully loaded, tri-axle trucks easier. Because it has more hopper capacity I can put more tonnage through the machine even in tight quarters where a truck can't fit."
He says that in tight areas the crews use skid steer loaders to charge the 10-ton hopper. "At the end of the day my total production figures are significantly higher," he says. "We can do the critically precise paving projects, the tennis courts and other recreational facilities where precision is mandated. Yet we can also do a 20-ton driveway, a 1,500-ton chopped-up industrial development site, and a small highway project."
This mix of equipment enables R.W. Colby to operate just under the radar screen of its competition. Instead of being a threat to large asphalt contractors the company is viewed as a reliable asset that can be utilized in a subcontractor role — even to Colby's former employer.
A typical example is the surfacing access paving of a large new industrial structure in the Miles Standish Industrial Park in Taunton, MA. As a subcontractor R.W. Colby executed a 4,000-square-yard project from a larger paving contractor. The project was a perfect fit for R.W. Colby's LeeBoy 8816 laydown machine, which was maneuverable enough to cope with the diverse shape of the job. Colby planned the job to be done in a series of passes which allowed the operator to complete the job utilizing the paver's screed at widths that were most conducive to maintaining the maximum head of material without possible segregation.