Options to Enhance Paving Profits

When selecting an asphalt paver for your fleet, the size class will be largely dictated by the type of work you plan to perform. But once the size is determined, what options should you consider adding? With today's tight purchase budgets, it's important to focus on features that can provide the biggest benefit to your bottom line.

Giving thought to options before you buy is not only good planning, it saves money. “It’s more expensive to add an option later than it is to have it put on initially and include it in the purchase price,” says Eric Fatyol, Volvo’s paving and milling product specialist for North America. “I’ve seen a lot of pavers go out of here with very diverse option packages. Contractors are trying to make the machine as versatile as they can because it means they can offer customers a greater variety of work.”

This, in turn, means more opportunities to secure a return on your overall equipment investment.

Screed and auger options

Paving contractors have a choice of heating screeds using propane or electricity. Both have their advantages.

In the last few years, the market has seemed to shift toward electric-heated screeds, even though they are more expensive ($5,000 or so) than propane-heated screeds. “Electric-heated screeds emit less fumes and provide a more even heat throughout the screed,” says Jim Harkins, Northeast territory manager, VT Leeboy. “Propane offers a faster heat time but a less-consistent heat across the screed. Propane heat develops hot spots and it takes longer to heat to the screed’s edges.”

He notes that when the cost of propane is factored in over the life of a paver, the cost of the two types of screed heating systems is comparable.

For less than $2,000, a screed-assist option adds value to your paver by helping to take the weight off the screed and shifting it to the tractor. This is particularly useful when paving with a low load-bearing capacity of mix, where you don’t want the screed to sink into the mix. “The screed assist can make a 7,500-lb. screed seem like a 5,000-lb. screed just by transferring some weight to the machine,” says Brodie Hutchins, Vogele general manager.

A rule of thumb is the augers should be two-thirds covered with mix at all times to avoid a rough mat and segregation. Hydraulically controlled cutoff gates, or “flow gates,” help by enabling the operator to regulate the flow of material from the hopper to the conveyor to the augers. “These can benefit any machine by giving the operator better control of material,” says Harkins.

If wider paving widths are needed, auger extensions extend the augers to ensure mix gets carried to the edge of the screed. Kits are available to extend augers from 12 to 24 ft., and cost varies. Bolt-on extensions are generally used only for road work, while commercial work generally relies on extensions connected to the screed, so they extend only when the screed extends.

Harkins considers under-auger cutoff doors a must-have option for commercial pavers. “They are especially important when stopping and starting, so you don’t see them on long-line pavers that are paving continually,” he says. “They give the operator real nice control over material. An operator can drop material for a start pad, and at the end of a run, the operator closes the doors, reducing the material left on the end of pass and reducing hand work.”

Another useful option for commercial pavers is cutoff shoes. Generally priced at several hundred dollars, cutoff shoes allow a contractor to “negatively impact” paving width. “They can take an 8-ft. machine to a 6-ft. paving width for golf cart paths or other narrower jobs,” Fatyol explains, “allowing the contractor and paver to be a little more versatile.”

Automating the grade

Probably the priciest option at $15,000 or more, grade control systems are available from paver manufacturers or third-party suppliers. These automated systems are included on 80% of Vogele pavers, says Hutchins. They can be preset to pave a specific grade and slope; as the paver progresses, the system maintains the correct slope without any action from the operator.

The Cat Grade and Slope Controls from Caterpillar Paving incorporate a sonic grade sensor with five separate transducers. Signals received by the sensor are sent to the electronic control module and averaged, and the tow-points adjusted accordingly.

“The system is integrated with the paver, which offers a couple of advantages,” notes Jon Sjobad, Caterpillar Paving Products. “This makes it easier to deploy and strike, which saves time at the beginning and end of a job, and it allows the system to automatically calibrate, which is a big convenience.”

A less costly alternative to an automated system is a leveler or ski. Volvo’s Big Ski attaches to the outside of the paver and measures grade over a longer area. “Say, for example, you’re starting to pave streets with required grade tolerances and the DOT has specs you have to meet. Most commercial pavers have operators turning cranks as needed,” Fatyol notes. “This is much more exact, within tenths or even hundredths of an inch.”

Taking human error out of the equation results in material cost savings. “If the job calls for 200 tons, you are more likely to hit that with these controls than when adjusting by hand,” says Harkins.

Different types of levelers and skis are offered. Caterpillar offers an outboard leveler that runs outside of the tractor and screed; a fore and aft leveler that attaches to the screed and rides on the mat; and an inboard leveler that attaches to the front of the paver and runs inside the screed width. A rigid ski is also available that rides directly on the reference surface outside of the screed width.

The job will dictate whether automated grade control is needed. Most systems are still sold on highway pavers. “It depends on how important rideability is to the finished work, and it depends on specifications,” says Hutchins.

In most cases, pavers working on jobs such as parking lots don’t need grade control systems because contractors are pretty good at matching joints manually. “But it’s becoming more and more popular on parking lots as contractors learn how their use can benefit them, as well,” says Harkins.

Fatyol agrees, adding, “A lot of contractors have gone from commercial work and leveraged it into city and county work. This and other options can ease that transition for them.”

Options with impact

A number of other options are available that can impact paver performance. Here are just a few to consider:

Operator controls. Larger road and highway pavers are usually a two-deck configuration, with one operator on the high deck and one person on each end of the screed. A low-deck configuration, found on commercial pavers, has one person on each end of the screed. “The low-deck option saves one man on the job, but the high-deck machine is more productive,” Harkins says.

“With three men, each has specific responsibilities and if each does his job the machine can put down a lot of material,” he explains. “With the low deck, only two men are on the screed and the focus is on the mat. The low deck has the same three jobs spread over two men, so it’s less productive but because it requires one less person, it’s more efficient. Both machines have their place depending on the crew and how the operator likes to work on a machine.”

Tracks or rubber tires. According to Harkins, most of the Leeboy pavers sold are on tracks. “They’re more versatile and they allow contractors to pave in less than optimal base conditions, which a lot of guys run into when paving parking lots,” Harkins says. “Rubber tires generally are better for municipal work and roads.”

Caterpillar Paving currently offers two versions of its Mobil-Trac rubber track undercarriage. The smooth belt version limits disturbance of soft materials and freshly laid mats, while the tread-bar belt improves performance on soft or loose base materials. A steel track undercarriage is also offered on some machines.

According to Sjobad, the Mobil-Trac offers several advantages over a steel track system. “This system provides better speed and ride quality than a steel track system, and better maneuverability, traction and flotation than a wheel undercarriage,” he asserts. “The Mobil-Trac system has so many advantages, we are not offering steel track on our newest E-series 8- and 10-ft. pavers in the North American market.”

240V power kit. Capable of running two balloon lights or four stadium lights, this option enables contractors to pave at night, an essential ability when working for cities or counties. Some paver manufacturers offer a “light package” that includes the kit and the lighting selected by the paver manufacturer to match the machine. This option often falls in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.

Auto-lubrication. Hutchins considers this feature “really an inexpensive option (around $1,200) that pays for itself in the first couple of weeks.”

Given the range of options available, it’s important to work with the paver manufacturers and dealers to learn which options might best suit your business.

“Too often contractors buy equipment because that’s what they’ve bought before,” says Hutchins. “We can tell them about options they might not be aware of that might not cost very much but will have a big impact on their paving operation. We also can tell them which options they’ve bought in the past that they don’t really need because of the types of jobs they do.”