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Best practices for commercial and residential paving

A step-by-step process to make your crew and machines more efficient and, as a result, give you a better finished product and a more satisfied customer

Smaller, commercial jobs are demanding in their own ways, whether they are the parking lot of a new superstore, a new subdivision, or a small driveway on a county road. Gone are the days of “Make it black and don’t look back.” Today’s contractor must be aware of changing grade conditions, irregular mix designs and machines that have changed through the years as well.

Preparation

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Okay, we’ve all heard that, but it rings true in the paving industry.

First of all, do you have the right equipment for the job? In speaking with Colin Rempel at Farm Boy Asphalting in Oakville, Manitoba, he emphasizes the importance of the right size machine. “With proper equipment planning, maintenance and arrival times of asphalt mix, [the correct size commercial] paver operated at the steady walking pace, nonstop, will provide any client with a beautiful, uniform, seamless finish without delays. In, out, invoice.”

Secondly, is your equipment in job ready condition? How do you know? The professionals will always have both a maintenance schedule as well as a daily walk around of all their machines, from the paver to the blower, repairing any issues that might stop the job with truckloads of asphalt on the way.

Ben Eagle of Enduraquip in Brampton, Ontario, tells us “Maintenance never seems to be as important as the job to be started. Could it be less stressful to look at the job from the point-of-view of ‘can this job be completed on schedule with the equipment available’?”

Next, how about your jobsite? Make sure the area is clear of any obstacles or anything that would impede a good finished product, down to leaves and excess dirt on the paving surface.

Now let’s mark off our paving lanes. Who is in charge of laying out the jobsite? The paver operator, because he is the one steering the team. You can’t have the person in charge of the paving direction wondering where the next pull will be made.

How about tack coating? Tack, or asphalt emulsion, is the glue that holds the new asphalt to the old asphalt. Don’t get cheap here by just sprinkling a little to get by in case anyone is watching. Best practices say that 95 percent of the surface must be covered to achieve desired results. Less will cause the new asphalt to ravel and excessive amounts will cause “bleeding” which not only looks bad, but reduces the friction on the surface coat.

Now that our site is prepared, time to get the asphalt coming. To prevent surprises, always communicate with the plant on the day before your job to make sure their production meets your needs. Order the material on the morning of the job, but make sure you only order enough to take you through about half of the job for the day. That way you can assure that nothing unforeseen like weather or equipment malfunctions will halt your production. Remember, once you order the asphalt, you own it!

Information

One of the most overlooked parts of the job is the team meeting. Every day before the job starts, I challenge you to get your players together to discuss not only today’s job but also the successes and challenges of yesterday’s job and how to build on those. Here jobs are assigned and goals for time, yield and specifications are set. This way everybody can take ownership of the job and take pride in its success. Can you imagine how a football team would perform if there were no huddle? Also, make it a point to give your employees ownership. By that I mean talk to them about how the job was bid, the profit involved, how important it is to control that product and the hard work involved in getting the job. Finally, don’t forget safety. Impress on each worker the importance of proper dress, staying attentive and, most importantly, proper operation of the machinery.

Delegation

Have you ever visited a jobsite and it seems that nobody knows what their job is? The reason is that they really don’t! During your pre-job meeting, assign tasks. This way all the members of your team know what their job is, and more importantly, isn’t. For example, I was on a job where the contractor was paving a large parking lot. All was going well but when the asphalt arrived, the paver operator was 300 yards away painting lines. Remember we talked about how the operator’s job was to lay out the job – that doesn’t mean he has to paint the lines. He has more important things to do in getting the paver ready. During the delegation process, never forget about safety on the jobsite. Make sure that if the job requires, that flagmen are present and communicate with each other, cones are laid out and everyone knows the traffic pattern. Lastly, don’t forget the new guy. Your company invests a lot in hiring good people and if you get “too busy” to show him the ropes, he’s going to get frustrated and eventually move on. Take the time to show the new team member how it’s done and how he can succeed.

Production

OK, let’s pave. Sounds easy right? We talked about the huddle, so let’s refer to our crew as a football team. The operator is our quarterback. He is responsible for keeping everyone moving in a positive direction. Since he has laid out the job, he knows where to go, so now his job is to control the pace of paving. This is more important today than it ever has been. Stop and go paving has always been a bad practice as it gives the asphalt time to cool in the paver, your head of material in front of the screed drops and your team loses focus. Even more so with the advent of today’s Tier 4 engines, idling is a thing of the past. The operator needs to control his speed so that as one truck empties, another truck arrives.

Next on our lineup is our backfield, or our screed operator. He is in control of our yield, or the amount of asphalt that hits the ground. Too thin and you are cheating the customer and too thick and you are cheating your boss. The screed operator must understand what happens each time he touches the depth screw. Have you ever seen a “Windmill Johnny”? That is the screed operator who makes changes to his depth without any rhyme or reason. The rule of thumb when changing depth is it take five tow-arm lengths to realize a change in depth; 65 percent in the first length and 35 percent over the remaining four. Also, it is important to know that unless something changes in the grade, speed of the paver or components (auger or conveyor), or mix design, then depth should not change. It’s the screed operator that controls the yield, therefore making the most money for his company while giving the customer exactly what they paid for.

Now, how about our linemen, the guys in the trenches, the shovel and lute men. The guys that have everybody’s backs. These are the last people to touch the mat before the roller and must fix any imperfections. Don’t sell these guys short, they are artists. They have to be able to look at an asphalt mat and see high and low spots on the fly. Working together, this team is like a well-tuned instrument.

Conversation

An asphalt paving job is a wonderful thing to watch, especially if you are the one paying for the work to be done. Whether it’s the developer of a shopping mall or subdivision, or a homeowner, they have questions. “What are you going to do about those obstacles?”, “Where are you going to park your trucks?”, “What if you run over my petunias?” Many times a contractor gets into a tough spot when a customer insists that something was promised that was not delivered. This is easily avoided if you appoint one senior crew member to speak with the customer, not only when they have concerns, but before the job to ensure all his questions are answered and after the job to make sure all his expectations are met.

Evaluation

OK, job’s done. Time to pack up and walk away, right? Not so fast. Now is the time to walk the jobsite, making sure that all the specifications and promises have been met. It’s always a good practice to run water across the job to make sure that it flows properly and no “bird baths” are left behind.

Ben Eagle says, “Know your subgrade condition and stability. Remember, asphalt pavement is the icing of your job and will reflect what is underneath very soon.” Make a punch list to show the customer that you still have some minor items to knock out. Chances are, if you show him the list first, he will be less likely to make his own. Finally, ride the job as if you are a customer of the site. Do you approve? If you do, it’s likely your customer will as well. As we all know, a happy customer is a fast paying customer!

Paving is not easy. If it was, everyone would be lining up in 90-degree heat to shovel 300-degree asphalt, right? But a job done right and with passion is something to be proud of. Remember, your livelihood relies on referrals and word of mouth, and a quality job ensures both of these.

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