2D Tech Takes Bissen Asphalt to the Next Level
The Bissen name has been synonymous with asphalt paving on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula since 1968. After investing in a new paver from Weiler and a new grader from Case, equipped with Leica’s 2D machine control, Bissen Asphalt sees how modern technology can work alongside tradition to take the company to the next level.
Door Peninsula is a slender limestone peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan from eastern Wisconsin. A popular tourist destination, the peninsula is known for its rocky cliffs, beaches, natural wetlands, conifer forests, and apple and cherry orchards.
Since 1968, the Bissen name has been synonymous with asphalt paving across the peninsula—first as Bissen Blacktop under the leadership of Bissen’s father and then as Bissen Asphalt under the leadership of current President Rick Bissen.
When his father retired at the end of the 2004 paving season, Bissen renamed the business before striking out on his own for the 2005 season. However, he worked alongside his father since he was 14 years old. “I started off as an operator and worked my way up to estimating, scheduling and managing,” Bissen said.
Remaining in the asphalt industry even after his father retired was a no-brainer for Bissen. “I’m not the type of person who could work inside a factory, doing the same job in the same place every single day,” Bissen said. “I enjoy the new challenges we have to deal with on a daily basis.”
One job that particularly stands out to Bissen was a barge facility in the 1990s. The waters surrounding Door Peninsula are part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, an important trade route connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and house more than 250 recorded shipwrecks, several of which are now accessible by boat, kayak, or scuba. “There’s a sunken barge with a bridge out to it, and we took our trucks and paver out there and paved the top of the barge and a bridge going back to land.”
Today, the company employs 20 people during the paving season and 95% of its work is asphalt-related. “We do anything from a patching job to a shopping mall parking lot,” Bissen said, adding that around 80% of Bissen’s book of work is driveways. They pave an average of four or five driveways per day throughout the season, which lasts from May to November.
Bissen Asphalt, headquartered in the peninsula’s most populous town, Sturgeon Bay, paves all the way to the northern edge of the peninsula, roughly 60 miles from Sturgeon Bay, and about that far south as well. Since Bissen Asphalt doesn’t usually do roadwork, most of its jobs only last a few days, Bissen said, which makes it an ideal job for someone like him who likes to face new challenges.
This is a sentiment shared by Bissen Equipment Operator Kirk Wilke. “I like that no two jobs are the same and that you have a chance to move around the peninsula a bit more,” Wilke said. “One day, you’re paving a driveway on one part of the peninsula and the next you’re paving a tennis court on the other side. You’re surrounded by different scenery every day.”
And when the scenery is pretty enough to attract millions of tourists each year, that can be quite the bonus for Bissen and its employees. Tourism on the peninsula has also helped Bissen Asphalt stay busy. “We’re located in a popular vacation destination and there’s plenty of new construction in the area,” Bissen said. “The workload up here is comfortable.”
However, he added, the company is still very much a local business. “The work we do for locals up here is what keeps us going.” It isn’t uncommon for Bissen to revisit jobs it paved decades ago. For example, Bissen paved the original cart paths at Horseshoe Bay Golf Course more than 20 years ago and just recently performed some repair work on the same paths where tree roots had infiltrated the asphalt. “That was one tough job,” Bissen recalled, adding that none of the paths were straight pulls.
Having such a longstanding history in the peninsula, Bissen enjoys being able to drive around the peninsula and recall jobs he’s worked on. “We’ve done our fair share of work around the peninsula,” he said.
Over the years, Bissen Asphalt has built a legacy across the peninsula. However, after investing in several new pieces of equipment, Bissen Asphalt is experiencing how modern technology can work alongside tradition to take the company to the next level.
Tradition Meets 2D Technology
Although the business is still very much the same as it was in 2004, Bissen said the most significant change has occurred as a result of upgraded equipment and new technology. For example, they had been using an old Blaw Knox paver before upgrading to a Weiler paver in 2016.
“The Blaw Knox had been a good paver for us at the time, but the technology has improved so much throughout the years,” Bissen said. Upgrading its paver allowed Bissen to realize the benefits of more modern technology. “It’s increased our productivity dramatically.”
Bissen Asphalt’s area of operation is hilly, and many of the driveways the company paves are steep. Bissen estimates that roughly 15% of the driveways it paves are steeper inclines. “We aren’t paving steep driveways all the time, but we face them frequently enough that they give us a major headache,” Bissen said. “The traction and controls we have on our Weiler paver has helped tremendously in those situations.”
One of the first times Bissen’s crew was paving with the Weiler on a steep driveway, they placed bets to see if the paver would be able to make it up. “Our old Blaw Knox definitely would have spun out,” Bissen said. The whole crew bet the Weiler wouldn’t make it up the hill and were ready to use a front-end loader to help the paver make it up the hill, as they’d often done with their old paver. They filled up the hopper of the new Weiler paver and held their breath.
“We could barely believe it when it made it up the hill without any issues,” Bissen said. “It opened up our eyes to how modern equipment could help us get the job done.”
A more recent upgrade is the company’s purchase of an 836C motor grader from Case Construction Equipment (Case CE), Racine, Wisconsin, with 2D machine control designed by Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, headquartered in Heerbrugg, Switzerland, in 2021.
Bissen had previously been using two smaller graders that didn’t have the power or the weight to carry material up steep driveways while maintaining traction. Furthermore, a mid-size grader would be small enough for the company’s driveway jobs, which are usually single 10-foot passes and often have trees overhead, while also being large enough for Bissen Asphalt’s parking lot jobs. “We needed something bigger to get our jobs done, but the road style graders were too big for what we do.”
A game-changing feature on its Case CE grader has been the 2D machine control system from Leica that Wilke uses to set slope prior to paving.
“With the Leica system, you can set your slope, run one side manually, and the machine will lock the other side,” Bissen said, adding the system has enabled them to get driveway jobs done in one-third less time than before.
The system has also helped achieve slope on the handful of tennis court jobs Bissen paves each year, with Wilke estimating it saves him an hour or two on each one of those jobs.
“Being able to dial in the slope you want and set the grade automatically is a major improvement over the old way of guessing and relying on a slope meter,” Wilke said. “It was a no-brainer that has saved so much time, simply by letting the machine do the work.”
For example, in a video Case CE put together profiling Bissen Asphalt’s experience with its machine, Bissen was able to prepare the site to pave a parking lot for a local greenhouse much more efficiently. Wilke dialed in the slope he needed on the Leica system for the first pass and was able to match each previous pass as he made his way to the other end of the parking lot area. “If you calculated your slope right, you’ll be right on the money when you reach the other end,” he said.
Wilke also appreciates how the system has made him more comfortable while he works. “I don’t have to be constantly turning my head,” he said. “I can focus on one side, knowing the Leica system has the other side covered. Now, I just glance over every once in a while to make sure I have enough material rolling out the other side rather than constantly looking back and forth to the different blades. It’s definitely more comfortable for the operator.”
The ease of learning the 2D system was also a benefit. An expert from Case came out and trained Wilke on the 2D system and has been available to answer Wilke’s questions as they arise. Ultimately, Wilke said it took one week to get used to the new system, but that it is a very easy system to operate.
Now that he’s used to the Case grader and its 2D system, Bissen joked that Wilke doesn’t like using the company’s other graders anymore. “We tried to get him out in one of them for a small job today, but he likes the new one too much.”
Having seen the benefits of modern equipment and technology first hand, Bissen says the company is continuing to look for ways to be more efficient. “Nothing in this world seems to be slowing down. In fact, everything seems to be moving faster and faster,” he said. “There’s more construction up here and we’re just trying to keep up with the pace of the world.”
When Bissen’s existing lineup of older Bomag, Cat and Hamm rollers reach the end of their useful lives, he hopes to invest in new ones with intelligent compaction capabilities.
“We’re going to keep looking at what will help us improve and become more efficient so that we can do what we’ve been doing faster and with top quality,” Bissen said.