Innovative Roadway Solutions Performs High-Volume Asphalt Maintenance
BY Scott Knighton
The hardest part of a project for most contractors is the bid. Balancing customer specs with overhead costs to produce a number both sides are comfortable with takes skill and a deep understanding of an operation’s capabilities. Partnering with industry-leading original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to provide efficiency-optimizing equipment can give contractors an edge in the bidding process. But a tool is only as good as the hand wielding it—or, in the case of asphalt preservation applications, the one applying it. In this competitive industry, a successful bid requires expert leveraging of experience and equipment to provide quality results with no waste.
For Innovative Roadway Solutions—a pavement preservation specialist operating in Texas, Missouri and the surrounding states—success also means taking advantage of new innovations, even if they present a challenge to current processes. This was the case when the company began using Onyx, a high-performance mastic sealer produced by Ingevity and specified by several departments of transportation in its operating area.
To apply Onyx efficiently, Innovative Roadway Solutions needed an OEM partner with not only the experience to produce reliable equipment for the high-aggregate mixture; it needed a manufacturer willing to listen and custom-engineer machines for specialized high-volume highway and shoulder applications. The company turned to Neal Manufacturing, a division of Blastcrete Equipment LLC, for a solution to help them maintain their reputation for quality and dependability and still be able to submit competitive bids.
With more than 30 years of experience, Innovative Roadway Solutions always strives to provide affordable preventative maintenance applications that extend the longevity of asphalt roadways. In 2017, the company became part of Lionmark Construction Companies—a privately held group specializing in pavement preservation and road and bridge construction. The acquisition extended Innovative Roadway Solutions’ service area and gave the company a chance to grow, doubling its size in just two years.
One thing that remained constant throughout the growth period, though, is the company’s commitment to harnessing the latest technology and products for the benefit of its customers. New and existing employees worked together to ensure Innovative Roadway Solutions remained just that—innovative. As they grew service offerings, they looked to incorporate processes and products popular across Lionmark’s area of operation.
Onyx was one such product. Introduced in 2012, the frictional mastic surface treatment quickly gained popularity with DOTs across the United States. It’s designed to offer high durability with frictional characteristics achieved from improving micro texture on the pavement surface. Fast drying times makes it popular with contractors and motorists alike, while the consistently black color offers striking contrast for aesthetic and safety benefits. For Innovative Roadway Solutions, the high-performance product looked to revolutionize pavement preservation processes in terms of durability and affordability.
“Onyx was starting to show up on the spec sheets for DOT projects in numerous states, which are about 95 percent of our business, but even where customers weren’t specifically asking for it, we recognized its value for certain applications,” said Kevin King, president of Innovative Roadway Solutions. “The product bridged the gap between a fog seal and slurry seal, allowing us to offer customers another solution that would extend the life of their road surface without breaking the bank.”
There were a few bumps in the road when it came to integrating the new product into its service lineup.
The Path to Productivity
“Contracts with government agencies at the city, county and state level aren’t easy to get,” King said. “It’s not just about the lowest bid, though that is definitely a part of it. It’s about reputation. The high aggregate composition of Onyx requires a stronger pump than other spray applications. To maintain our reputation for quality and dependability and still be able to submit competitive bids, we needed specialized equipment that provided the volume and precision that customers required.”
When it came to pump design, Innovative Roadway Solutions turned to Neal Manufacturing and its parent company, Blastcrete Equipment LLC. Both companies have long histories of pump innovations. Since the 1950s, Blastcrete Equipment has been at the forefront of shotcrete pumping technology—introducing several equipment designs over the years that revolutionized applications in refractory and construction applications.
Neal Manufacturing has similar claims to pump fame in the pavement preservation industry. Before its merger with Blastcrete in 2013, the company made significant innovations to hydraulic piston pumps to allow more efficiency and longevity for use with asphalt sealcoating products. Once the companies began operating out of the same facility in Alabama, engineers continued to expand pump capacities for a number of applications. This combined experience and continued innovation earned Innovative Roadway Solutions’ trust.
“When dealing with high-aggregate products, Blastcrete provides a unique expertise…” King said. “Their pumps are originally designed to handle robust, difficult materials. When they integrated that technology with Neal Manufacturing equipment—which already had excellent pumps for traditional preservation coatings—we knew we were working with a winning team for developing high-aggregate pavement preservation equipment.”
As Innovative Roadway Solutions made the transition to Onyx applications, the team worked with Neal Manufacturing to upgrade the pumps on some of their existing equipment to a hydraulic piston pump. Neal Manufacturing’s heavy-duty aggregate pump (HDP) system offered a fast transfer rate—up to 150 GPM—but, more importantly, produced enough pressure to move mixtures with up to 10 pounds of sand per gallon.
“Asphalt maintenance has a very limited season—only about seven months in some of the states we work in—so we need to make every minute count,” King said. “Neal Manufacturing’s equipment is simple, easy to use and durable. With it there’s less cleaning, less maintenance and fewer clogs, saving us valuable minutes every day.”
To truly maximize its potential on high-volume projects, though, Innovative Roadway Solutions needed more than a heavy-duty pump—it needed a reliable system with the precision to meet government agency specs.
Miles to Go
Innovative Roadway Solutions worked with Neal Manufacturing to retrofit one of its existing high-volume application trucks with the HDP system and spray apparatus. It also bought a new 3,000-gallon truck system from the OEM. Equipped with the Generation IV 150-GPM pump, the new truck provided optimum productivity.
The basic design also provided a number of features that made application more user friendly for Innovative Roadway Solutions crews. In-cab controls allowed drivers to control spray bar height for optimum control as weight shifted during application. This on-board system was also capable of controlling individual heads to provide more precision and flexibility for applications on narrow surfaces.
However, the precision required by DOT and other agencies still needed to be accounted for.
“We were bidding on projects with specified application rates, but, at first, we didn’t have a way to monitor that with the Neal Manufacturing system,” King said. “We had the right equipment…but the trucks had to be modified to meet our customers’ standards. With Neal Manufacturing’s reputation for customized solutions, we knew we had the right partner to help us develop the appropriate equipment for our operation.”
True to their reputation, Neal Manufacturing listened to exactly what Innovative Roadway Solutions needed and engineered a metering system to work in conjunction with the contractor’s high-volume road maintenance vehicle.
The system combined information for four load cells positioned on the corners of the tank with a component that measures distance to provide an accurate application rate. The OEM also included an on-board printer to provide immediate results when necessary.
“It’s not always easy to find a manufacturer that’s willing to collaborate,” King said. “Often what you see is what you get when it comes to pavement preservation equipment. Or you have to wait a while for the updated model to come out. Having Neal Manufacturing on our team meant that not only did we get the upgrades we needed quickly, but they’re now standard and will be available on the next high-volume vehicle we buy.”
With the new system, Innovative Roadway Solutions could accurately assess application rates and ensure uniform distribution, allowing the contractor to remain a competitive bidder with agencies across its area of operation.
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Since 2017, Innovative Roadway Solutions has completed approximately 25 contracts specifying Onyx. The majority of these have been with local, state or federal agencies, requiring a high degree of precision, quality and dependability.
“We’re still submitting the low bid for these projects,” King said, “but at this point, some of these agencies are more like our loyal customers. They know we will get the job done quickly, efficiently and to spec.”
For one such project, completed for the Paris District of Texas DOT (TXDOT), Innovative Roadway Solutions applied 767,331 square yards of Onyx in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day weekend. As part of the overall job, crews used the Neal Manufacturing equipment to apply the mastic sealer to 207,748 square yards of parking areas, boat ramps, main grounds and RV spots at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Jim Chapman at Cooper Dam, commonly called Cooper Lake. Sources reported, the application didn’t disturb visitors and surfaces were dry enough to resume normal traffic in time for the holiday.
“This is a great time to be in the asphalt maintenance industry,” King said. “The process is changing. New products are coming out. Experienced manufacturers are stepping up to provide the equipment we need to leverage these to our customer’s advantage. It’s an ideal environment for Innovative Roadway Solutions to continue growing and continue pushing ourselves.”