Size can make the difference on meeting needs
By Jeff Winke
Small asphalt paving machines occupy a comfortable, valuable, and identifiable niche in the paving equipment market.
The smaller, commercial class of pavers––basically anything 16,000 pounds or less––often get relegated to the side when discussing asphalt paving applications. The larger, mainline highway-grade pavers appear to be where innovation and technological advances flourish. But it can often be too easy to think of small commercial pavers as being junior-size highway-grade pavers. They are not. Aside from both being used to lay down hot-mix asphalt, the two machine classes are completely different in design, capabilities, and quality expectations.
Small commercial pavers are segmented into subcategories based upon the paving application for which the paver is primarily designed. The subcategories are:
- Residential – machines that are typically 50HP or less. Asphalt is delivered to the screed by gravity using a hydraulically raised material hopper. Screeds are typically 8-yards base width, extendable to 12- or 13-yards with lower weights.
- Residential/Commercial Crossover – these machines are 50-75HP. Asphalt is delivered to the screed by powered feeding conveyors. Screeds are typically 8-yards base width, extendable to 13- or 14-yards with heavier weights.
- Commercial – these machines are usually 90-120HP. Asphalt is delivered to the screed by powered feeding conveyors. Screeds are typically 8-yards base width, extendable to 15- or 16-yards with the heaviest screed weights.
Besides sheer size differences, there are some clear characteristics where small pavers differ from larger machines.
“These small machines can cover a lot of different job sizes, shapes, obstacles and height requirements that many commercial and residential work sites bring to contractors” stated Bryce L. Davis, general sales manager, North America, LeeBoy, Lincolnton, N.C. “Small pavers can be used on parking lots, roadways, utility cuts and repairs, patchwork, driveways and even on some of the biggest highway job sites now as a cleanup paver–doing the turn lanes, medians, edgework, shoulders etc., which frees up the mainline paver to keep paving the highway and not stopping or slowing down its overall production.”
Small asphalt pavers are versatile workhorses.
“Small pavers are the Swiss Army knife of construction equipment, providing contractors a highly versatile platform that can complete a wide range of paving applications,” said Travis Colwell, marketing and communications coordinator with Carlson Paving Products, Tacoma, Wash. “The degree of versatility does depend on the platform, and within the ‘small paver class’ you have a number of subcategories including residential, pathway and commercial. For residential pavers, typically gravity fed platforms, these machines excel on driveways and other residential applications in and up to small parking lots. Likewise, pathway pavers are ideal for narrow width paving such as cart paths, alley paving and utility work.”
Colwell continued, “Commercial pavers, the most popular models within the small paver class, are the most versatile platforms with the ability to complete residential to commercial paving projects, and even reach into municipal and county work, such as street maintenance and road repair. These platforms range from 64hp up to 130hp and come in a variety of sizes and configurations to meet the diverse needs of contractors in North America.”
Small pavers tend to be easier to operate, maintain and transport than full size pavers.
“The key advantage to using a small paver is that small pavers are usually used on jobs that would’ve otherwise being done by hand,” stated Shane A. Sommers, sales consultant, with Hitek Equipment, Inc., Kenosha, Wis. “A small paver will provide a consistent lift which results in a better finish while doing it faster than a crew shoveling in the asphalt and raking it out could. That means a crew can do more in less time while also greatly reducing the amount of physical labor involved.”
According to Sal Rizzo, president of Salsco, Inc., Cheshire, Conn., the key features of small asphalt pavers that make them so useful are their “size and simplicity. Plus, there are many jobs that the large machines cannot do, so the companies end up doing these jobs by hand. As everyone knows, labor is difficult to find, so having a small machine is a very big advantage.”
In today’s world, there can be a wide range of applications for use of a commercial-class, small-sized asphalt paver.
“From any paving widths of really one-foot up to 15-feet or wider with bolt on extensions, these small machines can cover a lot of different job sizes, shapes, obstacles and height requirements that many commercial and residential work sites bring to contractors,” said Bryce L. Davis, general sales manager, North America, LeeBoy, Lincolnton, N.C. “What are the best types of projects for a small asphalt paver? Our most popular size machine we offer can be used in any of the following applications, parking lots, roadways, utility cuts and repairs, patchwork, driveways and even on some of the biggest highway job sites now as a cleanup paver, where it can pave turn lanes, medians, edgework, shoulders, etc. This frees up the mainline paver to keep paving the highway and not stopping or slowing down its overall production pace.”
Davis continued and described ROI advantages of small pavers, which according to him “has to include their job-site maneuverability for the contractors and that the machines are purposefully designed to be easy to operate and maintain. Our design has made it easier for the customer to use less overall labor in a paving operation, which can add up to a better ROI.”
Versatility appears to be a common adjective used in describing the value of the small asphalt paver.
“Versatility is key,” stated Nigel McKay, sales manager, Weiler Products, Knoxville, Iowa. “I like to say that best type of projects for our small paver are going to be whatever the project is at hand.
“Paving alleyways with inverted crowns to allow drainage in large cities is an example of a typical application. We have also seen our pavers used for paving under car ports in tight applications. These units can then be moved into large parking lot sites, city streets, shoulders on highways and interstates. Again, it’s tough to say what the best applications are for small pavers, because these machines are designed to fit nearly every application imaginable with asphalt.”
Technology is having an impact, as the enhancements found in highway-class pavers have migrated down to mid-sized OEMs that have improved electrical and hydraulic systems and are adopting screed automation, which allow contractors to use sonic or lasers to read and adjust screed depth when laying material.
While the larger highway-class platforms have incorporated more and more technology, the small paver market has remained largely analog. On board diagnostics and telematics are just starting to come into the small paver market. While onboard technology is just starting to emerge, add-on technologies such as automation machine controls are playing a larger role. Technology adoption is being driven by both tighter project specifications and by a tight labor market.
When selecting the right small commercial-class paver, there are a number of decisions to be made.
“For contractors, there are a number of key considerations when purchasing a new machine – three of which include versatility, return on investment and operator focus,” Colwell said. “A paver is a significant investment for any company, and purchasing a machine that is not only the right size for the company today, but also for tomorrow, can play a large role in the company’s future growth. A contractor also expects their new machine to provide profit to the company, achieved by reducing downtime and replacement component costs.”
Rizzo added that key questions he recommends a contractor needs to consider when selecting a small paver should include:
- Will the machine close up to fit into a 48-inch trench?
- Does the machine have tracks so it can climb in and out of trench and patchwork area?
- Does the cost of the machine allow for return on investment?
- Is the machine easy to operate? Simplicity is always a better choice.
Clearly, small asphalt paving machines can meet the varied needs of contractors today. When taking the long view of where small commercial pavers fit, it is clear they occupy a solid, valuable niche in the asphalt-paving market.
Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through email@example.com