Is bigger better?

By Jeff Winke

Sometimes bigger is better. When you’re fishing for pike, perch, or pickerel, or ordering pizza for a hungry high-school team, or building the huge ball of twine for your road-side-attraction, bigger is better. Push the limits…go big, go bigger.

The question in the infrared heating market is a bigger system better? Does the size matter in terms of productive performance and the end results? Is bigger best?

“Size depends on what projects the contractor intends to use the infrared asphalt heater system,” stated Michael Blake, director of marketing with KM International, North Branch, Mich. “For a paving contractor that is strictly going to use the infrared for repairing paving mistakes, such as roller marks, low/high spots, or cold seams, then an infrared with a more lineal foot print might work best. If a contractor is looking for an infrared unit that has the ability to repair any defects they come across, a larger machine with 40 sq. ft of heating area would be more applicable. Some infrared machines offer individually controlled zones that allow users to alter the heating area size to accommodate specific repair areas, which can be nice.”
The size of the typical repairs a contractor performs will typically dictate the size of infrared machine that is best suited for current and future needs.

“If the typical work being performed are smaller six to 10-inch size pavement repairs or even two to three-foot in size, then a smaller, infrared machine such as a 3”x4” or 4”x4” or 5”x5” will work fine on these types of repairs and will be productive and cost effective–and do a great job for you,” said Roger Filion, president of Kasi Infrared, Claremont N.H. “If you are doing larger pot holes, utility cuts, man holes, and trench repairs or many other types of larger repairs or even the occasional small repair with a bigger machine, this is no problem–you certainly can complete small repairs with a larger machine.

“The bigger infrared panel will be your best choice for roadways, large parking lots or any repairs that you need to achieve great production. High production means more profits for you, so you will want to look at 48-square-foot or even the 78-square-foot machines to get big production numbers day in and day out.”

Fillion added, “Keep in mind that with any infrared machine they can all overlap and do continuous heats. We have completed 100-yard and 200-yard runs one behind the other all day long. In these types of jobs, you should be getting about 40 to 50 heats a day with a two-man crew and a 48-square-foot panel. Same is true with wider repairs again you overlap six-inches and continue until you complete the repair.”

Every job is different and there is a different sized and shaped heater designed to work better on some jobs than others. It is always best to match the asphalt infrared heater to the repair to ensure the best outcome.

“While there’s no one-size-fits-all heater, we have found that a 6’ x 8’ heating chamber is the most popular size we sell because it is very versatile in the number of jobs for which it will work,” stated Wes Van Velsor, vice president of Ray-Tech Infrared Corp., Charlestown, N.H. “The size is not too big to complete driveways and parking lots and still is plenty large for most roadway and highway work, which makes it a good all-around configuration.”

Certain types of applications require a certain size asphalt heater to achieve quality results.
“Pothole repair can be done with smaller machines, such as any of our portable line of infrared heaters,” said Matt Kieswetter, technical sales manager with Heat Design Equipment, Inc., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. “Larger repair areas that show alligator cracking and long cracks would require what we refer to as a large production asphalt heater, such as our trailer or skid-steer mounted machines. If a contractor is planning on performing preheating work for cold weather paving, they will need a larger infrared heater that is capable of heating in motion.”

Fillion cautioned: “You don’t want to take on a bigger infrared job with a smaller machine, as time is money. Doing very large repairs with a smaller machine can be done and done well, BUT it is very time consuming and will probably not turn out to be a profitable project in the end.

“The project will also require a very experienced operator to achieve the quality repair you’re seeking. So, having a smaller machine as part of your equipment fleet is a great idea to handle the smaller jobs and keep your bigger machine exclusively working on the bigger projects. Again, time is money, so keep that in mind, when you are getting into the infrared business. Also, you always want to handle your infrared projects as a separate business, from say your paving, striping, or crack filling projects.”

There are also specialty projects that could be challenging and worth pursuing, so be alert.
“A cold seam running down the middle of a newly paved road or parking lot would require a more lineal/longitudinal infrared system,” Blake said. “Most thermoplastic markings such as crosswalks are 6ft tall so those too would require a machine that has at least a 6ft reach. A majority of airports have also started switching to thermoplastic material for runway markings. These airport markings vary in size and application methods, so they require a very specific type of infrared machine to apply correctly and meet airport specifications.”
Van Velsor added: “The more ‘specialized’ repairs usually require full-lane heating or small area heating. In other words, the extremes of sizes available. For small areas, like sidewalks or very small driveways, a 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 6’ heater may be easier to maneuver and might fit better in the space. On full-lane type repairs, a 13’ wide chamber is often the way to go in order to avoid having to do two heats side by side with any smaller-sized chamber.

Longitudinal joint heating could also be considered another specialty job, since most general heaters are too large. A narrow, but long joint heater is the best option.”

When looking at the infrared heating market, the notion of big does come to mind… big opportunities for those who are prepared.

“You need to decide on how you want to move forward in the market,” said Filion. “It is my opinion you either commit wholeheartedly to offering infrared as a core service or you may only want a machine for the occasional repair. The ideal set up would be to buy the bigger machine to get your business going and then add other infrared machines that can help grow your business–such as a seam heater or the small walk behind machine. Keep in mind that the larger machine can handle any of the small repairs, so you will not lose out on those jobs as they come up while your business grows!”

Blake concluded: “Prior to investing in an infrared machine, a contractor should always plan for the future. Too often we see contractors opt for a smaller-sized infrared because it fits the immediate job they have, but they do not consider the future and quickly outgrow the smaller unit and end up ordering a larger size the following year.

“If you are not sure what size is best for you and your business don’t be afraid to contact a manufacturer and ask questions. The manufacturers do this every single day and have helped thousands of contractors invest in the right-sized infrared machine. Ask questions and use the resources that are out there to make sure your big decision is the right one.”

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through