For infrared asphalt repair units, the answer varies

By Jeff Winke

Bigger, Better, Best! is the title of a children’s math learning book which helps in understanding the importance of calculating stuff, such as the area of a play room for instance. The title does not apply to selecting the best size asphalt infrared heating unit. The bigger infrared plate is not necessarily the best choice for all repair applications.

“Asking if a bigger infrared heater is better is the same as asking if a bigger chainsaw is better for cutting down trees and what size chainsaw is best,” stated Jeff LeClair, senior business development executive for Ray-Tech Infrared Corp., Charlestown, New Hampshire. “The answer depends on several factors. Most loggers and arborists own more than one chainsaw size, just as asphalt contractors, who use infrared heaters and reclaimers do the same. A climbing arborist does not use the same size saw as the logger cutting down redwoods. Asphalt contractors working on utility cuts, highways, fast food lots, campuses and large parking lots have different needs for equipment both in size and scope.”

The pavement repair should dictate the appropriate size infrared repair unit. “Bigger is not necessarily better,” stated Michael Blake, director of marketing, KM International, North Branch, Michigan. “It will really depend on what type of repairs you will be making. If you, for example, are making larger roadway patches then, yes, a bigger machine is probably more suitable. However, if you are working mostly in driveways or commercial lots and will be moving the machine around a lot or working in more confined areas then a mid-sized machine is probably a better option.

“As a general rule of thumb a 40 Sq.Ft. infrared repair machine really gives a contractor the capability to tackle any asphalt repair they come across, big or small. This holds especially true if the infrared repair machine has independent heating zones that can be isolated to heat portions of the machine.“

Infrared equipment has become an essential part of a pavement maintenance and asphalt restoration service. To determine the best size infrared unit to buy and use will depend on the market being pursued.

“The best size depends on your clientele,” stated R.E. Kieswetter, P.Eng., president of Heat Design Equipment Inc., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. “If you have an established business and do a lot of cut and patches, say a parking lot, you should go for a larger unit. Standard truck size is 8’x6’ but can go as large as 16’x6’ with tilt out wings that can be operated if necessary. That feature becomes real efficient.”
Kieswetter cautioned that a unit with ability to adjust the heat to fit your timing required to work on the last heat area is best: “You never want to shut that heater off while scarifying/leveling/luting/compacting the already heated area. That’s not efficient. But you have to have someone designated to watch the new heat, or better yet, heat on low until you are ready to move the crew forward.”

The question becomes if bigger size is not necessarily better for infrared repair equipment, then how large should a contractor go when selecting equipment?

“There are many factors to consider when choosing the right infrared repair equipment,” stated Daniel Martin, inside sales with Kasi Infrared, a division of Reed International Company, Claremont, New Hampshire. “if you are working on small driveway repairs or correcting pavement oil spots, these are six- to 10-inch repairs, versus two- to three-foot repairs which will be more extensive. We offer what we call an infrared asphalt repair business on wheels! Portable equipment with a hydraulic lift 48 sq. ft. infrared chamber that features eight rows of patented converters. With this size chamber – you can heat as small of an area as 24 sq. ft. or do full heats at 48 sq. ft. in multiple succession to cover much larger areas. The converters heat the existing asphalt to plant temperatures and allow it to be raked, new asphalt added and luted, then compacted for a seamless repair unlike traditional cut and replace methods, at a fraction of the cost.”

This leads to what is the best infrared repair equipment that a contractor should own? There is portable, trailer mounted, and truck mounted to choose from.

“The answer is all of them based on the work parameters,” LeClair said. “Each contractor offers unique services and many times the best answer is in having multiple crews who focus on specific work and in that way, each crew has the best equipment for the bulk of their work. Having said this, every asphalt contractor (regardless of the company size and number of infrared units owned) can also benefit from having one of the many walk-behind units to correct ‘new’ paving mishaps, Infrared is the perfect solution for such mishaps because it can be corrected flawlessly. Again, the best equipment solution for you can be determined by talking with your equipment supplier.”

LeClair continued: “A key factor in choosing an infrared unit in terms of initial price, costs to operate and maintain is its ROI, return on investment. In a sense, ROI should be the only factor to consider! This means the highest productivity, when considering initial cost, maintenance, downtime and crew cost, etc. Those who focus on initial purchase cost are not considering the enormous production difference that can exist in a cheaper-priced machine. For example, when a two-person crew with a 100K initial machine cost brings in revenue of $2000 a day compared to another crew who bought a machine for half that initial cost but only produces $1000 a day in revenue. With all other factors being the same, one has the better ROI. Of course, the higher priced machine not only paid off the initial machine cost but still brought in more profit. Over ten years the difference in revenue and profit beyond the initial cost can be in the millions.”

There are other factors to consider when choosing the best infrared equipment for a paving contractor’s business.

“Product quality and the manufacturer’s service and support backing up the equipment are key,” Martin said. “Was it made in the USA with the highest quality materials using the most advanced manufacturing techniques? Is the manufacturer able to provide service and support to ensure you have minimum downtime and maximum ROI on your investment?”

When evaluating the pros and cons in selecting the best infrared repair unit for a contractor’s needs there is always the issue of money.
“There is a significant investment cost difference between the large trailer mounted/truck mounted unit and the portable stand-alone units,” Blake said. “Which means a contractor needs to consider what their purpose for the infrared machine will be to determine which unit will work best for them. A couple other things as far as maintenance or just general operational cost go are the fuel consumption, heating system, and the estimated annual maintenance cost.

“Additionally, the contractor needs to ask themselves before adding a new infrared unit to a business, how do you plan to sell infrared repair services? Is the machine going to be used to set up a whole separate crew to perform infrared asphalt repairs only or are you only buying an infrared machine for spot repairs? Do you have the staff/labor force to adequately sustain a separate crew to perform infrared rehab services? Do you have a hotbox to have HMA on site and at the correct temperature while performing IR repairs? Questions and concerns.”

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