How often have you run over a nasty pothole or gotten a headache from driving on the bumpy pavement? No matter where you live, everyone claims to have the worst roads — and everyone’s rights to a certain degree. Every road has been in rough shape for decades, and they don’t seem to be getting better. Until now, that is. A recent innovation called “intelligent compaction” is changing how federal organizations and private businesses approach road development. Let’s look at this new technology and see if it lives up to the hype.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
What Is Intelligent Compaction?
Intelligent compaction technology consists of enhanced vibratory rollers in asphalt paving machines that rely on a feedback control system. This system processes compaction data in real-time, allowing the roller operator to make informed adjustments as the project progresses.
Essential features of IC technology include:
- GPS device: A GPS tracks the roller’s exact location, speed, position, and number of passes over a specific road site. This in-depth tracking helps pavers improve road grade measurements and change the roller’s alignment as needed.
- Color-coded map: Roller operators can use a color-coded map to observe surface temperatures, compaction density, and other material reactions to the roller. This feedback enables them to modify the rolling drum’s force and frequency to ensure the smoothest grade possible.
- Risk detection: The IC roller’s display panel alerts the operator once the asphalt reaches an optimal compaction level, which helps to avoid suboptimal paving. The roller will also detect “trouble zones” on the pavement where too many roller passes might cause damage or exceed optimal compaction.
You might have noticed a theme with these features. Intelligent compaction technology provides valuable insights so employees can pave roads with greater precision and efficiency. While it can’t do the work for us, it helps us enhance the project quality by eliminating many opportunities for human error.
Humans can cause all sorts of problems through suboptimal rolling. Any signs of surface distress or deficiency can result in asphalt damage that ruins the road, including potholes, depressions, upheavals, and cracks. Road damage doesn’t pop up at random. Every time you encounter one of these problems, poor workmanship is the most likely cause.
Benefits of Intelligent Compaction Technology
IC technology brings many benefits to the road paving industry in the short and long term. Although it’s only been around for roughly a decade, these advancements have already become apparent:
- Improved operator awareness: With the ability to observe real-time changes in the soil and asphalt, roller operators can do their jobs with much greater awareness and confidence.
- Exact rolling patterns: Human operators can never achieve perfection, but IC technology enables them to get closer to the exact rolling patterns needed to create a smooth finish.
- Asphalt smoothness and density: No grooves, ridges, or weak spots get past an IC roller’s GPS and risk detection system. The final result is a smooth asphalt road with even density from end to end.
- Nighttime operation: Since operators don’t have to rely on their own eyesight and intuition, paving roads at night with IC technology is much safer. This advantage helps pavers speed projects along and get drivers on the road as soon as possible.
- Low operating costs: Improved safety and efficiency lead to lower operating costs since the risk of injury and suboptimal compaction is much lower.
- Transparent documentation: The real-time insights that IC technology provides allows the operators and their managers to create fully transparent on-site documentation.
In short, IC technology takes the guesswork out of rolling asphalt pavement. Operators no longer need to remember small details, like the location where they stopped their last rolling pattern. IC measures and documents every passage to ensure uniform coverage across the board.
In decades to come, drivers will be able to enjoy safer road conditions and avoid the trouble of changing flat tires as a result of potholes and nasty bumps.
Recent IC Developments
IC technology started to take off in the early 2010s, starting with a groundbreaking — no pun intended — three-year research project conducted by the Federal Highway Administration. 12 states participated in the project, which resulted in the following conclusions:
- IC color-coded mapping of the soil and asphalt sublayers effectively identified weak support areas that required corrective rolling before adding the uppermost asphalt layer.
- IC’s temperature tracking feature helped the operators maintain a consistent rolling pattern without overheating the asphalt at a 100% success rate.
- IC technology was especially beneficial for ensuring consistent rolling patterns in suboptimal working conditions, including instances of low visibility, such as fog and nighttime operations.
Once independent contractors got confirmation of IC technology’s effectiveness through a long-term study, they started making their own advancements. The most recent developments have come from Topcon Positioning Systems, a heavy machinery manufacturer specializing in paving, earthmoving and building construction.
Topcon has collaborated with well-known construction equipment company Caterpillar to create the C-53 IC system, which consists of two state-of-the-art Caterpillar CB-534 D XW rollers. It provides all the benefits discussed above, with one crucial addition — remote access. Anyone involved with the project can use Sitelink software to analyze the system’s real-time data, from the foreman to the superintendent.
Other manufacturers around the world are making their own advancements. BOMAG’s IC rollers include a new pivot steering mechanism and an automated asphalt manager. The Amman Group’s latest model offers more protection against noise and heat and a rear-mounted engine to make service easier. The future is bright for IC technology.
All Roads Lead to Intelligent Compaction
Intelligent compaction seems to be the solution contractors have been looking for to solve the problem of poor road conditions. Road systems with no potholes, cracks, or other hazards allow for much safer and more enjoyable driving for everyone. While the technology is still relatively new, it’s already greatly impacted the road paving industry.
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