High productivity and minimal disruption are fundamental to successful highways schemes, particularly on the strategic road network where delays – for projects and people – can have serious economic and social consequences. In this article, Tarmac gives Highways an exclusive insight into how it unlocks efficiencies using planning, plant, software and data.
A key route connecting Liverpool to Hull, the M62 is one of the most crucial strategic assets in the north of England. A recent renovation of a busy stretch of the M62 demonstrated how innovative technology and advanced logistical planning can significantly benefit productivity.
Junctions 30 to 31 attract large volumes of traffic travelling out of Leeds via the M1, so when the surface of the busy 6.5km stretch reached the end of its natural lifecycle, a programme to improve the pavement quality in a shortened timescale was required.
Highways England, lead contractor A-one+ and highways specialist Tarmac, worked to deliver a full surface regeneration of both the eastbound and westbound carriageways, using the latest technological innovations to unlock efficiencies.
On the M62 J30-31 regeneration project, a full weekend closure was originally proposed but due to traffic flows this was not suitable and standard night time closures between 20:00 and 06:00 were the only option to allow for the works.
Following the installation of traffic management, and the requirement to apply permanent line markings prior to removing the traffic management, a working window of roughly five and a half hours was all that was left.
While restrictive working windows are nothing new for the highways industry, the project team proved that cutting-edge innovations can provide fresh ways of dealing with these constraints.
Tarmac proposed the first UK trial of the latest software from consulting and process optimisation company, Volz Consulting GmbH. BPO ASPHALT software allowed the team to plan the project in meticulous detail ahead of the works starting. Using GPS tags to mark the full project area, as well as entrances and exits for the delivery wagons, the software used surface area values to produce an optimal programme of works. This included automatically calculated times for mixing and loading asphalt at the plant, the number of wagons required for transportation, as well the volume of asphalt to be laid per shift.
James Beecham, general manager at Tarmac, said: 'The learned experience of our teams is irreplaceable, but combining it with the latest technology allowed us to produce an incredibly detailed, bespoke plan for this M62 regeneration.
'Using the software from BPO, we calculated a clear operations schedule outlining what materials were required and when, reducing waiting times and allowing us to maintain momentum on the project. The system was even able to account for projected delays on the delivery route.'
Paul Swann, scheme delivery manager at A-one+, said: 'We have been looking for something like this for some time, so when Tarmac approached us with the BPO software we were keen to trial it with them.
'The system helped us to consistently exceed more than 1,000 tonnes per night, achieving a maximum of 1,480 tonnes, which was encouraging and crucial for this scheme to stay on plan and to budget while keeping disruption and closures to a minimum for customers. In addition, we will have the ability to interrogate data to help us effectively manage the asset in the long-term.'
However helpful the technology, the team’s elaborate plan would be of little use without the real-world logistics capabilities to back it up. Cross Green, a major asphalt plant in Tarmac’s nationwide network, is just 15 minutes from the M62 project site. The plant’s hot storage containers were employed to house pre-prepared asphalt, facilitating a consistent supply and minimising the risk of production delays.
Cutting-edge plant also played a crucial role in boosting productivity on the scheme. Tarmac’s road planing contracting business, National Road Planing (NRP) used its unique high performing planer - a Wirtgen W 250i planer fitted with a large 3.8m drum. The extra wide drum enabled the machine to remove around 600 tonnes of asphalt per hour – the equivalent of 30 truckloads. This considerably reduced the time needed for the planing process.
The innovative wide drum also meant that the team could plane each 3.5 metre-wide motorway lane in a single pass, resulting in an improved surface. Traditional planing techniques risk structural damage to sections of overlap that undergo multiple passes.
The planing machine was used in conjunction with Tarmac’s Volvo 8820 wide paver, capable of surfacing two full-width lanes in one pass. As well as benefiting project timescales, the jumbo paver had implications for the ongoing durability and resilience of the surface. A Vogele MT3000 shuttle feeder ensured that there was no break in material supply to the paver. It also removed the delivery vehicle paver interaction ensuring excellent finish ride quality.
Highways England’s project manager Andy Barlow said: 'We know that drivers care about the quality of road surface. We are always keen to trial new innovative technology and ways of working, particularly where it can help improve productivity, enable roadworks to be completed quicker and minimise the disruption for drivers. Utilising Tarmac’s wide paving machine on the M62 scheme was the ideal opportunity.
'This machine not only has the benefit of being capable of laying up to 1,500 tonnes of surfacing material in a single shift – around 15,625 square metres of surface - but is also able to resurface two full lanes in one go.
'This eliminates the joint between the running lanes, which would be present if we had done the more traditional method of resurfacing a single lane. As these areas are often the locations where problems with the carriageway surface occurs, this method should hopefully increase the life of the surface.'
A forward-looking solution, the width of the paver also meant it spent less time going backwards. The elimination of 50% of the reversing required by the heavy plant also created an added safety benefit for operatives working in proximity to the equipment.
Innovation on the M62 regeneration project did not end with planning and plant. The team used automated paving technology to record real-time data on how the new road surface was laid. An array of sensors fitted to the paving equipment tracked critical real-time metrics from the type and temperature of materials used to the weather conditions, including wind speed and ambient air temperature. This allowed the project team to analyse the laying quality of each pass, ensuring that the surface was completed to the highest quality finish and minimising the need for subsequent reactive maintenance.
Critically, the GPS-tagged electronic laying and compaction record generated through automated paving technology provides Highways England with a highly detailed and holistic view of their asset. Not only does this allow for a data-led approach to its ongoing management, but it also has significant sustainability implications in the long-term. Having access to detailed information on the material composition of the road will enable and inform comprehensive recycling strategies at the end of its life cycle.
James Beecham said: 'We’re constantly working to accelerate project timescales to minimise the disruptive impact of our works, but delivering effective maintenance projects also requires thinking beyond the working window. Automated paving allows us to create an enhanced driving experience for road users while developing a data-set to assist clients with their long-term asset management strategy.'
Mr Swann added: 'We have been pleased with the results of the BPO ASPHALT software trial so far and are keen to support development of the system in future. The upfront planning capabilities coupled with the real-time paving productivity tracker and the subsequent asset maintenance intelligence will deliver real industry benefits.'
While it’s clear there is no silver bullet for the productivity challenge facing the industry, the M62 J30-31 regeneration project has shown what can be achieved with the right mix of forward thinking and forward planning. Following the successful, on-time completion of the project, the BPO ASPHALT software has now been approved for use by Highways England on other schemes on the strategic road network.