The only way The Gorman Group could describe 2017 is that it was a “tumultuous year” for making asphalt emulsions. That’s the way Brian Jones, Technical Services Director for The Gorman Group, described last year. It wasn’t for lack of demand. It was because their milling system wasn’t performing as needed.
We had a tremendous amount of issues last year with our old mill. You can’t make up This stuff.
— Brian Jones, Technical Services Director, The Gorman Group
“We had a tremendous amount of issues last year with our old mill,” Jones says. “You can’t even make up half the stuff that happened to us last year with our old mill. Even with those types of issues happening we had zero support. It got to the point where we’re tearing apart the mill to replace bearings and having to drive down to pick up the replacements. So, it was a very tumultuous year. We were running around 18, 20 hours a day to keep up with our construction group. Most of the time it was hand to mouth. We were making it and they were taking it. We were just barely keeping up which is not good. Emulsions really like to be made and set in the tank for a night to mature and digest. And we just weren’t able to do that.”
Lab Manager Tim Roser adds, “Before, especially last year, we had a lot of issues with the previous mill. And that was the same type of mill that we had run here since 1975. It was the same model. We’d had a total of four mills over the course of that time. On the last one nothing seemed to go right, and it had a lot of issues with mechanical things breaking down. That system was a lot more manual. Almost all the valves had to be manually turned open or closed for soap solution, asphalt, solvent, latex or anything.”
Searching for a better way
The Gorman Group needed something new, something that was going to make their life easier. Founded in 1917, The Gorman Group is a highway construction company that covers the Northeast, primarily New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Pennsylvania. They serve towns, counties, municipalities and states like the New Hampshire DOT.
“My grandfather and my father helped build Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions [Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions was purchased by The Gorman Group in 1985] and in 1975 we made our first gallon of emulsion,” Jones says. “I’m third generation at this company. My father still works here part time and I’m here now, so I’ve got black running through my veins.”
With their long history and experience in this industry, Jones and his team unsurprisingly took a savvy approach to find the best solution for what they needed in a new milling system. “I did some extensive research on mills before we went to purchase our next,” Jones says. “I did a matrix of all the different mills that are out there. I compared the pluses and minuses to all the different mills and did a cost analysis on all the different features each one had to offer.” Some of the features The Gorman Group looked for in a new milling system included semi-automation, versatility, quality and support. Jones and company think they have found what they were looking for in the Barracuda emulsion mill skid from Heatec.
“When we started looking, we saw different types of mills and the different types of automation available. We liked how it was easier for the mill operators because everything is controlled from a central control panel and much more automated,” Jones says.
Versatility key to selecting the right mill
The Gorman Group makes around 30 different recipes of asphalt emulsion, so it was important for the system to be versatile. “We took into consideration the types of emulsion we make, and the production levels the mills were capable of. Were they capable of doing every type of emulsion that we make?” says Jones.
Because they make so many recipes, they must have a good system to be able to switch back and forth. A semi-automated system makes switching between recipes much easier. Jones explains, “It’s all on demand. We try to stay with cationic, if we’re making the cationic emulsions, and make as much as we need. But if we are required to flop over, we’ve got a good system to transfer. It really takes very little time, the transfer, it’s semi-automated. It’s a flushing procedure that we go through. We flush the mill out, we flush the tanks out. And we go. We don’t flop back and forth if possible, but if we must, we do. It’s not a huge issue, especially with the new system. The older system was a little more difficult, but the new system has made it a lot easier and more user friendly.”
“This year, we’ve actually been able to make a couple of emulsions that in the past few years we haven’t been able to make because of the old system’s limitations,” Lab Manager Tim Roser says. “That mill was not capable of making certain blends with the combination of the mill plus the asphalt chemicals. This year, we’re able to make it with no problems.”
“We also looked at where the mill was manufactured. There are other mills out there, but the fact that a lot of the parts are made in Europe kind of was a drawback to us,” Jones explains. “We really like the fact that Heatec products are American made in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If we need parts, I can have them by 9 a.m. tomorrow, but a lot of the other mills are from Germany or Turkey along with the support that comes with it. And at the end of the day, we were sitting around the table and we’re saying, we really like the fact that Heatec is a huge company. They’ve got a lot of sister companies that have experience in the construction world and they understand the sense of urgency.”
We really like the fact that Heatec products are american made.
— Brian Jones, Technical Services Director, The Gorman Group
Why the Barracuda?
When asked what made The Gorman Group choose the Barracuda emulsion mill skid from Heatec, Jones answers, “I think the willingness to work with us. I don’t know how many times we were on the phone with Drew [Bryson] discussing different design elements that we wanted to change or keep. We had a lot of discussions with the guys and they kept telling us, ‘You call us, we’ll be right there. If we can’t answer it over the phone, we’ll send somebody right up as soon as possible to take care of any issues.’ We’ve had a couple and they responded very quickly. So, I think at the end of it, that was probably the big thing, was the support and the ability to work with us. ‘This is what you want. This is what we’ll get for you.’
“Right from the start, it was not a customer/supplier relationship,” Jones says. “It was a partnership type of relationship. Everything that we asked for, within reason, they were able to do. And I think they were learning from us and we were learning from them what the unit can do. So, it was never a customer/supplier relationship. I think, right from the start, it started off as a partnership, which is good.”
Jones specifically mentions Drew Bryson, Josh Patterson and John Gage from Heatec as being instrumental in the design and support for their new system. Bryson, construction project designer, and his team worked closely with Jones to design the system to meet the needs of The Gorman Group. Patterson, a PLC programmer, custom designed the computer controls for their system. Both Patterson and Gage, a service technician, were onsite during startup and didn’t leave until Jones and his team felt comfortable running the unit on their own.
The support continued after they got up and running. Jones continues, “Josh can be anywhere in the country, and he can dial in and see what’s going on in my mill and do troubleshooting from there. And that’s huge. I can’t tell you, we’ve used him at least two or three times with programming issues or things we wanted to change, and he doesn’t have to be here. I’m on the phone with him and he’s in Chattanooga logging into the system saying ‘yep, I see what you’re talking about, I’m going to make this change.’”
The mill’s production levels have reduced our hours of operation.
— Tim Roser, Lab Manager, The Gorman Group
In addition to dependable support, the quality of The Gorman Group’s new mill has provided significant changes to production and productivity.
“This mill’s production levels have reduced our hours of operation,” Roser states. “With the old system, you always had to run 18 to 20 hours a day to keep up. Last year was even worse than that. So, with the new mill, compared to last year, we’re almost—not quite—double the production. You don’t have to have somebody here running the thing 20 hours a day. We can keep up or stay ahead with the mill only running 12 hours versus 18 to 20. That’s a big improvement. You don’t have to have somebody here and you’re not fighting with things all the time. It’s a much, much smoother operation too. It’s easier on the guys running it versus the old system. Plus, we were always up against it trying to keep the tank levels up. And it seems like this year with this system it’s much, much easier for us to keep product in the tank and keep enough so that we’re ahead of the crews more than we ever were before.
“I know some other companies don’t make as many varieties of emulsions; we make 28 or 29 kinds of emulsion here. So, we’re constantly going back and forth and changing formulas and everything,” Roser adds. “The guys that are running it seem to be much happier with this system. Changing back and forth formulas, putting formulas in. And to be honest, we really haven’t had to tweak our formulas as much as we did in the past because of the inconsistencies that we were experiencing. Now it’s more of a consistent product. You don’t have to keep changing this and that up and down.”
What’s the future hold?
With the support and quality, they have with Heatec, what does the future hold for The Gorman Group?
“Do I see the emulsion business growing? I do. I think more and more towns, counties and the public are starting to understand the value of pavement preservation,” Jones states. “So, I see emulsion sales growing year to year. We’re a member of AEMA, which is the Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association. Their goal is to double the emulsion sales by 2020 as an organization and they’re working to educate people. They’re working to teach the public and the folks that are making the decisions on road repairs that it doesn’t always make sense to go worst first. Let’s protect the good roads so they last longer. You spend a lot less to protect the good road than you do to have a complete rebuild. I think that education is going to help grow emulsion sales. We’re starting to see more interest in what we do. We’re doing research and development on different types of emulsions and we’re trying to develop our emulsions to make them better. If it’s more polymer or polymerizing certain emulsions that haven’t been polymerized, we’re working on that. We’re working on new materials that use emulsion. So, we as a business, we see some very good potential for growth on the emulsion side. The last three years or so we have been stagnant, give or take a few hundred thousand gallons, but this year I see a significant uptick in demand for emulsion. This year is going to be bigger than last year. I can see that already.
“I think the expectation was to have something that was easier for everybody to run and that makes a better product,” Roser reflects. “We’ve met the expectations that I had. Increased production, less man hours. I think those were the expectations. To make life easier for everybody. And it seems to have accomplished that.”BACK TO ISSUE