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Business - Road recycler opens up opportunities

By Robyn Grimsley

Nearly 20 years ago, Road Milling & Sweeping started operations with a single Wirtgen 1000C milling machine. Today, the company is one of the largest privately owned companies operating in its specialised field, and has recently purchased a new recycler to add to its 20-strong fleet of milling machines.

Family-owned
The family-owned business is run by sisters Lesley Kafka (right) and Leigh Cameron (second from right), daughters of one of the original founders, Cecil Aling (second from left).
Image credit: RMS

Road Milling & Sweeping (RMS) operates within a niche field, hiring out milling machines — and its new recycler — to companies working on roads and infrastructure projects. Since it first opened in 1999, the company has stuck to its core business of hiring out milling machines, and to the Wirtgen brand based on its reliability. Earlier this year, RMS made the decision to purchase its first recycler — also from Wirtgen — in answer to customer demand.

“We were getting a lot of calls from our customers and other companies asking about recyclers,” says RMS general manager Lesley Kafka. “And when you look at the way the road market in South Africa is moving, there has been a move towards more chip-and-spray applications, which is where the recycler can be used. Although our core business is milling, we need to remain conscious of where the market is going, and the recycler is already opening up opportunities for us even though we have only had it for a short time.”

Kafka’s sister, RMS financial manager Leigh Cameron, admits to being the driving force behind the company’s latest acquisition. “We were receiving numerous enquiries about the recyclers, and I just got a bee in my bonnet that we needed to add one to our fleet,” she explains. “The recycler is designed to reuse as much of the existing base as possible — it is like a blender on wheels — and this has obvious financial and environmental benefits. Instead of transporting and disposing of the milled material, on projects where a recycler is used, they try to reuse as much of it as they can. So, it is opening up new opportunities for us.”

The operations manager at RMS, Brian Manganyi, explains that the chip-and-spray applications for which the recycler is so well suited, are a cheaper, faster alternative to resurfacing for asphalt and concrete roads, and one that reuses the existing base materials. The recycler lifts up the material and mixes it with water and bitumen emulsion, depending on the application, before laying it back down. In addition to the cost advantage, this offers additional environmental benefits, as well as speeding up project operations.

RMS recycler-01
Road Milling & Sweeping recently purchased a new recycler to add to its fleet of milling machines.
Image credit: RMS

When using a recycler, the aim is to reuse the existing base material and, where possible, also the asphalt, along with a mixture of water, cement and bitumen emulsion, with the exact ratios determined by the project, rather than using completely new materials. This mixture is then laid down and compacted to create a new base, with the top layer of asphalt being sprayed over that base.

But rehabilitating existing asphalt roads is not the only application for RMS’s new recycler. Sometimes referred to as a ‘stabiliser’, the machine can also be used when building new roads, converting ground of insufficient bearing capacity into soil that is highly suitable for placing and compacting. Stabilisers can be used for a wide range of different applications in soil improvement and strengthening, including construction of roads, parking lots, industrial facilities, airports, harbour facilities, or track beds.

RMS’s new recycler has already been deployed on its first project, where it will be working for approximately 18 months.

MILLED RUMBLE STRIPS

In addition to road rehabilitation, RMS’s milling machines are also used for milled rumble strips. Given that the rate and severity of head-on collisions and accidents involving vehicles that leave the road altogether have reached disastrous proportions, it has become increasingly important that we findeffective ways to warn vehicle drivers that they are inadvertently drifting outside the intended lane of traffic, enabling them to return to their correct position on the road.

rumblestrippings-02
Milled rumble strips help to improve driver safety.
Image credit: Ayres Associates

Across the globe, studies have shown that milled rumble strips can make a significant difference to road safety, while also costing significantly less than other safety measures. One such study, conducted by the Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), showed that placing milled rumble strips at the centre of a two-lane road was an excellent way to reduce the number of head-on collisions occurring due to tired and inattentive drivers inadvertently leaving their lane. The study also showed that these centreline milled rumble strips resulted in drivers reducing their speed and staying away from the centre of the road.

MAINTENANCE AND TRAINING

Wirtgen undertakes services for all machines under warranty, after which RMS carries out all services at its in-house workshop. In addition to the initial training provided when a new machine is purchased, RMS trains all of its operators in-house, Manganyi explains. Having started out as a security guard before rising through the ranks to his current position, Manganyi is particularly aware of the difference that proper training can make.

RMS recycler-02
The recycler can also be used when building new roads.
Image credit: RMS

“We train our operators here at our offices, and then we take them out to site, where they will be paired with a more experienced person to give them the opportunity to learn as much as possible. Usually, within a week, operators will be comfortable enough to run a machine themselves,” he adds.

CHANGING MARKET

Kafka says that RMS has seen a big shift in the need for equipment by smaller businesses. “We have had many more smaller companies approaching us to hire machines in the past two years than we did previously, when it was a lot more focused on your typical big civil engineering groups and big construction companies, which monopolised the market.”

She adds that one of the challenges they are facing given the changing market, is the influx of newer entrants into the market, including those companies whose primary business is not milling, but who decide to add a couple of machines to their fleet. And oftentimes, these companies are not fully cognisant of all that is required to successfully hire out these machines, which then affects their ability to deliver.

RMS fleet
Road Milling & Sweeping operates a niche field, hiring out its fleet of milling machines to contractors.
Image credit: RMS

“Our core business is milling and you get companies that buy one or two milling machines and add them to their fleet, sometimes building the cost into the cost of the contract. Then they offer extremely low daily rates that are just not viable long term. And these low rates mean that the maintenance cost for the machine is not built into the price, so after a couple of months the company realises that they cannot maintain the machine and thus it is not performing as it should, at which point they need to swallow the loss or increase the price, or another company needs to be brought in to complete the project.”

When it comes to road building, Kafka says that she believes there could be increased opportunity across the border. “I know there has been a big allocation of funding to infrastructure upgrades into Zimbabwe and Botswana, and I think that we are potentially going to start seeing an increase in opportunity in our neighbouring countries in the next 12 to 18 months.” The company already operates across South Africa as well as across the border into neighbouring countries. “We have also worked in Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Malawi,” she adds.


SOURCES

Vadeby, A. & Anund, A. 2017. ‘Effectiveness and acceptability of milled rumble strips on rural two-lane roads in Sweden’. European Transport Research Review, June, 9:29.


 

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