Craftsmanship ánd data results in even better asphalt

Predictive maintenance improves the traffic flow.

June 13, 2019

Harry van Zon and Mario Brandwijk knew nothing about each other’s area of expertise a few months ago. Still, together with their teams, they managed to develop Geboortekaartje Asfalt (‘birth announcement asphalt’): a web application that converts data retrieved from asphalt equipment into comprehensive information about the quality of work. “A tighter focus on quality makes our work more sustainable.”

Before Harry van Zon started working for Heijmans over a year ago, he worked as a programme manager software development at, among others, TomTom and Philips Medical. At Heijmans Infra he laid out the digitalisation strategy, which project Geboortekaartje is part of. “It is a website that shows a visualisation of the information collected by sensors in the asphalt machines. We built a system that runs that data through an algorithm and converts it into a visualisation, so the data becomes readable”, Harry explains.

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Heijmans’ Mario Brandwijk, asphalt team leader, and Harry van Zon, commercial manager, in a roller.

Strange questions

In order to create the application, Harry and his team worked closely with the asphalt division. This was challenging, because it meant venturing into the unknown territory of asphalt for Harry, while process coordinator Harry Brandwijk knew nothing about data processing. “We talked a great deal, because we had to familiarize ourselves with each other’s domain. What do they want outside and what can we produce? I believe the collaboration is successful because of the short feedback loop. We meet and call each other regularly, and know where to find one and other. There is no such thing as a strange question”, according to Harry.

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Blue, green, red

The outcome of a lot of testing, adjusting and some more testing, is a system which the asphalt processing department works with. He explains what this means in practice: “A screen shows asphalt roller operators a coloured visualization of the number of times they have passed over a certain part of the road. An asphalt roller interaction model shows the number of required roller passes, or in other words, the number of times the roller passes over the new layer of asphalt. For instance: the screen will turn blue in case of one to five required roller passes. It will turn green in case of five to ten passes and red in case of ten or more passes. The screen also shows the temperature of the asphalt at every pass, an important quality indicator – roller passes must be carried out within a predefined temperature interval.”

Further finetuning

Besides delivering real-time information, the data provides even more input the following day. “We are provided with an overview of the number of roller passes, the asphalt temperature during rolling, the weather conditions. Starting the day off with that information, enables us to fine-tune our work even more. This way, we can deliver even more quality and thus contribute to the sustainability of the work”, says Mario.

The data complements information from the drill core. “An advantage compared to the drill core is the fact that as early as the next day, you can inquire about remarkable findings in the data and their cause. Perhaps the team had to wait an hour for cargo to arrive. Weeks from then, they won’t be able to remember.”

The data overview also provides the asphalt team with a clear image of the expected quality of the work. “If you notice that part of the asphalt has been compacted at 120 degrees, you know there is a chance is will turn out bad. The other way around, you will be able to say: we did a good job here, there will be no need for any maintenance work the coming years. Access to this information is key, as we are responsible for long-term maintenance.”

Digitalising the outside world

Aside from the aim to deliver high quality asphalt, this data, and data retrieved from other infra projects, could lead to a new role for Heijmans, Harry believes. “We can digitalise the outside world. We are always outside where we can place and maintain sensors. This can lead to additional revenue models, as that information can be very interesting for parties such as Google. The construction company has a great deal of specific knowledge, something other parties could benefit from.”

Harry also sees that working with data results in added value for customers, in a time where everything needs to happen faster and cheaper. “By sharing this data with your customer, you create transparency about the way we work and the quality we deliver. That is an added value in your business model.”

There will always be craftsmanship

The gentlemen agree that data can improve the quality of asphalt, but that it could never replace craftsmanship. “When it comes to infra work, you will always have to anticipate the weather conditions. But you need to have experience to be able to do that”, says Harry. “However, a large quantity of data will, for instance, show you which settings work best with certain weather conditions. This way, you can underpin craftsmanship.”

Mario adds that asphalt roller interaction models are based on ideal weather conditions. “Though in practice they rarely are ideal. The quality of asphalt can also perfectly meet all the requirements, if the roller passes turn blue or red. Remarkable findings will continue to provide us with insight into which conditions lead to an increased risk. Both experience and information from the drill core enables us to steer towards that. Eventually, working with data will gain momentum.”

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