In the 35 years since its inception, Stabilised Pavements of Australia has thrived by driving innovation in materials, machines and engineering solutions for its wide base of customers.
From humble beginnings back in 1984, Stabilised Pavements of Australia (SPA) has developed into one of Australia’s leading providers of cold in-situ recycling and related solutions to asset owners and maintainers.
This growth has not been by chance or luck. It has come about through the commitment of the founders, Warren Smith and Tom Wilmot, in placing the company above their competition by providing specialised plant and leading engineering and technical solutions through partnerships.
Mr. Wilmot says the firm’s first slogan and ethic that built its business was “we will work with you”.
This has remained the backbone of SPA working with the development of stabilising agents with suppliers, improving machine capabilities with equipment manufacturer Wirtgen Group and working closely with customers to provide innovative, economical and stable pavement solutions.
In an industry where improvements to materials, equipment, process and engineering design are relatively common, providing this technical support also required Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Smith to keep abreast of new global innovations within the in-situ stabilisation and recycling space.
To this end, both men have, in many cases, helped lead the introduction and development of new pavement recycling technologies in Australia.
In 1994, SPA was the first company to import machinery capable of deep lift stabilisation. Through to 2000, the business was also working with binder suppliers to perfect economical, slow setting binders, resulting in improved constructability and pavement performance.
By 1996, the company became the first to reintroduce foamed bitumen stabilisation to the local market with Wirtgen technology. That same year, SPA introduced the reclaiming process, which brought profilers into the preparation of the pavement to reduce levels and combine the wearing course into the pavement prior to stabilisation.
The next year it introduced integrated binder spreading and between 2000 and 2003, the company introduced prequalification and accreditation systems with main roads, specific to stabilisation.
Finally from 2007 to 2013, the company expanded into a full national operation, including the southern region and Western Australia.
SPA and Wirtgen have had a good and long interactive relationship with experienced and focused people working together. This has resulted in many improvements with both equipment and stabilising processes.
“We have seen many of these ‘firsts’ grow into mainstays of the industry in Australia and the acceptance of foamed bitumen stabilisation as a process that uses all the existing road materials and upgrades the pavement to the equivalent of a deep lift asphalt,” Mr. Smith explains. “Today, that technology is used in every state of Australia and provides numerous long term benefits to the environment, the travelling public, asset owners and, of course, the tax-paying public.”
However, the introduction of new technologies can mean little if the benefits aren’t clear to the asset owner, or if the product/machinery doesn’t perform as intended. To manage these potential risks requires close collaboration and partnerships with material suppliers, equipment providers and customers alike.
Those collaborations underpin the SPA business today, General Manager David Berg says. “I’ve been with the business since 1988 and from small beginnings the company has developed strong relationships with local, state and federal government, Wirtgen – as a leader of equipment in this specialised industry – binder suppliers and the industry body AustStab,” he says. “Major contractors in the construction industry seek advice from the engineering expertise within SPA to assist in the delivery of their projects. In their selective fields, these partners are at the forefront of their industries and that is what we want to leverage, while also adding our own expertise to the customer offering.
“These relationships have developed over decades and helps us stay ahead of the curve in many respects and assist in maintaining our position at the head of the industry.”
Wirtgen’s stabilisation and recycling technology, for example, provided new avenues for the sector, and when the manufacturer was looking for a partner to introduce these new technologies to the Australian market, it approached SPA, as industry leaders, to be its first partner. As a result, SPA was the first to deploy both the Wirtgen WR2500 foam bitumen stabiliser and the WR2500K integrated binder spreading stabiliser in Australia.
“Not only was that equipment and technology successfully introduced through this partnership, but it also helped us improve our product offering by enabling best in class foamed bitumen technology as well as integrated binder spreading,” Mr. Berg explains. “This, in turn, helped us expand the range of solutions we could offer clients which assisted them in achieving their budget and asset lifecycle objectives.”
The feedback SPA provided on the early machines went back to Wirtgen for assessment and was introduced as part of subsequent upgrades.
While some of the pavement material and design technologies weren’t unheard of, there were aspects of the detailed understanding of them that weren’t known locally. So SPA, with the assistance of Wirtgen, engaged offshore expertise to expand their knowledge of the technologies from pavement investigation to laboratory design methods and testing.
With the success of the recycling process in Australia, SPA, through its overseas affiliate, Stabilised Pavements International, was invited to establish services in Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the UK. While the UK had an established recycling industry, SPA and Wirtgen introduced improved techniques and quality to become a leading road recycling company in the UK.
At the time, and to this day, Dave Collings from Louden International is a well-known leader in the field of pavement recycling and stabilisation. Getting him on board at a very early stage to assist in expanding SPA’s understanding and capability with regard to detailed in field and laboratory design and testing underpinned its efforts to get this new technology successfully specified, designed and constructed to the high standard necessary to deliver for its customers.
If a new pavement technology doesn’t perform in the field, the attention it gets will rarely be positive, which is why having an in-depth understanding of the technology, how it works and factors critical to its success be that design, materials or construction is immensely important. According to SPA and Wirtgen, without that high level of understanding, a small error at any point can banish a technology forever, which helps no-one – particularly when looking at the multitude of advantages pavement recycling has from cost, pavement life, traffic disruption and environmental perspectives.
“These are great examples of the power of enduring strong relationships. In this case, the rest of the industry watched what we were doing as pioneers and ultimately followed our lead,” Mr. Berg explains. “If we look back on some of the practices and technologies being employed in those days, these changes significantly improved the quality of the product which, in turn, increased the perception of stabilisation and its effectiveness in the market, and that is no small feat. But it’s also important to remember that our partners – Wirtgen in this case – achieved their objectives too.”
This highlights another principle well practised by SPA. The business is a vocal advocate of leading the entire industry supply chain (including pavement designers, material and equipment suppliers and contractors) to higher levels of performance to better serve all customers. This is evidenced through a multitude of examples, from being one of the founding parties of the Australian stabilisation association – AustStab – through to participation in training and knowledge sharing activities in Australia and abroad.
Given the challenges confronting some customer groups, SPA has made focused investments to assist these groups to grow their understanding and capability with respect to asset preservation and design. This investment has been delivered by education through direct involvement with its client base, or through the Centre for Pavement Engineering Education (CPEE)/AustStab, Pavement Recycling and Stabilisation short course. SPA has historically delivered portions of the course, utilising the experience of its engineering and delivery teams, which has been welcomed by attendees who gain the contractor’s insight and understanding. Mr. Berg says through these initiatives the development of the stabilisation industry has increased, as well as educating clients and end users to have a formidable insight into the industry.
“SPA has a strong presence as a national specialised stabilisation contractor in Australia, with a strong expertise and technical knowledge specific to the stabilisation industry shared within its more than 20 engineers,” he says. “With the experience of SPA as a contractor and Wirtgen as an equipment manufacturer, the industry will continue to develop into the future.”