Putting Australia’s rural roads in the spotlight

Stabilcorp’s safety-conscious approach to marketing its ShoulderMaster attachment and highlighting rural road shoulder safety has seen the manufacturer win a top industry award.Approximately 45 per cent of all fatal crashes on Australian roads in 2016 took place in posted speed zones of 100 kilometres per hour or over. In total, 1295 people died on the country’s roads that year.

The statistics, detailed in the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics’ (BITRE), Road trauma Australia 2016 statistical summary, show there is a significant number of road fatalities occurring on the high-speed zones of Australia’s road network, much of which is rural.

The condition of these rural roads, particularly the shoulders, is of concern to Wauchope-based company Stabilcorp. The issue surrounding their upkeep and repair played an important role in how the company has introduced its ShoulderMaster road widening attachment to the national market.

The ShoulderMaster – a universal skid-steer paver attachment designed specifically for the purpose of rehabilitating and widening road shoulders – is born from a desire to fix failing or crumbling road shoulders, especially on rural networks.

Geoff Jackson, Product Development Manager at Stabilcorp, says different facets of road safety have been explored through studies and research programs by government and industry in relation to reducing injury or fatalities on the nation’s roads, including driver behaviour, use of mobile phones and the installation of safety barriers. He says historically, however, the condition of rural road shoulders hasn’t been considered as a major contributor to rural road accidents in many of these studies.

“It’s reached a point where we are changing things, but fatalities still aren’t reducing that much. One of the basic impacts that can be made is by putting an extra metre of road on the edges, which is cheap and can cut down accidents significantly,” says Mr. Jackson.

He agrees issues in plain sight, such as deteriorating road shoulders and their influence on driver safety, can often be overlooked until they’re pointed out.

“The vast majority of injuries and casualties occur in rural roads, and a large percentage of those are single vehicle runoff. And that comes down to narrow lanes and broken edges, which federal and state governments are starting to recognise.”

Mr. Jackson says awareness of the dangers surrounding rural road shoulders is increasing, with local government and industry recognising the need to address the issues.

“There’s a real multi-faceted push in rural road safety at the moment, with lots of work being done by Austroads on road design in that area. The road authorities are investing in that area and there’s money becoming available through black spot funding,” he says.

“The Western Australian Government, for instance, has outlined a $37 million program that’s designed to widen and renew road shoulders, as well as install audible lines on the road side. Similar things are happening in New South Wales and Victoria.”

The ShoulderMaster attachment directly addresses the issues around deteriorating road edges, and the safety implications of improving these areas has been a major part of Stabilcorp’s marketing of the product to the market.

“The concept of shoulder widening is well established in North America and we’re just starting to see it here,” says Mr. Jackson.

The Stabilcorp team has used a range of events and venues to engage with various facets of the Australian civil sector, including Diesel Dirt and Turf and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) New South Wales Emerging Technologies in Public Infrastructure Conference this past June, which Mr. Jackson says is all part of the education process.

“We’re doing demonstrations to councils and lobbying at various levels of government, as well as connecting ourselves with the likes of VicRoads. Roads & Maritime Services – all of the political players. We’ve done quite a lot of work with a few councils, including Central Coast Council, Mid-Coast Council, even the likes of Lockhart Shire in the Riverina region,” he says.

By putting emphasis on the dangers of not repairing road shoulders, Mr. Jackson says Stabilcorp has managed to not only promote its product, but also help raise concerns about rural road safety.

For its unique marketing approach, the company has been recognised as an ABA100 winner in the 2017 Australian Business Awards for Marketing Excellence, held in August.

The Australian Business Awards recognise organisations that provide their clients with solutions to modern challenges, and bring innovative practices to the fore. Projects are evaluated based on their demonstrable ability to identify and segment their markets, communicate features and benefits while growing their business.

The ShoulderMaster was honoured in last year’s Australian Business Awards, in the Product Innovation category.

“We thought there wasn’t much point going for the same award again, and we’ve been doing a lot within the market to establish the brand and differentiate that from our contracting business,” says Mr. Jackson. “We’ve got two sides to the business – on one hand we’re a road contractor and the other hand is the ShoulderMaster manufacturing side. So we thought, let’s enter the marketing and promotions category.”

Being a road contractor by trade has always enabled Stabilcorp to approach the market from a ground level perspective, given it is the target market for the ShoulderMaster.

Its contact with local government and changing perceptions towards the safety implications of failing road shoulders helped the company establish its own market for the ShoulderMaster.

“When we see government recognise they need to address these parts of the road then we’re creating the market for ourselves,” says Mr. Jackson.

Building on the safety message

The continual technical developments the Stabilcorp team has undertaken on the attachment’s design are helping complement its market presence.

The company has reinvigorated its original ShoulderMaster by releasing it as two different models – the 1500 and 2100.

The 1500 model is based on the original ShoulderMaster concept for asphalt roads, and extends to 1.5 metres, while the 2100 extends to 2.1 metres. Neither are asphalt specific and can used for gravel applications, but Mr. Jackson says the 2100 is better suited to rural road projects.

“The 1500 incorporates a screed with a heated asphalt component. It works both with gravel and asphalt, but it’s designed for asphalt. In rural areas we find that councils and contractors use gravel, and in some local governments out there they use wider clearances so we saw the need for a unit to create a wider road. So, we developed the 2100, which is more like a grader blade,” says Mr. Jackson.

Along with the reinvigoration of the model design, Mr. Jackson says the company has undertaken a considerable amount of research and design on the ShoulderMaster behind the scenes, in preparation for its venture into the North American market.

“One aspect we’ve really had to consider is that the machine is very large, so we needed to make it easy to ship,” he says.

The ShoulderMaster chassis has been revised to make it easier to transport and the overall unit is has been reduced to a modular form comprising four bolt-together components. “That opens us up to shipping a lot more units in one container and helps brings down the costs,” he adds.

One obvious adaption Mr. Jackson says that needed to happen was in regards to the unit’s physical operation.

“We saw that a crucial change we needed to make was to enable the ShoulderMaster to be used in a right-hand drive application because they drive on the right in North America,” he says.

“The left-handed model is fine here because we drive left here. However, we’ve also found that on a divided road with a centre median in Australia, the contract occasionally needs to build a shoulder on the right-hand side.”

Stabilcorp’s research and design team worked on adapting the ShoulderMaster for this application internally, and delivered a mechanical solution that meant the attachment is now interchangeable between left and right-handed drives.

“We’ve been able to come up with a solution where the operator can switch from left to right-handed drive on the attachment. It takes a couple of hours to change over by a technician, but it can all be done in the field,” says Mr. Jackson.

What Stabilcorp has been undertaking in the technical development of the ShoulderMaster and its presence in the Australian market has amounted to great success for the company, which has reached a pivotal point in its evolution, especially as it gears up to enter North America.

“Winning the marketing excellence award just validates what we’ve been doing for the past few years,” says Mr. Jackson. “The innovation of the product is one thing, but to actually get it out there and cement it in the market is another.”

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