Formed to meet market need for new bitumen technology in Australia and continuing to lead technological innovations in the sector for nearly 40 years, SAMI Bitumen Technologies has established itself as a staunch player in the nation’s bitumen market.
SAMI today, now part of the international Colas Group of companies, is a far cry the privately owned Australian business that started out in 1978.
Roads & Civil Works Magazine talks to Azeem Remtulla, SAMI Bitumen Technologies General Manager, about the evolution of SAMI, the Australian bitumen sector and what the future may hold for the industry.
Since joining the company in 1983, Mr. Remtulla has seen SAMI change exponentially from the once privately owned business to becoming part of a global conglomerate and leader in the construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure.
“SAMI is a company that pushed bitumen technology in Australia – we were the company that pioneered polymer-modified binders [PMBs],” says Mr. Remtulla.
The company’s research and expertise in the field of PMBs set it apart from other Australian businesses from the beginning. It started out manufacturing PMBs for road projects in the Northern Territory and South Australia before establishing vital connections nationally. The innovation of the company’s product lay in the longevity of the bitumen in spray sealing and asphalt applications. “Since then, we’ve been evolving and growing our range of products for application on Australian roads,” says Mr. Remtulla. “We’ve moved into environmentally friendly tools and products for more projects and more applications that apply to Australian road constructors and contractors.”
SAMI has supplied its products to iconic projects such as works on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which used SAMIseal S45R (as seen on this issue’s cover).
As SAMI grew and developed a wide suite of road construction and maintenance products over the years, so too did the industry. Mr. Remtulla asserts that the mentality of asset owners, road constructors, other industry bodies and even the public sector towards how roads are built and maintained has changed. “We’ve definitely seen a shift and it’s all about return on investments and improving the lifecycle costings of pavements,” he says. “There’s a bigger focus on pavement preservation, things like crack sealing, rejuvenation and creating long lasting surface treatments, providing safe and smooth roads in a sustainable way.” More emphasis is placed on the entire life cycle of pavements, through concepts such as perpetual pavements, by way of harder, high-quality binder solutions that require little recurrent maintenance on roads.
Today, Mr. Remtulla says that a shift toward building larger and more extensive infrastructure projects subtly increasing the volume of product required on any one project. “A lot of product design needs to cater to heavy vehicle applications such as toll roads,” he says. Bitumen binder technology and products are increasingly needed to be designed stronger, more durable and with an emphasis on longevity to cater to this rise in larger infrastructure projects.
Innovation has become a core quality of SAMI as a business in order to keep pace with the changing nature of the roads sector. “Part of SAMI’s breakthrough in the market now has been to look at and develop emulsion-related technologies, the products that can be applied cold, and products that are sustainable,” he says. “SAMI has moved from the era of bitumen modification to processing bitumen which has enabled much harder grade bitumen to be used in pavements, such as class 600 and enrobés à module élevé [EME]. We had to keep up with technology to keep up with the market.”
The changing tides in the Australian bitumen sector fuelled much of the evolution in both SAMI’s focus and technological capabilities. “The trend in the past decades has been for the refineries to get out of Australia,” explains Mr. Remtulla. SAMI aimed to fill the gap left in the market and began importing bitumen from Asia through its four established facilities operating out of Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.
It is now one of the country’s major bitumen importers, boasting storage capacity exceeding 50,000 tonnes nationally for its bulk products, and supplying all material grades as specified in the Australian Standard AS2008. “We now have state-of-the-art facilities and on-site NATA accredited laboratories for the manufacturing and processing of high-quality products,” he says.
Mr. Remtulla reflects that while the nature of the industry and market demand has certainly pushed SAMI’s evolution, it is when French conglomerate Colas SA acquired SAMI in 2008 that the company was able to refine its technological capabilities to stay ahead of the curve.
“Because we’re a highly technical company and Colas is very similar, but a much bigger organisation, we were compatible,” says Mr. Remtulla. “It takes us from being a small, privately owned business to part of a major conglomerate. As a result, we’re looking at more technical solutions with support from Colas’ own research and expertise.”
Colas Group’s industry-leading innovations may help steer SAMI’s own course into the future of the Australian infrastructure sector. The combination of input from Colas’ comprehensive campus for science and techniques (CST) in Paris, the regional laboratory in Bangkok and SAMI’s research centre in Sydney will deliver leading research outcomes for the applications in Australia.
Wattway, for instance, is Colas’ solar road technology, unveiled to the world late last year. The patented photovoltaic road surface technology is the fruit of five years of research undertaken by the company and the French National Institute for Solar Energy. By combining road construction and photovoltaic techniques, Wattway pavement provides clean, renewable energy in the form of electricity, while allowing for all types of traffic.
Mr. Remtulla anticipates that the nature of the industry and how roads are built and maintained will continue to evolve, and SAMI along with it. “Solar roads are just one area Colas is looking at. The whole idea is to look at longer lasting pavements, reduced costs – products that include the entire design life of a pavement – the complete package.”