Small, Mid-Range Asphalt Pavers Meet Diverse Needs

Jan. 25, 2013

When taking the long view of asphalt-paving machines with operating weights less than 21,000 pounds, three basic machine types emerge: small gravity-feed models; small to mid-range conveyor-feed models, typically equipped with 8-foot standard screeds; and specialized narrow-width models, typically equipped with standard screeds less than 6 feet wide.

When taking the long view of asphalt-paving machines with operating weights less than 21,000 pounds, three basic machine types emerge: small gravity-feed models; small to mid-range conveyor-feed models, typically equipped with 8-foot standard screeds; and specialized narrow-width models, typically equipped with standard screeds less than 6 feet wide.

Within this range of models are machines that routinely place bike paths and driveways; others designed to take on narrow-width jobs that might go on for miles; and those capable of efficiently taking on a variety of tasks, including resurfacing residential streets or county highways. The nearly universal use of the hydraulically extendible screed to increase paving width, and the use of width-reduction kits (cut-off shoes) to narrow the paving path, give these machine types expanded application flexibility within their respective design limits.

Gravity-feed pavers

By our count, a dozen gravity-feed machines are available in the North American market, including the 3,060-pound Salsco TP-411, two models each from Gehl and LeeBoy, three Puckett models, and four from Mauldin. The largest of this group is the LeeBoy 5000, with an operating weight of 12,000 pounds. These models supply material to the screed by raising the hopper and may incorporate an in-hopper auger to facilitate the process. Most have hoppers wide enough to accommodate a dump truck, but not all have enough horsepower to actually push the truck.

Heated, vibrating, hydraulically extendible screeds are typical on these small machines, with the screed heat source generally either engine exhaust or propane burners. John Rau, product and training specialist for Gehl, reports that about half the buyers for the Gehl 1448 Plus Power Box choose the propane option, but that some users, including those running the larger 1648 Plus model with standard propane heat, use propane only to initially heat the screed, then keep it hot with the exhaust system.

“Primary customers for these ‘entry-level’ gravity-feed machines,” says Rau, “include contractors just getting into driveways and small parking lots, but also larger, established paving contractors who need a ‘fine-tuning’ machine to do the edges of a parking lot or the tight corners that bigger pavers can’t do. These machines can eliminate much of the hand work on these types of jobs, along with the associated costs.”

Sal Rizzo, president of Salsco, agrees, saying that the gravity-feed machine can be a cost-saving investment for contractors paving tight areas by hand or those using cut-off shoes on larger pavers to work on narrow-width jobs. The productivity of these small machines can be surprising, he says, citing his own accomplishment (“despite not really being an operator,” he says) of placing some 6,200 linear feet of 2-inch-thick sidewalk with the company’s TP-411 in about six hours—assisted by a skid-steer loader operator (to fill the hopper with a side-dump bucket), a roller operator, and two laborers.

Although major repair and rebuilding of gravity-feed models and smaller, less robustly designed conveyor-type machines is not common practice, some rebuilding is done, and these machines find a market among several types of buyers, says Keith King, King Machinery, Statesville, N.C. According to King, giving second life to small asphalt pavers is a substantial part of the company’s business.

“The process typically requires 80 to 100 hours,” says King, “and includes thorough diagnostic checks of hydraulic components and engine; replacement of the screed plate, augers and bearings; repair of structural components; and new paint.”

 A machine so refurbished typically sells for 50 to 60 percent of its original price, he says, and buyers range from start-up businesses, to established contractors moving up the equipment chain in affordable steps, to larger contractors who need a utility machine. 

Specialty asphalt pavers

Among models in the operating-weight category being considered is a small number of machines designed primarily for narrow/medium width applications and typically equipped with premium features, such as heavy-duty frames, conveyor systems that can be rebuilt, electrically heated screeds, and available electronic grade controls. Based on machine features and the range of paving widths available from the standard screed, models in this class might include the Cat AP255E and those at the small end of the Vögele and Dynapac lines.

For example, the Dynapac F5 Series, says Steve Cole, vice president, western region, Dynapac USA, has a tamping-bar screed that requires a heavier tractor, with the result that the machine can handle long stretches of narrow-width work and produce a high-quality mat.

The Vögele Super 700, Super 1303-2 (wheel) and the 20,750-pound Super 1300-2 (track), says Laikram Narsingh, manager, commercial support and development for Wirtgen America, are most in their element when paving relatively narrow or medium widths for long pulls.

The Super 700’s screed extends hydraulically from 3 feet 7 inches to 6 feet 7 inches, and that of the Super 1300 models from 5 feet 11 inches to 11 feet 2 inches. Equipped with the Vögele reduction system, the Super 700 provides infinitely variable widths (controlled from the operator’s station) from 3 feet 7 inches down to 20 inches, and the Super 1300 models can pave at a minimum width of 2 feet 6 inches. Manual extensions provide maximum widths of 10 feet 6 inches and 13 feet 9 inches, respectively.

“These are niche machines designed primarily for mainline contractors who might be paving between barrier walls, installing miles of shoulder under 6 feet wide, or miles of utility patching 4 to 6 feet wide—and who require mat quality equivalent to a highway-class machine,” says Narsingh. “They’re entirely capable of such applications as paving parking lots, of course, and 1300 Series models can easily take on city streets.”

Corey Hanback, sales manager, Americas region, Caterpillar Paving Products, says that thecompany’s AP255E combines compact dimensions with a wide range of paving widths, from 4 feet 7 inches to 8 feet 6 inches from its extendible screed, to 11 feet 1 inch with bolt-on extensions, and down to 6 inches with cut-off shoes—the latter capability, he says, being important for paving trenches resulting from utility work. The machine’s flexibility, says Hanback, has appeal to both municipalities and private contractors doing small commercial projects, and, in addition, makes the AP255E a popular rental item.

Conveyor-type pavers

Conveyor-type pavers—from manufacturers such as Carlson, LeeBoy, Mauldin, and Weiler, with operating weights from 12,500 to 19,000 pounds and typically using 8-foot screeds that provide extended widths of 15 feet or more—are considered by many users to be the most utilitarian of small pavers.

“It all comes down to what machine has the most versatility,” says Nigel McKay, sales manager for Weiler, based in Knoxville, Iowa. “If you’re doing patch work all day, and that’s all you intend to do, then you don’t need to make a huge investment. But what happens if you’re asked to pave a driveway, which might lead to bidding on a city street? Many small-paver users are owner/operators—the guy who wrote the check is actually running the machine—and if they purchase a less versatile paver, they might kick themselves for missing out on other opportunities.”

Bill Hood, Weiler’s vice president of sales and marketing, makes the further point that, compared to smaller-width machines, a larger conveyor-type machine in this weight category often paves more efficiently at extended widths (“because the main screed is wider to begin with,” he says), and yet the machine can still work as well as a small paver at narrow widths by using cut-off shoes.

The range of conveyor-type models allows buyers to choose among machines with both the physical dimensions to accommodate job sites typically encountered, as well as to choose among designs that provide the best value in a given operation. The value decision can range from acquiring an adequately sized machine at the lowest possible cost and then using the machine as a more-or-less-disposable commodity for a certain time period—to investing added capital to acquire a more robustly designed machine that supports rebuilding and extended service life.

“Pavers initially costing less potentially run from three to five years, and then are typically replaced,” says McKay. “Some of those models, for instance, might not have replaceable floor plates or replaceable bushings and bearings—or might position the conveyor system above the tracks, which limits the size of the undercarriage, compared with a machine that places the conveyor between the frame rails and can use larger, heavier tracks. Machines with an inherently stronger design might be rebuilt after four to five years, then remain in service for another four years.”

In terms of the overall market for these machines, Caterpillar’s Hanback says that the recession hit hard on the small-commercial side of the market, causing a shift to more municipal and government-funded work. Now, however, the commercial market is showing signs of recovery, he says, driven in part by housing and deferred parking-lot maintenance at many retail centers. He also sees a fundamental change in the market’s buying practices:

“We see the market shifting to products that provide the lowest life-cycle costs. In other words, there seems to be a desire to keep machines longer—to rebuild at an affordable cost, versus having to buy a new paver every three years or so.”