A central Michigan contractor group has added pavers from Vögele America, Inc. to its inventory and in 2006 was giving them the workout.
Ace Asphalt and Paving Co., Inc., and its Saginaw Asphalt Paving subsidiary, are divisions of the Edw. C. Levy Co., a Detroit area-based international family of companies that offers construction materials and services, including slag and steel mill services, construction aggregate production and distribution, ready-mix concrete, bituminous asphalt manufacturing and paving, road construction, trucking, and transportation logistics.
And in 2006, the newest pavers in Ace's fleet were Vögele America's largest pavers, three 10-foot 2219Ts, and a smaller 8-foot 2116T.
"We first considered these pavers because in 2003, we were having problems with a predecessor model to the Vögele pavers, which we inherited when we acquired another paving contractor, Valley Asphalt," said Darrell Wright, equipment manager for Ace Asphalt and Paving Co., of Flint. "Vögele America sent a guy from their factory who spent three days addressing every problem we had with the paver. He said it wasn't the machine they were making now, but it was a good machine, and that Vögele would stand behind it. The Vögele service representative was right; today's Vögele pavers are great."
That kind of service prompted Ace to consider Vögele America machines last year when the need arose. "When we were looking for new pavers, we contacted them and demonstrated their machine," Wright said. "The purchase decision depended a lot on what our field people said, and whether they'd accept it, and it went over well. One operator, Dale Brown — who I fully expected to not like it — said it was a great machine. I thought he was pulling my leg! He started explaining the differences to me, and as he's one of our best operators, we put a lot of faith in his judgment."
One of the first observations of this long-time operator was that the Vögele America machine had superior power and handling. "He had operated other pavers with steering wheels, and he did not like the way they moved or operated," Wright said. "But he was immediately comfortable with the Vögele paver. He liked the visibility, the power and the auger/conveyor system," Wright said. "He could stop the conveyor and still run the augers without leaving piles of asphalt everywhere. He liked the overall way it was put together and its operation."
All of Ace's four Vögele America pavers for 2006 are tracked and have electric screeds. Although it has existing wheel pavers, Ace now is partial to tracked machines.
"The advantage to us of tracked machines is that we can put them anywhere," Wright said. "If we get a soft grade to do a base job and we put a wheeled machine out there, we will more than likely get stuck. But we can put a tracked machine anywhere — be it on a soft grade or highway or anything else — and we won't have any problems nor will we have to worry about it. I've heard guys who disagree with me, but when we put it out on a main line paving job with full automation, it appears to provide a smoother job. Tracks give us the versatility of putting the paver anywhere, to do anything."
Tracked machines sacrifice mobility on small jobs which are scattered close to each other, where wheeled pavers can traverse the distance relatively quickly and without time-consuming loading and hauling on a trailer. But Ace is prepared for that.
"That's when we use the four-wheeled machines we've got," said Bill Jones, general manager for Ace Asphalt and Paving Co. "But on the other hand, we have a lot of jobs in which we pave over a clay grade, and you simply can't use rubber-tired pavers on them. They will have soft areas, and the paver will just sink in 4 inches to 5 inches deep. And if there's a little bit of rain, and the tire spins once, you will be done for. If the tire's hot, and it spins once, you're going down."
Driveways and intersections, however, call for wheeled machines, Wright said. "They are easier to skip from job to job with, and we have some guys who prefer wheeled machines for everything, and they do a good job with them," he said.
Also, Ace likes to run big trailers of hot mix asphalt, and they find the tracks well suited to push those big units along the job. "If you use an eight-axle trailer — 11 axles total, including the cab — you will get 160,000 pounds ahead of you that you are pushing, plus 13 tons in your hopper," Wright said. "Plus, your screed will be opened with a lot of material right there. You can't afford to take the risk that you will slip and stall. That's another reason why we like the tracks."
This sort of situation calls for the power that the Vögele America pavers can deliver. "They have no problem with the trailers," Wright said. "When they back up to the paver, and the hopper and screed are full, there can be close to 70 tons of asphalt between what's in the trailer, hopper, on the conveyor, and what's in the screed. That's an awful lot of material that they're moving, while doing a good job, too."
Ace's driveways aren't residential, but are associated with major commercial work. "We do expressways, highways, parking lots, county roads, subdivisions, and 'big box' stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart," Wright said. "We'll use either the 2219T or the 2116T. Our guys will go in there with the 10-foot machine and get it done. In the meantime, the crew on the 8-foot machine can take it anywhere, especially the smaller projects."
Ace works closely with its Vögele America Inc. distributor in Flint, AIS Construction Equipment, Inc. "They've been very attentive to our needs," Jones said. "They were new to the paving industry, and last year sent a whole team to Chambersburg, Pa., for training. They've been very attentive to what we've needed.
"Any time there's been a problem, it's not been us versus them versus the factory. They will contact the factory if appropriate and right away will relate the urgency of the problem to Vögele America. It's totally different from other distributors, where the very first question they ask is 'what are you doing wrong?' We've heard, 'you're the only one in the country with that problem,' when I know that wasn't true. The manufacturer would insist that we needed to figure out what we were doing wrong. Instead, Vögele and AIS actually listen to us. They say, 'we've got a problem. What's wrong with the machine? What do we need to do?'
"The first time we had a problem with the Vögeles, I got hold of Andy Thompson, service manager for AIS, who called the factory," Wright said. "The factory said, 'sounds like we've got a problem, and we need to find out what it is and address it.' I was a little defensive because I was prepared for them to say 'what are your guys doing wrong?' There wasn't any of that, and it was such a contrast from what I was used to. The factory stepped right up to the plate. It's such a refreshing change."
Instead of the contractor sending technicians to Chambersburg for Vögele America maintenance training sessions, Vögele America sent a trainer to AIS, where Ace employees went for the program. "This winter they used our pavers for the program, but there was a screw-up," Wright said. "One of our pavers was cleaned up and ready for the class, but by mistake I sent a low-boy driver to get it and bring it back to our yard. When they took the class outside, the paver was gone! We took it back."
When they have needed servicing, Ace's mechanics have been impressed with what they see, Wright said. "They like the accessibility and availability of anything they need to work on. They can tell that there has been some forethought as far as positioning, because even the things you rarely touch still are accessible. Everything is pretty much easy to get at. They've said several times that service points aren't hidden, or covered up; it's made to be worked on or have preventive maintenance performed."