For many contractors, asphalt pavers under 10,000 pounds are particularly appealing machines. Perhaps you’re engaged in niche construction work like landscaping, site prep or golf course construction. Small pavers excel in paving cart paths, small commercial paving jobs and utility cut paving repair. So in many cases, adding a light paver to your equipment fleet can complement the types of jobs you’re already doing.
The ability to perform paving work can raise your profile as well. A light paver means a more complete construction package and fewer subcontractors on a job – an attractive option for many customers. And more importantly, running a small paver is an excellent way to learn sound, fundamental paving practices. These same principles apply regardless of whether you’re paving a golf cart path or an interstate highway. Adding a small paver to your bag of tricks can be the first step toward a multi-million-dollar paving operation.
A small paver’s size goes hand-in-hand with its comparative cost, notes John Koepf, product manager, telehandlers and asphalt pavers, Gehl. “A big paver can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and many contractors can’t justify the investment,” he says. “Pavers in this class cost much less. Typically, the initial investment can be paid off in one or two years.”
“Smaller pavers allow the contractor to control scheduling,” adds David Reposa, LeeBoy’s Southern sales manager. “If you purchase a paver, you can start to take over paving jobs instead of subcontracting them to others. Now you can manage the work flow on the jobs better while reaping the benefits and profits from handling the job yourself.”
Once the job is done, Reposa says a small paver’s compact size allows for quick transportation. “This increases profit potential because they’re such efficient machines to move, set up and run,” he adds.
“A lot of small paving contractors will wisely base their business on what they can haul in a single trailer load,” says John Hood, product and sales manager, paving and milling, Bomag Americas. “This means considering the support equipment you’ll have to have to keep the paver productive.”
The most obvious piece of support equipment you’ll need is some type of compacting equipment. A small roller is usually a good match for pavers in this class. “And I highly recommend getting a skid steer,” Hood adds. “They’re perfect for doing the tasks that come up when you’re running a paver, from lifting to light grading to load-and-carry work.”
The balancing act, as Hood sees it, is finding the right mix of equipment and a crew you can easily move around. “Obviously, you’re going to have to have a trailer to haul that equipment package around,” he notes. “And you’re going to need three to five guys to run a small paver. So they’ve got to be transported as well. But you want to make sure you don’t get so spread out with the equipment that your transportation costs rise – where you’ve got to have two or three trucks and trailers to haul everything around. Ideally, you want to pull onto a jobsite with the paver, roller and skid steer on one trailer and ready to go work.”
Service and solid support key for small paver success
If a small paver is in your expansion plans, Hood says to consider new equipment right off the bat. “One of the things contractors try to do is jump into the business by buying used equipment,” he notes. “For the most part, when you buy a used paver, you’re buying somebody else’s problems. They’re not like a backhoe loader. They work in tough applications in high temperatures. There are hidden gems out there in the used equipment world – but usually, if somebody’s trading a machine off, there’s a reason.”
It’s probably not what you want to hear, but Hood suggests investing a little more money and purchasing a new machine to get your paving operation off the ground. “You want a piece of equipment that’s not going to let you down,” he says. “And a problem paver experiencing multiple breakdowns can put a new paving contractor out of business in a hurry.”
Whether or not you opt for a new machine, Hood says a clear-eyed look at local dealers is vital to your small paving success. “To me, good dealer support is even more important than the manufacturer of the machine,” he says. “And it’s even more important for small contractors because your entire business is tied up in that one machine. Minimal downtime is absolutely crucial.”
When you’re evaluating a machine, Hood says taking a hard look at that dealer’s service organization is absolutely vital. You want to see a good, strong service department. And you want to make sure the dealership understands the paving business. Look to see if the dealer is actively engaged in and pursuing that market. “That tells you the dealer is serious about taking care of small paving contractors and that this isn’t just a sideline product for him,” Hood says.
If you find a machine you like, Reposa says there are some primary criteria to be evaluated before you buy. Perhaps no aspect of a paver is more important than its screed, since that’s the component that delivers a smooth surface to the asphalt being laid and mat quality is the performance upon which job quality is measured.
“A seamless screed will give you mat quality for its entire width,” Reposa explains. “Screed width will also help determine performance in the amount of asphalt you can put down per hour. Screed heat is important, and having a propane-heated screed and extensions will improve performance and mat quality.”
Getting the most horsepower for your paver dollar will also improve your jobsite performance, Reposa notes. “Increased horsepower gives the operator better pushing power and increased gradeability,” he says. “Look for reversible cast augers for longer wear life and make sure they can be rebuilt once they do wear out.”
“Horsepower translates to power in the hydraulic and track drive system,” Koepf explains. “And you need to couple that power with a good track design to ensure the paver doesn’t slip when working on inclines. Another component to look at is hopper capacity, since a large hopper ensures long pours between truck loading. And good feedability characteristics means you can pave the full width of the machine.
There are many wear items on a paver. For that reason, Reposa says the ability to easily change worn out components like screed plates is crucial for long machine life. “General ease of maintenance and access for maintenance will help make operation more efficient and reduce down time as well,” he notes. “Putting 600 hours on a machine would be a solid, profitable year for a gravity-fed, tilt-hopper paver. And with proper maintenance, 600 hours is an attainable goal.”