Volvo CE’s Road Institute holds valuable lessons for operators of all skill levels

Updated Nov 7, 2015

Old dogs and new tricks. We use that reference nonchalantly when it comes to folks stuck in their ways, and there are plenty of them out there in the roadbuilding world.

They’re the ones who tell you “I’ve done it this way for 30 years!” when a new method or technology is suggested. Sure, these folks are skilled and talented, using machinery with as much artistry as a woodcarver using a chisel, but technology advances and machinery improvements are nothing to scoff at.

And sometimes, guys are actually doing it wrong.

A few old dogs, and some new (including myself), last week took a chance at learning some new tricks at Volvo Construction Equipment’s Road Institute. This course, held near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was the first of the 2015-2016 season and spanned four days covering paving and compactor operation and maintenance.

The Road Institute has been offering asphalt paving instruction since 1965 when it began under Blaw-Knox. Now there are 11 different courses available, ranging from the course I took, which I consider a broad overview, to very specific topics, such as courses dedicated to automatic grade and slope systems and hydraulic and electrical systems for specific machines. Classes are offered in two locations: Chambersburg and Phoenix.

My class had 12 attendees, split between those in equipment sales, operators who run the equipment in the field and of course me. Flemming Knudsen was our paving instructor and Wayne Tomlinson covered compaction.

The first day was mostly classroom work, reviewing the basics of asphalt materials and paving and compaction equipment, including best practices. We also got a walk-around of the machinery we were set to use. It was a grueling day by having to sit still so long, but we were given a lot of background information we’d need for the rest of the course.

Day two got us out of the classroom and onto the equipment. We were split into groups at times, some working as a paving crew and laying down a mat of a wetted-down sandy mixture that resembled asphalt. The other group rotated between running a small compactor on the mat the first group put and operating a larger compacter fitted with Volvo’s Density Direct intelligent compaction system. At specific times during our hands-on work, both Knudsen and Tomlinson relayed stories of previous course attendees who griped about their way of doing it, to suddenly realize the benefit of what they were being shown.

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Day three included more practice and groups interchanging between paving and compaction, followed by an afternoon competition between two groups in our class. To make it fair, the groups were made up of equal number of operators.

Day four was our classroom course test, preceded by a paving safety review and a Q&A session. On this day we hoped to learn who won the contest (we were named Group A and Group 1 as an effort to jokingly make us feel good about ourselves), but were informed by both Knudsen and Tomlinson that we were “all winners.”

I think my group won, but that’s beside the point.

The big reveal about the quality of the course came when we had dinner together at the end of the third day. Several of the sales guys thanked Knudsen and Tomlinson for the course and said that anyone who sells paving equipment should go through the class. One admitted that he now felt he would really know what he was talking about when selling pavers.

The sales guys weren’t alone in learning something. The operators were able to pick up some tips on fine-tuning the equipment when paving, something they can’t do as part of their work, as there isn’t a good way of “practicing” during paving season.

I picked up a greater appreciation for how difficult the work is in paving and compaction and how skilled you need to be in the roadbuilding business (I’m not too shabby on a small roller), as well as a greater understanding of the machinery itself.

You won’t see me trading the laptop for a hard hat any time soon (OK, my compaction skills aren’t that good), but I could walk up to a jobsite now, look at an asphalt mat and be pretty confident that I’d know what caused a line or imperfection.