Road Science and MetService create online forecasting tool

Should I Seal (SIS) is an innovative new online tool designed to provide clear advice to Downer’s roading sector on when to spray bitumen emulsion. A collaborative journey between Road Science and MetService, the tool will revolutionise the chipsealing process by integrating forecasting technology to reduce the risk of wash-off from a rain event. Workers can use the tool on their PCs, smartphones and tablets. Once logged in they are taken to an interface with simple icons showing whether or not it is safe to seal on a particular day. Factors taken into account include product type, humidity, temperature and rain forecasts.

Most of New Zealand’s 11,000kms of state highways and 50,000kms of local roads are sealed in chipseal - a thin layer of aggregate chip set in bitumen. Maintaining New Zealand’s roading infrastructure costs over $500 million NZD per annum. 

Road travellers and workers can testify that the spraying of hot cutback bitumen is a hot, dangerous process with a poor environmental impact. However, this sealing technique has been absolutely necessary for economic development and road safety.

Downer New Zealand is a leading provider of engineering and infrastructure management services in New Zealand. The company’s specialist research and design facility Road Science, based in Mount Maunganui, has created new generation emulsion products as an alternative to hot cutback bitumen.

Emulsification is the process of combining two liquids that cannot be mixed. It is, in essence, the same process by which many foods, including tomato sauce, remain suspended and pourable without the elements separating or settling.

Remarkably, Road Science new generation emulsions are sprayed using the same techniques as hot or cutback bitumen, however they have the following advantages: Greater safety. The ability to spray at less than 90oC means Road Science emulsions are safer for workers. The cooler temperature dramatically reduces the risk of burns and eliminates the risk of explosion.

Reduced carbon footprint. A recent study by CarboNZero- has proven the new generation emulsions have a lower carbon footprint in every area of the products’ lifecycle.

Superior thickness. This leads to less run off and the ability to spray on very steep slopes.

By working with MetService, Road Science has developed an online sealing forecast tool to provide chipsealing workers with clear advice on when and where they are able to spray bitumen emulsion to prevent the risk of wash-off from a rain event. Workers can use the tool on their PCs, smartphones and tablets. Once logged in they are taken to an interface with simple icons showing whether or not it is safe to seal on a particular day. Factors taken into account include product type, humidity, temperature and rain forecasts.

Road Science General Manager Dean Riley believes this collaboration has closed the last remaining potential risk in undertaking bitumen emulsion sealing within New Zealand. "It will provide the contractor, road controlling authorities and environmental protection agencies with increased confidence in the use of bitumen emulsions for the chipsealing of their networks."

MetService Business Development Manager, Peter Fisher, says the business relationship between Road Science and MetService is an example of science-based collaboration. "The weather forecasting intelligence provided to Road Science enables them to plan with a high-level of accuracy when environmental conditions will enable the successful application of their emulsified products."

"The relationship with Road Science is a superb example of how companies can collaborate to deliver outcomes of greater value across multiple horizons: commercial, environmental, and health and safety."

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