in the spotlight

Online Asphalt Quality Desk promotes innovation in road construction

25 April 2018 • 3 min reading time

If a company develops an innovative asphalt mix, it usually has to complete a complex procedure before road authorities grant the product their approval. While the need for quality testing is self-evident, sometimes people are just afraid of the unknown. From now on, companies can have their new products validated by an independent platform – the online Asphalt Quality Desk.

MORE INFORMATION?

For more information, please contact Arie Bleijenberg

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“We are often overly cautious when procuring new products. They have not yet proven themselves in practice, so we just stick with the asphalt mixes that we know. That inhibits innovation. The Desk launched by TNO lowers the threshold and enables companies to introduce new products. We really must break this vicious circle.”

From stagnation to innovation

Marten Klein, a member of the board of the City of Amsterdam Engineers Department has something to say on the matter. He searches his own conscience. “As a road authority, we want to see improvements in the products we procure, but we still hesitate when a company comes up with something new, even if the test results are convincing. That’s not particularly helpful. We have to shift from stagnation to innovation. The new Desk will certainly help us do that.”

“The Desk launched by TNO lowers the threshold and enables companies to introduce new products”

Tough demands

This development was triggered by a casual conversation between a TNO expert, Arie Bleijenberg, and Ronald van Hulst, the Director of BAM’s Infra Regional. The latter mentioned that, in his dealings with road authorities, such as Rijkswaterstaat, and provincial and local authorities, he was routinely met with mistrust if the company had developed a new product. They want asphalt that lasts longer, has better environmental performance, and is quieter. “But even if every aspect of the product has been fully verified by lab tests and practical tests, it is by no means certain that it will actually be used,” says Mr Van Hulst. “In fact, even if we’ve got approval from Rijkswaterstaat – which imposes the toughest demands – provincial authorities and local authorities still insist that we go through the whole approval procedure again, even though the very same mix is involved.”

Independent experts in Asphalt Quality Desk

TNO and BAM established a cooperative body, involving road authorities, asphalt producers and road builders. Arie Bleijenberg feels that “It is very difficult for innovations to get off the ground, and some never make it at all. It’s a real shame. This tends to make companies less enthusiastic about developing new products. Here at TNO, we want to encourage and accelerate innovation. Yet we see that, while companies are developing better products, their clients are hesitant about procuring them. We approached the road authorities and BAM coordinated the sector’s response. Having such a small group of pioneers on each side meant that we were actually able to resolve matters very quickly. The Desk is made up of independent experts from the scientific, private and public sectors. Road construction clients have now agreed to accept the Desk’s assessment of any new products.”

“Even if every aspect of the product has been verified by lab tests and practical tests, it is by no means certain that it will actually be used”

A win-win situation

According to Marten Klein, the Desk has helped people to discard a long-standing routine of hesitation and stagnation. Now that road authorities have committed themselves to accept the experts’ judgement, road construction companies feel more challenged to come up with innovations. “Each side has their own particular interests at stake but, if you think about it, these are entirely in line with each other. We want to buy better asphalt and the companies can supply it. In this way, the market is incentivized to innovate. A win-win situation.”

Binding judgment

“Every road authority must accept the judgment of the Desk in advance,” says BAM’s Ronald van Hulst “this is vital to the companies in our sector. In addition to saving us a great deal of time and money, this will give us a great incentive to improve our products. It also lowers the road authorities’ thresholds, in terms of purchasing innovative products. Of course, they are under no obligation to purchase the new mixes approved by the Desk, but at least there is no more discussion about whether the product meets the requirements. The Desk’s judgment carries considerable weight. We show the experts which specific characteristics have been improved in the new product. If they confirm this is indeed the case, then that’s that!”

“Road authorities want to buy better asphalt and the companies can supply it. In this way, the market is incentivized to innovate. A win-win situation”

Applying for validation online

The Asphalt Quality Desk is based at CROW, a knowledge platform for public and private sector organizations operating in the area of infrastructure. The Desk’s independent experts are drawn from organizations such as TNO, the Delft University of Technology, Rijkswaterstaat, and the City of Rotterdam, as well as from various consultancies, engineering firms and certification bodies. The steering committee, chaired by TNO, includes representatives of the City of Amsterdam, the province of Overijssel, KWS, Rijkswaterstaat and BAM Infra. Companies can register their new products online (together with evidence supporting their claimed properties) for validation by the Desk.

MORE INFORMATION?

For more information, please contact Arie Bleijenberg

Contact
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