Asphalt Manufacturing Trends To Watch In 2021 And Beyond

Trends in asphalt manufacturing and the asphalt paving industry.

2020 Has been a disruptive year, without doubt. There were numerous construction and building materials shortages that marked the early part of the year. On top of that, the general economic outlook was dismal. Businesses assumed that they would not do as well, and thus saved money rather than spending on new constructions.  The various industries that support businesses have taken hits correspondingly. But as things start to look up and we can see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, industry is reviving. Some of the trends we see in the economy as a whole will be reflected in the asphalt and paving industry. Some of the recovery trends, however, will be unique to asphalt and the industries that use it.

According to an IBIS World Report, asphalt manufacturing has been on a general upward trend since 2016. Although the industry shrank a bit in 2020, it is predicted to grow in 2021, by about 2.1%. As the industry – like many others – recovers from the pandemic, we can assess the specifics of how it is improving, and why.

Growing demand

The key to business is to find a gap in the market and fill it. With asphalt, that’s pretty straightforward. People and businesses need pavement, waterproofing, and repairs on their existing asphalt paving. Our job in this industry is to make those things happen.

A Freedonia study predicts that asphalt demand in the US will rise 3% over 2021, to 27.6 million tons. Demand for street/highway pavement will be the leading cause of this increase. However, asphalt used in other facets, such as roofing, will grow below the market average rate. Partly this is due to slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Partly this is due to the extreme weather repairs that caused a spike in demand for roofing and other waterproofing asphalt in 2016.

The economic stimulus measures enacted by the current political administration in the US will also increase demand. About 2 trillion dollars has been earmarked specifically for infrastructure stimulus, which will no doubt involve repairs and construction of new roads, bridges, and other asphalt constructions.

Asphalt industry trends to look out for

As the industry picks up again after last year, there are certain trends that began during the pandemic that are here to stay. There are also trends that have just started, but are fast becoming mainstays of this industry.

Big data and a well-connected workforce

As the older generations retire and new members join, technology is more and more embraced. This has resulted in better use of data, remote technology, and automation. On top of the general trend towards technological innovation, the pandemic has made it necessary for many people to work remotely. A good deal of jobs will stay remote permanently. In the paving industry, it’s a bit harder, as actual manpower is required to build roads. Technology is nonetheless playing a bigger than ever role in the industry.

  • Thermal imaging is the use of IR (infrared) sensors to monitor pavement temperature. It provides real-time temperature information and saves data for later analysis.
  • 3D Paving control systems use satellites and imaging technology. These automated grade control systems control the slope of paving with little error margin. They are key in getting large projects completed on time and on budget.
  • Intelligent compaction uses data analysis to improve long-term pavement performance. This technology automates the compaction process, efficiently performing while avoiding over-compaction.

Needless to say, the paving industry is becoming more connected, high-tech, and automated.

Localized production and the circular economy

With millions of paved roads already existing in the US, creating totally new asphalt is less and less of a necessity. Almost anywhere that asphalt needs to be repaired or laid in this country, it can be done with recycled materials. Damaged asphalt is being dug up, pulverized, and mixed with binder again to be laid as new asphalt. This has been happening for decades in the US, but it growing ever more efficient and better at reducing resources. The benefits of this process are many.

  • Reduced carbon footprint. When new asphalt doesn’t have to be made, the whole supply chain of making new aggregate and transporting it is no longer needed.
  • Recycling unused pavement. Old, unused roads and parking lots can become new ones. Rather than building new and destroying the old, old infrastructure can simply be reused.
  • Higher levels of customization. Individuals and businesses can get exactly what they want as the paving contractor they hire makes asphalt according to what already exists in their neighborhood with recycled asphalt.

Predictive maintenance

As technology and asphalt data analysis improve, impending failure is easier to predict. When an asphalt paving contractor can look at data from thousands of parking lots across the country, it becomes much easier to predict future problems and how to solve them in-advance. Predictive maintenance results in several major benefits.

  • Lower costs. Performing smaller repairs well before they are necessary obviates big repairs that have to fix failures.
  • Fewer failures. When maintenance and analysis anticipates a problem, that problem gets stopped before it has the chance to cause a major fault. With fewer failures comes less down time. You won’t have to worry about blocking off part of your parking lot if a problem that would have caused a failure has already been solved.
  • Supply chain optimization. With better analysis and maintenance, replacement parts and materialized can be ordered on a scheduled timeline, rather than when they are needed. This means that suppliers will know in advance when they should have things ready for contractors to install. Wait times decrease and efficiency goes up.

Stay on top of your asphalt needs

If you have noticed your pavement degrading, whether its cracks, potholes, or worse, it’s time to get it repaired. While the nation moves into economic recovery mode, you are probably going to want people at your business, spending their stimulus checks. Well, they can’t do that if they can’t use your driveway or parking lot. Reliable Paving can perform any pavement-related service you need, on budget, and on time. Contact us today to get started.