by Susan Hickman
Potholes have plagued us since the beginning of paved roads. But as a Carleton professor approaches retirement, his lifelong research into improving road infrastructure is revolutionizing the field of pavement construction.
Transportation engineering professor A. O. Abd El Halim first invented a compactor that produced crack-free pavement in the mid-1980s and his revolutionary technology is now inspiring provincial and municipal governments to use it for better paving solutions.
After the initial non-motorized single-belted prototype was field-tested in Egypt, National Research Council Canada and Lovat Tunnel Equipment Inc. of Toronto helped develop a motorized version. The technology garnered worldwide recognition and in 1996 an Australian contractor invested $750,000 to develop a dual-belted version.
Halim, director of Carleton’s Centre for Geosynthetics Research Information and Development since 1987, explains that this second-generation compactor was used “to construct a road leading from the Sydney airport to the Olympic Village (in 2000), and continued to be used for several years.”
Despite its success, the compactor was unable to attract an equipment manufacturer. Halim put the project on hold until he got a surprise call in 2009.
“I got a call from a friend who said, ‘The MTO (Ministry of Transportation of Ontario) needs your roller, can you present about it?’” Halim recalls. “It took two years but the MTO . . . gave me a budget.”
The first field tests of the new machine were unsuccessful. Then Russ Perry of Tomlinson Group in Ottawa recognized the potential of the technology and made a significant investment.
The new prototype of the final commercial version was born, but after talking with his father-in-law, who was a highway contractor in Calgary, Halim decided he should sell his technology as a roller kit that could be retrofitted to existing compactors, thus saving contractors from having to buy additional machines, as well as eliminating other challenges.
“The former model was far more complicated. You basically needed to be a rocket scientist to drive it,” Perry says.
Halim praises Perry for his practical experience and knowledge. “A lot of the things Russ saw, I didn’t see. This is the difference between a researcher and a user.”
Meanwhile, the MTO recognizes the potential of Halim’s technology to extend the life of asphalt and save significant taxpayer dollars. The third-generation compactor, used last November to construct a test section in Ottawa in partnership with the City, yielded impressive results.