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Phone: 541-352-7942
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C. M. CONSULTING

A Division of Cliff Mansfield Incorporated

 

 

LESSONS LEARNED IN RUSSIA

by Cliff Mansfield

Published in ASPHALT CONTRACTOR MAGAZINE, September 1997

This is Cliff in Red Square, Moscow Russia

 

  Through my business, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Russia this last summer, and I'd like to share some of my experiences and, perhaps, dispel some myths about the Russian people and their construction practices.

  I was called in by a Seattle company, Asian Pacific Construction Corporation, to assist one of their clients in the start-up and ongoing operations of a new StanSteel TM-40 batch plant. The client, Avtodor, had owned a German Teltomat batch plant since the early 70s and was familiar with batch plants, however, the StanSteel used computerized controls and a baghouse, both of which were unfamiliar to the Russians.

  I landed mid afternoon at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. It's a vast, sprawling facility built in the 70s by the Russians and a consortium of Italians and Germans. In its day I'm sure it was a marvel of aesthetic engineering, but it had been allowed to decay and showed definite signs of Russia's financial woes. Several substantial cracks and potholes in the concrete runway created some tense moments as the Russian-built Illuyshan IL 96-300 thumped through them. This incident illustrated nicely why I've devoted the last twenty years of my life to replacing concrete with asphalt. Once on the ground, the plane squealed to a stop, with its mostly Russian passengers clapping and cheering quite enthusiastically. I found myself wondering if they were glad to be back home, or simply ecstatic from the lack of a fiery end to our trip -- I know the latter was my reason for unbridled joy!

  Inside the terminal I was in for a bit of a surprise: Several international flights had arrived in rapid succession and the immigration/passport inspection area contained, by my estimate, 400-500 souls. The outside temperature was in the mid eighties, inside it was in the high nineties. When I inquired about the lack of air-conditioning, I was told it had broken down and was slated for repair. I asked "When?" and was told, "Soon'". This turned out to be one of the more common statements I would hear. Nearly everything there was going to be fixed "soon". Despite the fact that there were ten immigration booths, only two were occupied. I got my first lesson in the Russian psyche that same afternoon. They are considerably more patient than I am. Six hours later I cleared Immigration and learned my second lesson in the Russian way.

  I was met by Alexander, a former professor of English at Moscow University. He was to serve as my interpreter for the duration of my stay. He reeked of alcohol, and after our introductions, he invited me to the nearest bar, which to his good fortune, happened to be right next to the gate where I had emerged after my trip through that little slice of heaven the Russians called Immigration. It was fortunate for Alex because that was where he'd spent the last seven hours awaiting my arrival. Vodka, it seems, is a very important part of Russian life. This little bit of wisdom was to be reinforced throughout my stay in the Motherland. Despite this truism, I saw very few 'drunken' Russians. They seem to have an enormous tolerance to vodka.

  Moscow is a huge city with a population somewhere around 13 to15 million. As we drove away from the airport I would have sworn that half the city's population was on the same road we were. In America we have a definite set of rules that govern our driving habits. In Russia, only one rule seemed to apply -- if the car will fit into a space, put it there, regardless the risk. In places we drove at 90 kph with traffic so close around us that I could not read the license plate on the car in front or behind us. To the sides, I think I could have reached over on either side and touched the cars racing along there. The concept of "lanes" is lost on the Russians. In places I counted six cars going in each direction zooming along side by side in what, in America, would be two lanes each way. I soon decided that driving in Moscow was a daunting task, one I was not suited for.

  The place I visited is called Jegorjevsk (pronounced Igorsk). It is approximately 95 kilometers southeast of Moscow and sits amid a bleak landscape of low hills and shallow valleys, sparsely covered with deciduous trees. The city has about 250,000 occupants, and its main reason for being is the huge textile mill that dominates the center of town.

  After registering at our hotel, a process closely scrutinized by the local authorities, we headed out to the asphalt plant for a look around. The first thing I noticed was the bars on the control house windows and the enclosure built over the generator. I was informed that these precautions were necessary in today's Russia where the average income is less than $100 a month -- for the lucky ones who can find a job. With the government "pension" for the unemployed around $20 a month, pilfering has become an art form.

  To get the plant ready to make mix, we first had to hookup and troubleshoot all the electrical systems and the computerized controls; this took about a week. During this time I inquired about mix designs and received a cryptic '60% sand, 40% rock' answer. As I was dealing with a batch plant, this was not the answer I had hoped for. After several days of intense discussion, I was given the following mix designs.

.

 

BASE DESIGN TABLE

Sieve Size (Metric)

Tolerance Band

Design %

20mm

95-100

96

15mm

85-100

87

10mm

70-100

75

05mm

50-65

52

2.5mm

40-65

46

1.25mm

34-65

40

0.63mm

27-65

32

0.315mm

20-40

23

0.14mm

14-23

16

0.021mm

6-12

8

Bitumen

4-6

4.8%

.

 

SURFACE DESIGN TABLE

Sieve Size (Metric)

Tolerance Band

Design %

20mm

95-100

100

15mm

54-100

98

10mm

42-88

85

05mm

30-65

62

2.5mm

25-65

58

1.25mm

18-65

45

0.63mm

12-65

33

0.315mm

8-40

20

0.14mm

5-22

12

0.021mm

2-8

4

Bitumen

3.5-5.5

4.5%

  As you can see, the broadband specification is quite forgiving, and there was no narrow band to my knowledge. Armed with this information, it was time to set the plant up to comply. The StanSteel plant was set-up to pull dry bin samples, so I asked the testing lab personnel for the percentages of material they desired from each bin. To my dismay, I was again told '60% sand, 40% rock'. I asked them how they calibrated the Teltomat AC plant that sits less than 100 yards away from the TM-40. I was told that they started with an arbitrary set of bin pulls, tested the resulting mix, then modified the bin percentages until they achieved the desired results. I believe this to be a poor way to calibrate an asphalt plant. At this juncture, I decided it was time to teach Avtodor's testing staff how to calibrate an AC plant mathematically. I fired up the plant and ran rock through it until everything was warmed up. Next, I adjusted the feeder outputs so the bin pulls stabilized approximately where I thought they should be in order to yield the results Avtodor wanted. I allowed the plant to run until all four hot storage bin high bin indicators were illuminated, then I dead-stopped the plant and pulled a 1,500 gram sample from each bin. Once we were given a sample result from each hot bin, it was a simple matter to blend back together the aggregates to come up with a percentage we needed from each bin. As a result of this effort, our first sample was within 1% of what Avtodor wanted. The base mix they liked was on the "coarse" side of the specs, yet the surface they liked was as "fine as possible". The following are actual test results of their surface mix.

 

AVTODOR RESULTS TABLE

Sieve Size (Metric)

% Passing

20mm

100

15mm

100

10mm

87

05mm

64

2.5mm

60

1.25mm

57

0.63mm

50

0.315mm

38

0.14mm

20

0.021mm

6

Bitumen

4.5%

  I didn't particularly care about their base mix. I could see that it would work for what they were doing, but on the other hand , I was quite concerned about their surface mix. I couldn't see how this mix would stand up to high-volume truck traffic without simply coming apart and rutting. Every road I'd seen in Russia was rutted badly if it was more than a year or so old. After some spirited discussions on this subject, I was informed that, yes, the local official in charge of mix designs agrees that the mix is failing the real-world test of traffic. I was also informed that this issue would be discussed at the next transportation summit in Moscow and was asked if I could give them a recommended mix design. I gave them a representative 'B' mix from Oregon Department of Transportation specifications and was told that they would get back to me -- That was in April! I'm still waiting, and they are paving on with a mix that ensures they will all have work 'til the end of time. Change doesn't come easily in the Motherland. The issue of centralized control was something that constantly hindered the decision-making process in everything from mix designs to how much fuel to keep in the generator over the weekend. All decisions had to come from the main office. On several occasions, I sat in my hotel for days while the laborious process of "ruling" on one of my suggestions would grind slowly onward. I took twenty novels with me to Russia, by the third week I was reduced to reading asphalt plant tech manuals from cover to cover. By the forth week, I was ardently studying Russian because I had little else to do.

  Finally, poor mix design and all, we were ready to pave the roads of the Motherland. A batch plant makes mix in -- "batches" ('magine that!). This requires that some sort of receptacle be positioned under the pug mill when the gate opens and gravity works its magic on the batch. On some plants that receptacle is the chute that carries the mix to a drag conveyor and then to holding silo. On our plant, we had hoped to use waiting trucks as that receptacle, since we had no silo. I was soon to learn that this was to be our Achilles Heel. Russian truck drivers are a breed apart. Independent thinking seems to be a concept lost on these stalwart individuals. My problems began as soon as the first truck pulled up under the plant. The plant was running at nearly 120 tons per hour. I signaled the first truck to pull into position. As he did, I looked down and turned the pug gate switch to automatic. When I look up the truck was ready, however the driver was nowhere to be seen. I assumed he simply stepped out of his truck to check out something or to chew the fat with his buddies. Six batches later I discovered error of my assumption. The driver was nowhere to be found. I was beginning to get nervous, the hot bins were filling up and starting to reject material. I signaled for someone to move the offending truck out of the way and get another one in position. I was in for a bit of a surprise. Apparently, no one else was authorized to drive this guy's truck! By this time I'd had enough. I marched out of the control room and climbed into the aforementioned truck, intent on moving the stupid thing myself. Imagine my state of mind when I discovered that the driver had taken the keys with him. Out of options, I was forced to hot-stop the plant and wait for the guy to return -- which he did about ten minutes later. Apparently he'd missed his tea break earlier in the morning and had decided that he should take it while his truck was being loaded. Once I spit out all the nails I'd been chewing on, I calmly asked the trucking foreman if he could see that this incident was not repeated. To my chagrin, he hauled all his drivers off to a tea break so that he could lay out the new rules. Nearly an hour later, I restarted the plant, confident that the incident was behind us. I was wrong! I loaded six trucks without incident. Then, despite the fact that I could see four trucks awaiting hot mix, no one pulled under the plant. I sent the fledgling plant operator out to see if he could get someone to pull under for a load. He returned a few moments later and shrugged. "Tea break" was all he said. I shut the plant down, a frightening thought gnawing at my consciousness: The 'Cold War' didn't phase these Russian patriots, but God help anyone who got between them and a tea break!

  Despite all the problems, we did manage to make nearly 3000 tonnes of hot mix during my stay in the Motherland. All in all, I count myself as fortunate to have been given this opportunity, and I find myself confident that Russian construction practices will improve in the near future. I know for a fact that I learned many lessons while there, and I would hope that I left a small seed of America's construction ideals to take root and grow.

 

For additional information on this subject or help with any Asphalt Plant problems encountered contact Cliff Mansfield, 541-352-7942, 7:30am to 9:00pm Pacific Standard Time.

Email me-

cmconsulting@hotmail.com

 

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