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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Asphalt Laboratories Assessment Summary Report

DATE: March 1 – 4, 2004
PANEL CHAIRMAN: David Newcomb, Ph.D.,
Director of Research
National Asphalt Pavement Association


Edward Harrigan, Ph.D
Senior Program Officer
Transportation Research Board
David Spivey
President, DSI, Inc
Bruno Marinelli
Manager, Central Labs
Materials Engineering Branch
Nicholas P. Vitillo
Manager, Bureau of Research
New Jersey DOT


Barbara Harder
B. T. Harder, Inc

Overview of Asphalt Laboratories

This review covers a group of laboratories, which together are referred to as the “Asphalt Labs” at TFHRC.

Pavement Testing Laboratory - Accelerated Load Facility (ALF)
The Pavement Testing Facility (PTF) is used to rapidly collect data on pavement performance under conditions in which axle loading and climatic conditions are controlled. This laboratory is also used to study the complex interactions between pavement structures, construction materials and axle loads. The primary objective of PTF is to develop and verify new specifications, designs, and test procedures.

Binder Rheology Laboratory
The purpose of the Binder Laboratory is to conduct Superpave performance-based binder specification testing; to develop better equipment and methods for testing binders; and to carry out advanced rheological research on asphalts, modified asphalts, and mastics. The laboratory provides support for several activities — including Accelerated Loading Facility (ALF) experiments, Long Term Pavement Performance (LTPP) projects, and chemically modified crumb rubber asphalt (CMCRA) research — and for the Superpave binder expert task group.

Bituminous Mixtures Laboratory
The Bituminous Mixtures Laboratory specializes in the research of asphalt pavement mixtures. The facility supports FHWA's efforts to develop, evaluate, and improve materials; mixture design technology; and performance-based tests for asphalt paving mixtures. The extensive resources and innovative technology of the laboratory are used to assist FHWA field offices, State highway agencies, and other members of the pavement community in the design of asphalt mixtures, evaluation of in-service asphalt pavement performance, and implementation of new technology. The laboratory's activities are aimed at extending the life and improving the performance of asphalt pavement, reducing vehicle wear and tear, and shortening construction delays.

Chemistry Laboratory
The purpose of the Chemistry Laboratory is to conduct fundamental studies of highway materials aimed at understanding failure mechanisms and superior performance, advancing state-of-the-art characterization tools, and testing and developing new materials.

Simulation, Imaging, & Mechanics of Asphalt Pavements
The primary goal of the SIMAP Laboratory is to provide experimental data and theoretical models to increase understanding of the scientific principles necessary to design and construct asphalt pavements with desirable properties and long service lives. These scientific principles are explored using diverse cutting-edge technologies, including two- and three-dimensional imaging and analysis, photoelastic techniques, micro-mechanics, and computer simulations.

Key Strengths and Observations

  • The research personnel are highly self-motivated, qualified, and professional. The environment fosters world-class expertise. The panel noted the awards and recognition won by researchers from their peers in organizations such as the Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists (AAPT).
  • The laboratories are very well equipped. Few facilities in the world have similar capabilities
  • The laboratories have a wide range of activities from full-scale testing to microscopy.
  • The laboratories exhibit innovation in response to immediate concerns.
  • The laboratories’ team leader was very engaged and responsive to discussions. Tom Harman said he was changing procedures as the review was going on.
  • TFHRC fulfills a role in fundamental, high-states research that cannot be fulfilled elsewhere.
  • Stakeholders are very positive about the role that TFHRC is taking.

Key Recommendations and Status of Current Activities

  1. Panel Recommendation: Write and implement a Safety Plan immediately. Integrate into all operations.
    Action to be taken: Update and implement Safety Plan.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    The Safety Plan has been implemented as part of the team’s Chemical Hygiene Plan, which is being expanded to include all our laboratories. The Team has also held fire safety workshop with HAIM-20 Facility Manager in May ‘2005. Safety topics have been included as a regular part of Team staff meetings. Completed

  2. Panel Recommendation: FHWA leadership needs to redefine direction, goals, and mission based upon goals of highway community. What comes after Superpave? Need a transition plan
    Action to be taken:
    Team retreat to establish mission.
    Status as of 1/10/06: We have redefined the Superpave ETGs to address 3 major areas: Binder Characterization & Certification ETG; Mixture Design & Construction Acceptance ETG; and Fundamental Properties & Advanced Modeling ETG. Completed

  3. Panel Recommenation: Need to implement an advisory mechanism comprised of FHWA, DOT, industry, and academia.
    Action to be taken:
    Develop an advisory mechanism to succeed Superpave Committees.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    Meetings to be held Spring ‘2006. The HMA ETG structure will address this item. Completed

  4. Panel Recommendation: Publish work plans, and progress and final reports.
    Action to be taken: Obtain/Access Editorial Resources.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    The TFHRC web site is being updated. It will house the subject items on all major projects. Completed

  5. Panel Recommendation: Improve communications within and between asphalt laboratories. Hold weekly meetings, and develop easier means to share data.
    Action to be taken: Restructure Staff Meeting and establish regular lab meetings.
    Status as of 1/10/06: The Team has developed a Communication Plan. In addition, the individual laboratories now routinely hold coordination meetings (TAM – Thursday Afternoon Meetings) Completed

  6. Panel Recommendation: Develop a succession plan and provide for cross training.
    Action to be taken:
    Establish a Succession Plan for Federal and Contractor Personnel.
    Status as of 1/11/06: Completed

  7. Panel Recommendation: Continue to encourage and motivate federal and contractor employees. They are the greatest strength of the lab.
    Action to be taken:
    Continue to encourage and sponsor training.
    Status as of 1/10/06: Ongoing / Completed

  8. Panel Recommendation: Consider a different system of contracting for on-site services.
    Action to be taken:
    Explore alternative contracting procedures for support staff.
    Status as of 1/10/06: We will be re-competing our on-site contractor in FY ‘06. We have spoken to HAAM regarding our options. Completed

  9. Panel Recommendation: Improve the system of work plan development, project tracking, and follow up. Consider after project assessment and documentation on implementation and technology transfer. Make sure implementation of information remains a top consideration during and after the project.
    Action to be taken:
    Developed a new process to include tie to the Corporate Master Plan, Stakeholders.
    Status as of 1/10/06: Completed

  10. Panel Recommendation: Develop a capital improvement program.
    Action to be taken:
    Establish a Capital Improvement Plan for the Laboratories.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    The labs have developed a Team Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Completed

  11. Panel Recommendation: Develop a quality plan covering the ALF, Chemistry, and SIMAP laboratories, similar to that done for AMRL accreditation using some kind of standard such as ISO 25.
    Action to be taken: Update Laboratory Quality Manual to include comments in Appendix F.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    To Be Completed in Fall ‘2006.

  12. Panel Recommendation: There does not seem to be a “laboratory information management system” (LIMS) that allows data to be shared across various labs. Data are handled very differently in the different labs.
    Action to be taken:
    Evaluate Data Tracking Procedures, consider LIMS.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    Underway – we have procured a PC platform for the LIMS and set up a working group to develop its structure. Target implementation is Fall ‘2006.

  13. Panel Recommendation: Research needs packaging for someone other than researchers results need to be marketed. A variety of formats are needed to disseminate information.
    Action to be taken:
    Actively Market Research & Capabilities.
    Status as of 1/10/06: Ongoing

  14. Panel Recommendation: Stakeholders have said they want information to be more widely available and packaged. They want results and data shared on-line.
    Action to be taken: Update website content and capabilities.
    Status as of 1/10/06: Our web site is being updated/reconstructed to accommodate this need. We worked with the program office (HIPT) to develop at subject matter based site for Pavements. Completed

  15. Panel Recommendation: There should be an element of risk taking in TFHRC research.
    Action to be taken:
    Evaluate Current Research, Assess Level of Risk Taking, and Adjust Program.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    This is being encouraged. Ongoing

  16. Panel Recommendation: Implementation and technology transfer activities resulting from work do not seam to be tracked. Reports are not reaching the right people – look at NCAT method of notification.
    Action to be taken: Requires manpower to track implementation – will have to consider further.
    Status as of 1/10/06:
    We have established a project tracking system and will be including our research activities on the TRB Research in Progress web site. Fall ‘2006

  17. Panel Recommendation: ALF software is DOS based/unusable. Needs to be updated.
    Action to be taken:
    Software works and would be expensive to replace. No Action.
    Status as of 1/10/06:

  18. Panel Recommendation: There are standards for collecting, storing, and analyzing data, calibrating equipment, training, succession planning, etc. These need to be documented.
    Action to be taken:
    Written procedures manual specifying standard procedures and methods of recording/storing.
    Status as of 1/10/06: This is being address as part of LIMS implementation. Fall ‘2006

  19. Panel Recommendation: There is not a mechanism to review projects internally as they are moving forward and adjust the scope of work. Progress reporting needs to be handled more formally.
    Action to be taken:
    Include stakeholders in evaluating work in progress.
    Status as of 1/10/06: The new ETG structure will address project reviews. Completed

All Key Recommendations and Activities were completed January 10, 2006

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