Road fixers

Ashraf Ayad, director of Seven Spikes Road Contracting, speaks to PMV Middle East about dealing with the technical and operational challenges in road rehabilitation and maintenance works in Dubai

Road construction, Maintenance, Asphalt, Dynapac, Seven Spikes

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Road maintenance and repair is serious business in Dubai. The high quality expected by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and their tight deadlines to ensure uninterrupted traffic flow can only be delivered with the right selection of machines, material and people. A road maintenance contractor needs to balance the technical aspects of roadworks such as the properties of soil and asphalt structures, their mixing compositions and performance features of road construction equipment along with the operational aspects of managing resources through efficient utilisation of people and equipment.

According to Ashraf Ayad, road rehabilitation and maintenance works in Dubai is a business growing steadily with expansion of the city’s roadways. Since establishing Seven Spikes Road Contracting in 2016 and securing contracts by entering into a contractual agreement with Dubai-based Al Safa Road Contracting, Ashraf has driven the company’s market penetration to acquire several road projects across Dubai.
Ashraf shares the challenges and learning curve in executing road maintenance projects.

"When we started operations, we had to learn to allocate our resources efficiently in order to maximise manpower and equipment utilisation. We conducted an analysis of all types of road maintenance work and identified opportunities that matched our competencies. We benefited by having staff that had a thorough understanding of Dubai’s road locations and their entry and exit points,” says Ayad.

Seven Spikes created a process to offer two types of maintenance services, scheduled maintenance and emergency repair work. Scheduled maintenance and repair work are assigned by government authories in advance according to the traffic situation, extent of damage, and convenience of residents in different areas of Dubai.

“We reorganized our manpower into smaller teams and provided each team with training on safety, quality control, cost calculations, and technical calculations so that they could operate independently. Furthermore, we removed the centralised form of control so that all teams could take decisions according to the situation on ground, without waiting for the approval of the management. Assigning teams to their dedicated zones enables us to perform better because each team will have the best judgement of traffic situations, entry and exit points, and how to respond faster without disturbing the public within their zones,” says Ayad.

Ashraf Ayad, director, Seven Spikes Road Contracting

Having independent teams dedicated to zones has helped Seven Spikes overcome a bigger challenge of managing emergency situations such as road damage due to accidents, which require immediate mobilisation of maintenance staff and equipment. To facilitate its logistics, the company has distributed its staff and equipment in various locations in Dubai.The entire operation is coordinated through a control room in the Seven Spikes head office to gain immediate access on main roads and save time.

With increase in Dubai’s road traffic, Ayad expects to face new challenges in the form of tighter deadlines for road repair, manageability of traffic diversions and worker safety. To be prepared, Ayad is planning to invest in machines that can provide faster turnaround of repair jobs and minimize labour costs.

Seven Spikes procures its road maintenance equipment primarily from Dynapac, through Gulf Development & Construction (INMA), a part of Juma Al Majid Group. The company’s fleet of 200 vehicles, equipment and tools includes Dynapac models such as the SD2500C V6000TVH paver, CC3800 steel vibratory roller, CP275 static roller, CC1250 small tandem roller, and PL1000 and PL500 millers.

"We invested in Dynapac equipment because the provide the speed, sturdiness and manoeuvrability to handle complex work,” says Ayad. 
The majority of the company’s equipment is used for asphalt work. Expecting increase in demand from this sector, Seven Spikes plans to expand its fleet with additional Dynapac paving, compaction and milling equipment.

Asphalt work is a highly technical operation with a strict quality control process. Therefore, our priority is to make our asphalt team more competitive. To achieve this, we invest only in new equipment from manufacturers such as Dynapac and work with their authorised service providers,” says Ayad.
Ayad explains the company’s asphalt work process, which includes selection of the right composition of the asphalt mix, laboratory testing, approval from the Dubai Central Laboratory and ground testing with equipment.  

“It’s difficult to rectify problems after the asphalt is cured, especially when working on a site where the road needs to be reopened to the public immediately. Therefore, the choice of ingredients for the asphalt, such as aggregates, binder, fillers, and additives is the most important step. We need to set up our own laboratory to get the right composition of the asphalt ingredients. The components need to be suitable for the UAE’s conditions and readily available in the country. Then, we submit the mix design, which is the proportion of all the components, for approval by the authorities. They have a stringent approval process that involves matching our samples with asphalt from the production plant for consistency. We are allowed to apply asphalt only after the authorities approve our samples. Once the mix design is approved, we run asphalt laying tests with equipment in select locations,” says Ayad.

“When we order a new Dynapac milling or paving machine with Middle East specifications, it goes through a testing process along with the approved mix design to calibrate parameters such as rolling pattern. Such tests help us determine the thickness of the asphalt and how we can avoid over compaction or under compaction,” he adds. 


Seven Spikes plans to expand its fleet with Dynapac paving, compaction and milling equipment

Despite all these measures, failures can happen during testing, due to several reasons such as variation in the mix design from the approved composition or environmental factors. Such uncertainties, despite having the right composition and approvals, are tackled with the expertise of an asphalt foreman.

The appropriate materials, machines, and tests can guarantee the intended results only when executed under the supervision of an asphalt expert. We have to take every possibility of failure into consideration because there’s no margin for error in asphalt work and we have to get it right the first time,” says Ayad.

Working with asphalt also requires safe handling and protection from heat. Seven Spikes is investing in worker safety and training programmes to protect them while working with asphalt on busy roads and in hazardous conditions. 

Ayad’s wish list for expansion of his fleet are tougher, faster, lighter, and easy to maintain machines. According to him, these are not exaggerated demands, but requirements emerging from the situations on ground his workers face every day.

“The milling machine is indispensable in road maintenance work and its utilisation is higher than in road construction. We need faster and smaller machines for milling, because a lot of time is wasted in milling operations. We often see road damage where it’s difficult to do milling work with large machines to repair small patches. Sometimes, the damage goes deep causing water leaks. Such repair works are complex for milling as well as compaction, because we won’t have sufficient space to use the appropriate tools for compaction. As a result, the repaired area will not be as even as it was before the damage but will continue to be subject to the same traffic load," says Ayad.

"Another concern for us is the milling of asphalt in Dubai, where the bitumen content is lower than that in Europe. This makes it harder to grind the asphalt with general milling equipment because it increases wear on the teeth of the machine. Such challenges can only be overcome with faster, smaller and tougher milling and compacting machines,” he says.

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