Lebanon County firm aims to save tires one winter pothole at a time
Ask any municipality to fix a pothole in the winter, and you're likely to get the same response.
"We'd like to, but as fast as we do it, it will be open again."
Physics, geography and the consequences of supply and demand have made it nearly impossible to adequately fix winter potholes in cold-weather regions, but a privately held Lebanon County company has invented, manufactured and is now selling what it believes is the answer.
Hot Mix Mobile LLC is headquartered in West Cornwall Township, and its investors are from Lebanon County. The company has developed RoadMixer, a mobile, hot asphalt plant that can be used to provide a much more permanent fix to winter potholes.
What is RoadMixer?
The device — which sells for $200,000 by itself and for $300,000 fully mounted on a new truck — is the result of about five years of work to perfect the creation before putting it on the market, according to Darren Geesaman, the company's project manager.
The company has been selling RoadMixer for about six months and has sold six so far, he said, with the capability to produce about 20 more units this year.
The plan then is to add staff and grow to producing 50 in 2015. Within a decade, Hot Mix wants to produce 200 a year — about the limit of what the market will bear, Geesaman predicted.
Future expansion plans are all tabbed for the Lebanon County area in the hopes of bringing good-paying jobs to the region. Currently, the company employs about five full-time employees and subcontracts much of the manufacturing work.
"We're all from here, we all live here," he said. "This isn't just about us being successful. It's about giving Lebanon County another stable business."
The winter problem
Winter potholes are problematic because, in most cases, repair crews must fill them with cold asphalt, or "cold patch." Hot asphalt plants close in November and don't open until March, Geesaman said, because there is very little demand for hot asphalt in the winter. Hot patch doesn't stay hot as long as it does in the spring and summer, and the weather is too cold for extensive roadwork projects, he said.
"It's more expensive for those plants to stay open and make hot asphalt than it is to just close," Geesaman said.
Cold patch doesn't physically bind to a pothole the way hot patch does, and once a rainstorm or moderate snow melt comes along, it washes away.
"Generally, (potholes are) patched with a cold-mix asphalt, which is designed to fill a hole and to provide a level of service," said T. Carter Ross, spokesman for the National Asphalt Pavement Association, "but (excepting a few high-performance cold mixes) it generally is going to need a proper repair later in spring."
Hot patch, if you can find any in the winter, binds to the road surface in any temperature and can withstand snow or rain.
RoadMixer also can make pothole repairs with one person, instead of the five- or six-person crew it takes to go to an asphalt mixing plant and then go out to make repairs.
"The manpower that gets cut, the man-hours that get cut, they're just huge," Geesaman said. "We can prove that. And we do."
How the RoadMixer was born
While most of the money for the privately held company was raised through shareholders, including company President Jerry Warlow, it also received funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northern and Central Pennsylvania.
Since 2011, the technology investment company has invested $325,000 in Hot Mix Mobile, according to Ross Gibson-Delasin, associate portfolio manager at Ben Franklin.
The money has gone to advanced technology development and hiring new employees, he said.
"It's an exciting product in a great market," Gibson-Delasin said. "They've been a great client to work with."
The mixer is being marketed to private firms that are contracted to handle road construction or repair for governments, utility companies or for a different private company, Gibson-Delasin said.
Geesaman said the company also is dealing internationally, selling one unit to a company in the United Kingdom and another to a company in Africa. He said Canada would be a hot market for RoadMixer since its hot asphalt plants close earlier and open later than ones in the Mid-Atlantic.
Geesaman said the company has made a presentation to the City of Pittsburgh — which officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation attended, he said — but it hasn't held any demonstrations for any local municipalities.