Partner, provider,innovator | Infrastructure news

Having been the acknowledged leader in the supply of bituminous products, Tosas is now well on its way to again becoming the number one value-added binder supplier in Southern Africa.

AFTER BEING ACQUIRED by the Raubex Group in the latter part of Q2 of 2013, Deon Pagel was appointed managing director and is, with the support of the company’s shareholders, painstakingly guiding the company back to its former and future premier position.

Pagel explains: “We still have a long way to go but each and every day we are building our customers’ confidence in us. Many people think that Tosas is simply here as a supplier to its shareholder, but that is very far from the actual facts; the investment in Tosas and the capacity of the company far exceeds its own needs. The strategic intent with Tosas is to purposefully ensure its independence and ability to supply the roads industry as a whole, and in that manner to contribute to Raubex’s overall profitability and to give the shareholders a return on the investment.”

The new Tosas
Tosas’s redevelopment of its service offering has been deliberately gradual, building consistent service excellence and ensuring quality products across its range, while introducing innovative solutions to its customers across South Africa and its neighbours. “The intent is to service the entire market as an autonomous supplier. The fundamentals are now well established and we have regained the trust of many of our customers in a relatively short time frame but there is still work to be done” Pagel says.
There has been a major overhaul of the efficiencies in all aspects of the business – from its workshops in terms of repairs and maintenance, down to the last activities on all sites and areas of work – and these are successfully addressing the frustrations some clients encountered during the company’s difficult years. This was achieved, in large part, by a highly professional team. “I can really boast that I have a team made up of some of the most respected people in the industry, from technical through to production, maintenance and financial,” continues Pagel, adding that the company got a further boost by drawing on the operational support from certain divisions within the group.

Delivering innovation – new crumbed rubber technology (NCRT)
Besides its strategy to regain its former position in the roads industry, Tosas was and is a highly innovative player. After many years of research and development in Germany and South Africa, followed by the production of laboratory blends, full-scale asphalt designs and plant trials, together with spray applications in a number of places across South Africa during the past three-and-a-half years, the NCRT for seals and asphalt product is now ready for roll-out on a commercial scale and Tosas recently supplied NCRT binder for the resealing of a number of streets in Mangaung (Bloemfontein).

Bitumen rubber remains the ultimate modified binder from a number of perspectives. However, due to its visco-elastic properties, the product has some drawbacks, including a very short shelf life and high handling temperatures. These factors can lead specifiers to overlook, or avoid the product. By addressing these challenges, NCRT successfully eliminates the typical risks synonymous with conventional bitumen rubber. As a result, it is probably the most exciting development for the industry and the state of road building and maintenance as a whole in a long time.

Bitumen rubber – the easy way
NCRT effectively lowers the temperature of handling and applying bitumen rubber by means of specialised treatment of the rubber crumbs. This results in lowered manufacturing temperatures but very significantly also in extended shelf life of the blended rubber bitumen. The lower temperatures not only add to the ease and safety of working with the product, but also have a direct and measurable impact on lowering the carbon footprint. With a working temperature of just 175˚C – as contrasted to 195 to 210˚C – this innovation effectively solves many challenges of working with the rubber-modified bitumen binder.

“Traditional bitumen rubber has a window period of four to six hours in which to use it, after which a phenomenon known as over-digestion can occur and the product can no longer be used in its current form. It then has to be reconstituted through the introduction of additional rubber crumbs. The new technology overcomes this, extending the window period to as much as seven days and even beyond. You can work with the product at 170˚C and store it at 140˚C. This makes a profound difference to the energy consumed in working with the material, as well to the practical handling of it,” notes Pagel. This is highly significant, as many authorities regarded the demanding logistics, risk of failure and variation in properties of bitumen rubber as too high to specify it.

The history of NCRT
NCRT was developed in Germany when Sasol Wax representatives collaborated with asphalt technology company Storimpex to engineer a concept that would improve environmental sustainability. This was driven, in part, by the desire to make a bitumen rubber product that was acceptable to the European market, which has traditionally been resistant to bitumen rubber due to the high operating temperatures and other negative perceptions. Recycling scrap rubber tyres for use in road building was obviously attractive from an environmental point of view. The rubber crumbs from the scrap tyres are partially dissolved and dispersed with extender oils; they swell up in the bitumen at high temperature. The combination of mechanical and chemical processes zamodify the behaviour of the rubber crumbs in their reaction to the bitumen, resulting in a superior compound that has the best visco-elastic properties of any bitumen rubber technology.

Localising the product
As the leading specialist in bitumen rubber technologies in South Africa, Tosas was the logical partner of choice for Sasol Wax to introduce NCRT to the South African market. Not all bitumen rubbers are the same and what is called bitumen rubber in South Africa is actually a very different product to that used in Germany. This has resulted in a need to localise and optimise the product, with the aim of combining the best of bitumen rubber binder technology with Sasol’s high molecular weight Fischer-Tropsch warm-mix technology.

“NCRT is changing the way we operate. We can now manufacture and supply directly from the branch, which is far more cost-effective for our clients. We have worked very closely at branch level to ensure they are ready from a supply chain perspective,” explains Pagel. Sasol holds the patent to NCRT, with Tosas the licensee. “We have had great results using the product in Bloemfontein and the industry is now ready to accept NCRT as the modified additive of the future. Our bigger customers look very favourably at the product due to its characteristics.”

Adding value to South African market conditions
Beyond being a supplier to the South African roads industry, Tosas embraces the idea of engaging with the industry, and realises this engagement in several ways. The company holds popular workshops for contractors, engineers and other clients to help their stakeholders stay up to date on latest developments. “We make information available to our clients and then go on to make recommendations about a range of possible solutions, including what type of products could be used on a particular job. One of our key areas where we can offer a lot of guidance is that of job creation in the area of road maintenance,” explains Pagel. “We support labour-intensive projects (LIPs) and not only advise on them but also produce products that support LIPs, such as the special emulsions for use in hand-operated chip spreaders. Sealing roads with labour-intensive equipment and products has massive potential for job creation in South Africa. The CSIR and the International Labour Organisation compiled the manual on labour-intensive road-surfacing methodologies for the Construction Industry Development Board and the products recommended therein we can supply. The bottom line is that we can assist and guide municipalities and other road authorities on a variety of options to keep up the maintenance of roads in cost-effective and recognised labour-intensive ways,” he says.

Pagel also notes that Tosas provides particular guidance on overcoming the so-called ‘Winter Embargo’. In autumn and winter, sealing and surfacing of roads is often slowed down because of the cold weather and Tosas offers particular products that allow these activities to continue throughout the seasons. These include autumn- and winter-grade rubber bitumen and a variety of modified binders for application in winter. “Anyone is welcome to approach us to ask for advice and assistance in figuring out the best approach and products that will enable them to continue their sealing through winter. There are so many options available today,” says Pagel. “There have been a number of Society of Asphalt workshops, which have been promoting the return of winter sealing workshops. By using the correct application methods and the correct products in the correct areas, there really is no reason for the winter embargo.” Pagel notes that bitumen availability during the winter months is generally also very stable due to the reduced consumption and this presents opportunities.

Achieving a clear vision
Pagel is not shy about the fact that Tosas has seen some very difficult years. “There are many reasons for why Tosas struggled for a while. Its previous shareholder attempted to apply large corporate principles and procedures in areas which actually require more agility in execution. The new shareholder is clear about its role in the company and has encouraged our independence and service responsibility to the industry”.

“We intend to become the number one binder supplier in Southern Africa again and to increase our geographic footprint. A year from now, I hope to have as many of our previous customers, some of whom even started their own binder divisions, back in our stable as happy customers,” concludes Pagel.
Tosas is once again the efficient, customer-centric organisation it was famous for being, and has extended itself as a partner, provider and innovator in South Africa’s complex road sector.

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