Road construction may get a big boost in coming months. President-elect Barack Obama said in December 2008 that he wants to use public works projects (including road and bridge repairs and construction) to help revive the US economy.

That was great news for the multitude of companies serving the highway and road construction sector. Asphalt Operating Services LLC (AOS) in Bartlett, Illinois, is one of the companies that would benefit. AOS owns and operates a 25-million-gallon asphalt storage terminal that serves a four-state area.

“There is no question that we would benefit from a federal infrastructure funding increase,” says Joe Shotwell, AOS facility manager. “Most of the product we handle goes to state and county construction projects. We ship only a small amount of asphalt to manufacturers of products such as seal coatings and roofing materials.

“We're optimistic about the future. Asphalt remains an important product for the construction industry. This country will continue to build asphalt roads. Asphalt also is a great material for road repair.”

Premier facility

Opened in 2005, the AOS terminal in Bartlett is a premier facility with an award-winning operation. Currently, the terminal provides dedicated asphalt service to BP Products North America Inc. Asphalt — in two grades — is shipped to the terminal by rail and tank truck from the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, and is blended into multiple grades of finished product.

“Strategically, this terminal is in an ideal location for BP,” Shotwell says. “It is very accessible to the Whiting refinery, and it gave BP an opportunity to expand its market area and become more competitive. BP currently is certified to supply highway projects in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin from the AOS terminal.

“The terminal was designed and constructed in less than a year by ECF Inc of St Louis, Missouri, under the direction of Al Meitl, PE, ECF president and a managing member of AOS. We feel that we have built a facility that makes it possible to give our customer efficient, cost-effective service. We outfitted the terminal with some of the best operating technologies in the industry, and we employ a well-trained team of workers to run and maintain the facility. We've built what we believe is one of the safest terminal operations in the industry.”

BP officials seem to agree. They selected Asphalt Operating Services' terminal as the location for BP's Truck Safe and Rail Safe training videos. “BP also uses our tank integrity inspection as the benchmark for the procedures required at other asphalt storage facilities in their system,” Shotwell says.

AOS demonstrated its commitment to safety in 2008 by winning the second International Liquid Terminals Association (ILTA) Platinum Safety Award in the small terminal category. AOS was selected based on a superior safety record without a single recordable or lost-time incident since operations commenced in 2005.

“We were honored to receive this recognition from ILTA,” Shotwell says. “This award is a direct reflection on the dedication that our owners, managers, and employees have toward safety. We are constantly working to raise the bar for ourselves, and we continuously strive for excellence in our performance. We believe safety definitely impacts the profitability of a terminal operation.

“It was great for a startup company like AOS to be recognized for its safety achievements. We hope to add more ILTA safety trophies in the future. This is a well-organized contest that focuses on companies with proactive safety programs. The core of the contest is a safety questionnaire that incorporates much of the data collected on the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 300 form. We joined ILTA when AOS was established, and we have submitted the safety questionnaire every year.”

The proactive safety effort has helped ensure incident-free asphalt shipments. AOS has the capacity to load up to 240 outbound tank trailer shipments of asphalt a day, but the daily average is 85 to 90 trucks loads. In total, AOS ships 220,000 to 250,000 tons of asphalt a year, with most of the volume moving during the primary construction season running from March through December.

Inbound asphalt shipments from BP are somewhat less predictable. Rail shipments generally arrive in 24-car batches from the Whiting refinery, and terminal workers will unload the cars over a 24-hour period.

“We're sort of a relief outlet for the refinery,” Shotwell says. “Asphalt comes from crude oil bottoms. When the refinery processes heavy crudes, there are more of those bottoms. Consequently, we get more asphalt shipments when the heavy crude volumes increase at Whiting.”

Six days

Inbound and outbound asphalt shipments are processed around the clock Monday through Saturday. Nine terminal workers (spread across three shifts) are on duty most days, but the workforce can be expanded to 12 during the busiest times. AOS workers unload rail shipments. Tank truck drivers handle the loading and unloading of their vehicles for both outbound and inbound shipments. Terminal personnel oversee the truck driver activities.

“We've built a great core work team with a strong safety focus,” Shotwell says. “It's a stable team, and we have had very little turnover during the four years AOS has been in operation.”

When new workers are hired, Shotwell and his management team put each new hire through a training regime that lasts up to a month. Shotwell and his lead operator serve as the primary instructors providing site-specific training. Computer-based instruction from SkillSoft also is used.

The process starts with a two-day new employee orientation that covers the basics of the AOS operation. At the outset of training, new hires receive all required personal protective equipment, including hardhat, safety glasses, face shield, gloves, and hydrogen sulfide monitor.

Trainers pay particular attention to the risks associated with tank trailers and railcars containing a product that is extremely hot (300° F plus). The risk posed by hydrogen sulfide gas also is covered in detail. New hires learn most terminal operating procedures during on-the-job training.

“We spend more time on tankcars than tank trailers because the tankcars are more difficult to operate,” Shotwell says. “Throughout the training, we make it clear to our workers that they can ask for help whenever they don't understand something. We never want them to take an unwarranted risk.”

Safety continues to be a focal point after the initial training. Shift leaders conduct 15-minute tailgate turnover sessions every morning for operators from the oncoming and off-going shifts.

“Each tailgate session addresses a safety topic and covers action items and any near misses,” Shotwell says. “This is part of our proactive safety effort. We believe it is critical to ensure good communication between the work shifts. We want everyone to know when there is a problem and what we need to do to fix it.”

Stone quarry

The facility operated by the AOS team occupies a 16.25-acre site in what once was a stone quarry. It was an ideal location that needed minimal adjustments for spill containment. The only major site preparation was the build-up of the earthen bases for the five storage tanks that are currently in place.

Primary driveway areas have been paved, and AOS plans to pave the other driveways and parking areas at the terminal. For security and safety, the facility is fully fenced and has extensive lighting throughout.

Asphalt volumes are expected to grow in the future, and the terminal has ample room for expansion. The developed part of the site could accommodate two more five-million-gallon storage tanks. Also, AOS has access to another five acres next to the current site that could be developed for three additional five-million-gallon tanks.

The storage tanks were constructed of carbon steel plate by Matrix Service Company and were built to API 650 specifications. The jacketed tanks are insulated with four inches of fiberglass. Foam glass is used around the lower section of each tank for wicking away moisture. Below the steel tank floor is a sand and earth base.

The insulation is combined with tank agitators and an American Heating Co hot oil heater to ensure that the asphalt is stored at a uniform, constant temperature. “We want to maintain the stored asphalt at 305° F to 310° F,” Shotwell says. “Our minimum loading temperature is 300° F. Typically, the temperature of a tank trailer load of asphalt will drop five to 10 degrees while in transit to a customer.”

Saab radar level gauges provide accurate and reliable readings of the amount of asphalt in each tank. Level gauge boards on the outside of the tanks give workers a quick visual reference. Other tank equipment includes Protect-O-Seal pressure- and vacuum-relief vents. Mass flow meters and Viking pumps are used to control the movement of asphalt throughout the facility.

The focal point for inbound asphalt shipments is a 24-car rail siding. A 250-horsepower Superior boiler supplies steam for the tankcar unloading operation. Inbound tank trailer shipments are offloaded at a four-bay unloading station on the east side of the terminal.

Truck loading

A four-bay truck loading rack is dedicated to outbound asphalt shipments. It takes approximately 20 minutes to completely process and load a tank trailer, and the process is largely computer controlled.

Loading is done while each tractor-trailer rig is parked on a Mettler-Toledo digital scale. All outbound loads are calculated on pounds, and AOS uses the scales and loading meters to ensure that every load is precisely calculated. The scale also serves as overfill protection by shutting down the process if vehicle gross weight reaches 80,000 pounds.

Above the scales is a Goldline galvanized steel loading mezzanine with ample room for multiple workings. All of the loading arms are from OPW Engineered Systems.

Also part of the loading management system is InteractX, a modular software package from Parker Hannifin that was customized for the AOS operation. Various InteractX modules are in use including loading, storage tank status, product formulation, and process control.

Loading module data is shared with the BP Toptech terminal management system (TMS) that is used for bills of lading and inventory management.

Improving operations

Since opening, one of the key objectives for the AOS operations team has been to improve the efficiency and productivity of key systems. For instance, AOS tracks natural gas, electricity, and water consumption for the boilers. “Natural gas is our biggest energy cost,” Shotwell says.

In early 2008, through our steam trap management program and utility usage tracking, it was discovered that the steam traps along the rail siding were no longer operating properly. Water usage at the terminal spiked during the first month of operation triggering an investigation. Failed steam traps were replaced and water consumption dropped by 42% the next month. Natural gas consumption dropped by 35% in the same time period.

Management also directs an aggressive maintenance program to keep the terminal systems and equipment in top shape. “We track months of use for all hardware at the terminal,” Shotwell says. “We use that data to schedule preventive maintenance service. For instance, the monitoring program shows that we need to rebuild our loading arms every couple of years to ensure maximum life.”

Shotwell and his team have done their best to build a premier asphalt terminal operation. They have combined state-of-the-art operating systems and a total focus on safety. From any perspective, AOS has set the bar for asphalt terminal operations.