How did you come into the road transport / infrastructure Industry?
Coming from a family background with civil engineers in the Netherlands, the choice was easy to study civil engineering at the University of Delft (Netherlands). During my MSc Eng study, 1997-1998, I was on an exchange programme with the University of Stellenbosch, where I conducted research co-sponsored by Shell (NL) on bitumen stabilised paving blocks.
The development of this innovate product was initiated by the Institute for Transport Technology at the University of Stellenbosch under the leadership of Prof Fred Hugo and Prof Martin van de Ven and involved upscaling from laboratory production of bitumen emulsion and foamed bitumen stabilised paving blocks to small scale SMME-type manufacturing of the blocks in the Sir Lowry’s Pass village community near Somerset West and the construction of a small test section in a township development.
After graduating I joined UWP Consulting in the Eastern Cape working on rural development projects in the former Transkei Area. From 2003 – 2007 I studied towards my PhD in pavement engineering at the Stellenbosch University. This focused on researching the material properties of bitumen stabilised materials (BSM) using bitumen emulsion and foamed bitumen and advanced laboratory equipment such as the 4-point beam bending apparatus to study the fatigue properties of BSM’s and the triaxial test to study permanent deformation behaviour. The results of this study contributed to the development of the Asphalt Academy’s TG2 Guideline for the Design and Construction of Bitumen Emulsion and Foamed Bitumen Stabilised Materials.
After obtaining my PhD I became UWP Consulting’s road pavement design and materials specialist undertaking many designs and rehabilitation investigations of roads and airport pavements in Southern Africa. I am currently the Head of UWP’s Transportation Division responsible for project ranging from transport and traffic planning studies, designs and contract documentation to construction and implementation of road, highway, public transport, BRT and airport projects. UWP operates throughout South Africa, as well as in a number of SADEC countries for a range of road authorities and private clients.
Since 2005 I have been on the executive committee of the Society for Asphalt Technology and President of the society since 2010. The society was inaugurated the Conference for Asphalt Pavements in Southern Africa in Cape Town, 1994. It is a learned society of individuals ranging from students, laboratory assistants, technicians, asphalt plant operators and technologists, to engineers, company managers, company directors, construction personnel, academics and researchers committed to fostering technical and professional excellence in all aspects associated with the design, manufacture and use of asphalt and bituminous products.
The Society currently consist of about 550 individual members. SAT aspires to maintain an active association with South African and international professional bodies and organisations, to provide a conduit between local practitioners and global developments in asphalt-related technologies. It seeks to promote close working relationships with industry training bodies (such as SABITA, SARF and the Asphalt Academy), which focus on the development, production and presentation of training material relevant to and required by the road construction industry.
The objectives of the Society, as stated in its Constitution, are:
• to promote the knowledge of asphalt technology and to make it available to all members
• to encourage and promote improvements in the practice and standards of the technology
• to promote the discussion of all questions affecting asphalt technology; and
• to watch over, support and protect the status of members of the Society.
Either independently or in association with other industry bodies, SAT achieves its objectives by organising and convening conferences, seminars, workshops, lectures and other functions to ensure that relevant technology is exchanged, transferred, advanced and communicated throughout the asphalt and bituminous products industry. Achievement may be recognised through the award of appropriate certification and continuing professional development points.
What do you believe to be the greatest challenge facing the industry regarding road development?
The engineering industry is experiencing a prolonged period of lower revenues and reducing profit margins. This largely results from slow procurement processes in the public sector and fierce competition among providers of consulting engineering services. A significant part of private investment in the infrastructure sector is linked to mineral resources and also in this field we are experiencing a prolonged period of slow delivery. To overcome this situation and increase sustainable production at large is currently one of the greatest challenges.
Where do you see the greatest opportunity in the industry right now, and how are you positioned to capture it as a business?
Over the past decade, UWP has positioned itself to diversify its markets with less reliance on the South African domestic market only. We have worked on numerous road projects in the SADEC region, most notably in Zambia and Tanzania. While working “in Africa” comes with certain challenges there are significant opportunities and a considerable number of donor-funded infrastructure projects. As a business, UWP has established subsidiary companies in some SADEC countries and is pursuing a business model of developing strategic relationships with local counterparts in others to increase its market share.
On the SAT front, we have been able to effectively service our membership and the industry, through workshops and seminars on a regional level in Gauteng, Durban / Pietermaritzburg, Cape town and more recently in the newly established Eastern Cape branch in Port Elizabeth, as well as events organised on a national level. SAT is a co-sponsor of the Roads Pavement Forum, which meets twice a year and provides a platform for all industry role-players (road authorities, government departments, engineers, contractors, and suppliers) to interact and share information.
In 2015 SAT organised its first international event, i.e. the International Symposium on Asphalt Pavements and Environment held Sun City. This event brought together over 100 practitioners from South Africa, the USA, Australia and 8 European countries. This is a great achievement for a society that by and large depends on sweat equity from its members. SAT recently appointed John Onraet, a founding member and past president of the society, as Operations Manager to strengthen SAT’s management team, which will allow the society to increase its activities and reach a larger number of industry members.
If you could change one thing in the industry going forward, what would it be?
Positive business development depends on a large number of factors and it remains a challenge to grow businesses during economically difficult times. As an industry or country, we need to strive towards creating positive momentum and an environment conducive to growth. While this could be largely viewed as a public sector responsibility, private sector companies and industry stakeholders need to engage with government and policy makers in a holistic manner and speak with one voice.
Critical in this regard is to overcome the challenges in the manner in which government procures infrastructure design and construction services. It is my believe that through increased partnering, between the public and private sector, between designers and constructors, researchers and suppliers and policy makers and implementers, we will be able to overcome this challenge and effectively deliver the infrastructure that our society so dearly requires.
What is your proudest achievement to date in the industry?
I have an exciting career in the infrastructure sector which started already during my university years with practical experience in road pavement design and technology in South America and Africa. I have been working in South Africa since 1999 and it is very rewarding to apply one's knowledge and expertise in an environment where the infrastructure development is dearly needed, be it gravel roads in a rural areas providing access to schools, clinics and basic services or state-of-the-art integrated public transport networks in major centres throughout South Africa.
Highlights were the award of a scholarship by the Association of Asphalt Paving Technologist (USA) in 2006, which was the first time in the history of the AAPT that this scholarship was awarded to someone outside the USA, as well as the Young Engineer of the Year award in 2009 by Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA).