Paving the way for asphalt 4.0

Digitalisation is making inroads in the asphalt industry. The latest Eurasphalt & Eurobitume (E&E) Congress was held virtually in June. It was a success, but the next E&E event will allow industry stakeholders to meet face-to-face.

Siobhan McKelvey

Director General of Eurobitume since 2018, has been actively involved with several industry bodies, organisations, and associations alongside a career in marketing within Colas and Nynas.

Asphalt 4.0 for future mobility was the forward-looking theme chosen for the E&E Congress 2021 organised as a virtual event due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally planned to take place in Madrid in 2020, the E&E Congress, arranged jointly every four years by the European Asphalt Pavement Association (EAPA) and Eurobitume, representing the European bitumen industry, had to be postponed and then rearranged on a digital platform.

“In November 2020 we took the decision to go ahead with the delayed congress in a digital format. We felt it was too uncertain to continue plans for a physical congress and risk having to postpone it again, especially for those waiting to present peer-reviewed papers,” says Siobhan McKelvey, Director General of Eurobitume.

As usual, 90 percent of the papers presented during the E&E Congress fitted under eight or nine programme headings, such as the always well-attended “Binder testing and performance” and “Health and Safety”. However, the choice of Asphalt 4.0 as a theme for Congress this time was intended to spark conversations among delegates, and to widen the scope for discussions around the role of asphalt for future mobility.

“Our circle of influence with stakeholders needs to grow. We need to think about what will be required of the industry in the future. For instance, will there be continued growth of heavy goods transported on roads? If so, we must make sure that our materials also continue to offer the performance needed,” says Siobhan McKelvey. “As an industry, we need to be active in the discussion, to help shape the future and explain what our materials are capable of.”

The introduction of a ‘Future Leaders’ session played a part in this forward-looking aspect. Members were encouraged to identify younger employees that have joined the industry in the last couple of years, and to invite them to participate in exchanges and forums at Congress.

“Diversity of our future industry leaders should be a priority. We need to continue to communicate better the many attractive benefits and career opportunities that we offer. To achieve a dynamic working environment, we need to encourage more interest from those groups, such as women, that have the potential to be more representative across the industry. This was also a key question raised during the panel discussion.”

“Much of the technical programme was pre-recorded with Question & Answer sessions held live. This worked very well, and we were able to see that a lot of people were attending on-line,” explains Siobhan McKelvey.

In fact, having to write their questions rather than speaking up in front of a full auditorium seemed to encourage more delegates to pose questions. Another benefit of the virtual arrangement was that the full programme could be made available for three months after the event on a well-attended video-on-demand platform.

However, even with overwhelmingly positive feedback from those attending, and with participants’ numbers reaching nearly the normal level of around 850, the E&E organisers are planning to return to a physical event and not necessarily continue with a virtual platform permanently.

“Although for many the digital platform offered cost savings, it clearly was not the exact same experience as meeting contacts in person. For networking, the virtual format is not ideal, and maybe participants need to embrace more this way of ‘meeting’ people before it provides the same results,” says Siobhan McKelvey.

The next E&E event, held mid-way between congresses, will be arranged as two halfday face-to-face meetings with invited speakers, chosen from the most popular topics at Congress.

“This will probably be held in November 2022, so that we can return to the original four-year schedule for the next E&E Congress in 2024. However, nothing has been formally confirmed yet, but we hope to make an announcement very soon.”

The success of the congress in 2021, with the high level of support and interest shown, reconfirmed that the industry wants and needs this type of exchange to continue.

“The congress provides a valuable platform to our industry for highlighting new technologies, innovations and product development, as well as raising awareness about the future opportunities for bitumen and asphalt by providing a ‘strong voice’ among many in the wider arena of roads and mobility solutions,” concludes Siobhan McKelvey.

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