If you’ve driven in Iowa (or any other cold-weather state) in the winter, you’ve probably noticed that snowplows are equipped to spread salt in the form of either solid crystals or brine to help break up snow and ice. New calibration tools are helping Iowa DOT staff get their equipment ready for winter. The tools assure the correct amount of material is being applied.
Tina Greenfield of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Maintenance Bureau said, “With decades of experience under our belts and data to back up our decisions, highway maintenance supervisors and technicians know the roads well and have tried and true methods to keeps those roads as safe as possible when winter weather hits.”
But even with all experience and data, the roads won’t be cleared effectively if the equipment isn’t doing what it is designed to do. To make this system work seamlessly, the systems must be calibrated to ensure it is accurately distributing the desired amount of material. At the beginning of each winter season calibration is done and allows the garage mechanic to get a baseline on each truck. If any work is done on the equipment throughout the season a new calibration is performed.
This year, Iowa DOT district calibration experts from across the state collaborated on a new program to standardize equipment calibration, assuring consistent application rates Greenfield said, “The new tools were designed to make calibration easy, accurate, and consistent.”
She continued, "The snowplows we use are much more complicated than many people realize, and it takes a lot of skill to operate them effectively. There is a computerized spreader controller in each vehicle that controls the flow of material that is being put on the road. That flow of deicing material must be precisely and accurately controlled so that just the right amount of material is being applied for the storm conditions. These computerized spreader controllers also track the amount of salt, sand, or brine that a truck is distributing so it can be used for stockpile management and to be analyzed and used to form treatment strategies going forward. Making sure the controller is distributing the right amount of material is the goal of the calibrations."
The new tools include a series of “how to” videos and calibration sheets available in each garage to track calibration details for each piece of equipment. Greenfield said, “The team working on the calibration issue was also able to boil down the steps into a one-page ‘cheat sheet,’ that allows for quick checks of the systems without digging through huge manuals.”
Greenfield said, “We’ve always put an emphasis on calibration, but these new tools are designed to help the crews more efficiently set each system and increase the garage staff comfort level that the calibrations are done accurately.”