Innovation Hits the Road

Saskatoon-based firm develops tools to assess road conditions without digging

Comments Off on Innovation Hits the Road February 9, 2009
by Design Engineering staff

In order to meet the ongoing demands of private and commercial transportation, a well-maintained road system is critical to the success of any region. Yet the cost of such maintenance poses a major challenge for municipal and provincial transportation authorities, especially in light of the punishment Canada’s weather regularly inflicts on paved surfaces.

A Saskatoon-based firm is confronting that challenge, making it possible to optimize public spending on repairs and upgrades to roads. PSI Technologies Inc. has created new tools to enhance the assessment of a road’s physical state, along with techniques for using recycled materials to rehabilitate and strengthen road structure.

According to PSI president Curtis Berthelot, its diagnostic systems make it possible to accurately determine the integrity and performance of any given roadway without the need for costly, time-consuming digging. Instead, sophisticated monitoring equipment such as ground-penetrating radar or falling-weight deflectometers provide this information non-destructively.

“The highways department might have a fixed budget to do 10 km of road,” he explains. “By using our engineering protocols, they could surgically reinforce the sections of the road that need strengthening, and then resurface all of it, so that they end up doing 25 km instead of 10.”

In addition, the company can apply the by-products of heavy industry to road repairs, employing waste materials in an environmentally beneficial way. This has become important in the West, which has fewer sources of gravel for use in roadbeds.

Founded in 1998, PSI has developed its technology in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). The initiative offers a range of technical and business-oriented advisory services along with potential financial support to growth-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises.

Delivered by an extensive integrated network of Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs)—a group of some 240 professionals in 100 communities across the country—NRC-IRAP supports innovative research, development and commercialization of new products and services.

“Equipment capitalization, and interpretation and software requirements were so large that a small start-up company could never afford to build it,” Berthelot explains, noting that the results of this research investment far exceeded anyone’s expectations. “Our company wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for that seed money from NRC-IRAP and their faith in what we thought we could do. We never would have gotten to where we are now without this funding the initial projects.”

He also credits the role of NRC-IRAP ITAs Lakkavally Chandramohan and Dennis Bellevue, who were instrumental in helping PSI convince Saskatchewan Highways to let the company demonstrate the feasibility of its methods on working roadways.

“It’s been a good partnership all around,” says Berthelot, who foresees 35 to 40 percent growth for PSI as the company begins to target national and international markets. “Now we’re at the point of changing the way the province designs and manages roads. Quite frankly, I think this is going to change the entire road engineering business.”