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What PILLAR Asset Management Means For Your Company

Is “asset management” more than a buzz-word to you and your organization? Are regulations and costs leading you to question whether you need a better understanding of your assets and their future value, risks, and needs?

You may find yourself wondering “How can we boost asset life-span?” or “Has the cost of this asset been justified?” PILLAR provides asset management to help you with the entire process of properly planning, building, operating, maintaining, upgrading and decommissioning assets.

This is big-picture thinking and long-term strategizing. For assets to be sustainable and cost-effective, you need a broad analysis of engineering, economics, risk management and user needs.

With appropriate asset management methods, you can answer key questions about:


  • Long-term funding, including grants and loans
  • Potential budget fluctuations
  • Total cost of ownership


  • Current state of assets
  • Maintenance scheduling
  • Rehabilitation vs. replacement
  • Risk analysis
  • Gaps in institutional knowledge
  • Internal and external communication


  • Technological and material life-spans
  • Current and future regulations
  • User demands

Asset management results in better business practices and a more proactive mindset. It allows your organization to identify strengths as well as weaknesses, creating a better foundation for decision-making.

With systematic and coordinated asset management techniques, PILLAR will provide your organization with the tools to succeed now and in the future.

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Keeping and Maintaining Inventory for Roadway Infrastructure

“Now where did I put that (insert item here)?” This is a question I ask myself more than I should. Usually I’m looking for some sort of tool around my house that doesn’t get used very often, but, when I need it I need it now. The wrench to remove the element in my water heater is a good example. When an element goes out it’s usually at the worst possible time.

So the quicker I can find the wrench the quicker I can get the heater fixed. I have gotten better about keeping tools, etc. organized and one thing that has helped me with this is to actually bring home skills that I’ve learned at from work. While keeping track of tools around the house and maintaining incredible volumes of infrastructure are vastly different, there is a commonality in that the core of managing both of these is to know what you have and where it is located.

A drainage pipe can be similar to that missing household wrench in that it is an asset that you may lose track of. The original maintenance crew moves on, retires, etc. and they forgot to tell the new crew about it, the maintenance crew doesn’t have access to the original plans, or the area gets overgrown with brush, etc. Then all of a sudden it rains one day and water is backed into the road. Just like that when you need it you can’t find it.

One of the areas PILLAR helps our infrastructure clients is keeping and maintaining an infrastructure inventory. The roadway infrastructure we deal with was mostly built in the mid1900s with some dating back ever further. Most of these roads had design drawings or plans but not always follow up drawings or asbuilts to show field changes made to plans.

We have incorporated a number of methods and technologies to help our clients collect their inventory, and continuously and easily update what is added and removed. We have used everything from;

  • “Boots on the ground” location where we visually identify an asset location using metal detectors, brush axes, shovels, and an iPad loaded with a specialized application InfraTrak®. This allows us to add inventory, edit and remove inventory as well as log inventory conditions and generate work orders from the field. InfraTrak® works disconnected from the internet with information synced to the cloud where the collected field data is shared with office personnel.
  • Mobile LiDAR which generates a digital 3D model of the roadway with corresponding spherical photos taken at specified intervals.
  • Digitizing 5060 year old roadway plans.
  • Survey and GIS grade asset inventory mapping utilizing traditional GPS and survey equipment.
  • Development of a specialized department to explore the use of our cutting edge drone for the generation of digital 3D models, high resolution digital orthophotography, videos, and thermal imaging.

These methods have allowed us to inventory municipal utilities as well as hundreds of miles of roadway for our clients to help them know what they have and where it is located.

Pillar, Inc.’s staff has been involved with highway maintenance and incident response on many different projects with 40+ years of combined experience. We can generate, collect, and maintain digital asset inventories for your existing infrastructure. Please do not hesitate to contact us!

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Snow and Ice Control: Roadway Winter Preparations

Pillar, Inc. offers consulting services to Public Private Partnerships, specifically regarding the many different Operations and Maintenance services these specialized procurements include.

In order to better educate our partners, as part of our Continuous Improvement philosophy, Pillar periodically provides these informational O&M fact sheets to interested parties. 

NOW is the season to order your stockpiles of salt, abrasives, and pre-treatment liquids. Actually, this order should have been placed back in July, but we’ll bring you up to speed just the same.

Asset Managers are tasked with taking care of infrastructure, such as roadways and related facilities. This includes budget, cash flow, finance, credit, etc. Basically, here is some advice from our school of experience to help you manage cash flow with a minimum of pain and a few easy to execute tips. 

Salt. A simple chemical and relatively inexpensive, but in the quantities we use it, with prices from $75-$125 per ton, we need to manage our stockpiles carefully. Industry standards call for having at least 100% of your “worst case” winter inventory on hand before the season starts. While this is a good rule of thumb, it can be costly both in inventory holding costs as well as capital outlays to build a larger than necessary containment facility.

Consider the following operational tips:

If your project is located within a reasonable distance (1-2 hours) of the shipping point, consider ordering less salt at the beginning of the season and being very proactive in re-ordering salt. In order to do this, you must do it with forethought, not a guess.

Place a resupply order a day before the next event happens. You can estimate the salt you will use during the event and simply order that amount before it snows. Your project will be first in line to receive salt after the storm while other projects are ordering after the event and waiting longer.

If your project is too small to demand “first priority” delivery, negotiate this into your purchase agreements; it may cost more per ton but save you the corresponding outlay for facility and holding costs.

Delays in shipment are usually due to lack of trucking availability, especially at the rate negotiated by the salt supplier with their independent carriers. Consider an FOB price to provide flexibility and redundancy: You go pick up the salt with your own truck fleet rather than wait for non-guaranteed resupply by the vendor’s trucks.

Consider keeping the doors of your facility open at offhours or weekends. Many DOT’s will only receive salt between normal operating hours of 8am-4:30pm Monday-Friday, thus creating a bottleneck in the supply lines. If you tell the shipper “we’ll accept your salt 24-7” you’ll probably get it quicker.

The extra few dollars in staff overtime is minor compared to the cost of not having the salt.

At some point the shipper’s dispatch personnel will call you to confirm shipment. Have your on-call staff save this number into their phone. It is likely this trucking company will be your exclusive supplier. You can get more up-to-date delivery information from the shipper than going through your supplier, who is only going to contact the shipper and email you back. Short circuit the runaround.

Use less salt. This seems elementary, but you would be surprised at how much salt can be wasted by ineffective salting strategies or uncalibrated or out-of-adjustment equipment.

  • Salt at the right time.
  • Re-calibrate your equipment if usage seems excessive.
  • Use a well thought out and sufficiently detailed pre-treatment plan to minimize the usage of salt.
  • These are all standard procedures, probably already written into your O&M Plan, but is it really happening on the project?

What is the “right” time to apply salt? There are now rugged and accurate sensors available to measure the slickness of pavement in real time.

Instead of guessing when to put down salt, you can now accurately and remotely measure pavement friction and apply salt if needed, not when it “feels right”. Keep an eye on the temperatures. Salting at 9am at 31 degrees on a slushy road is not cost effective if the forecast is for sunny skies and a high temperature of 40 degrees.

“If we have it, let’s use it.” This mentality is a problem with oversized inventories of any material. It’s just human nature. If your client gave you their existing facility, remember that facility may have been sized to service more road network than you now have. Resist the urge to fill it up.

What is your real “worst case” winter scenario? Re-examine the assumptions used to calculate your annual usage. Is it a case of “that’s how we have always done it”? How much salt is left every year to sit all summer long? If it’s more than 1/3rd of your annual usage, you are probably buying too much. That’s a lot of money sitting there in a pile all summer.

While these ideas may sound counterintuitive to some readers, remember that we are managing the road, our crews and our materials and should be looking for efficiencies and improvements wherever they may exist. Because a lot of money goes into snow & ice control, it’s a good place to look for improvements. If you are satisfied with your current results and expenditures, then keep doing it. Our Asset Management philosophy at Pillar tells us to keep looking for improvements. We think there are methods and techniques to reduce or delay capital expenditures without affecting performance.

Pillar, Inc.’s staff has been involved with highway maintenance and incident response on many different projects with 40+ years of combined experience. We can help write an O&M plan including Snow and Ice

Control procedures for your next project. Please do not hesitate to contact us!

Dan Dennis, PE | Senior Project Manager / P3

To download a PDF version of PillarTalk 2015 please click here.

Save Time


How many times have you asked, “where did the time go?” As my oldest child embarks into college life, as I reflect on living in the same town now for 16 years, and as I approach starting the 14th year of PILLAR, I find myself asking that question more and more.

Frankly, I am beginning to sound like my parents. As a youngster, I didn’t understand what they meant by time going by so fast. My kids don’t understand it either since they still have “boredom episodes.” I can’t remember the last time I was bored and couldn’t find anything to do. Time just seems to be flying.

The beauty with time is we all have the same 24 hours in a given day. It is up to you to see what you can make of those 24 hours. You could be a slave to someone else’s time or you can master your own time. Do you find you simply don’t have enough hours in the day to accomplish what you want done? The key is productive time management of your goals and priorities. You need to identify your goals and priorities and then schedule realistic timeframes to complete or reach them. If the task isn’t a priority or on the path to reach your goals, it is a time snatcher so don’t fall into the snare. Move on and don’t do that task. Every week, review your goals, objectives and priorities for the year, month and week to create your weekly schedule. This will keep you on your path.

When creating your weekly schedule, you want to make sure you block out task time and assign realistic times to those tasks. Too often we only schedule time for meetings and appointments. Block out time to complete specific tasks and if you aren’t finished by the end of that time, stop so you can move onto your next priority. The key is to stop when you reach the time limit. Otherwise, the proverbial train has come off the tracks will occur with your schedule. Track your time so you can adjust how much time you need to block out to complete the task.

Life isn’t all chasing fish.

Protect your family and your down time. Just like scheduling work time, you need to schedule family and personal down time. You need to make yourself available to spend time with loved ones and develop those relationships as well as recharge your batteries with a little “me” time. If you don’t, you’ll be wondering what happened to the last 18 years during move-in day.

Leverage your time to double-dip or “kill two birds with one stone”. Lunch time is the easiest to perform this method. Pick a couple days a week to go out with someone you don’t know well, but with whom you would like to develop a relationship (business or otherwise). If you are traveling to a jobsite, schedule a meeting with a colleague or representative in the area or on the way to and from the site. Make the time work for you.

Schedule time to take care of you. Yes, this means getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods. You need to energize yourself and mentally prepare for the day. If you don’t take time to take care of yourself, it won’t matter how you manage your time as you won’t be around. Getting enough sleep, regular exercise and nutritious eating habits helps you mentally and physically prepare yourself for the day.

We are all given 24 hours in a day. You could be a slave to someone else’s time or you can master your own time. The choice is yours. Which do you choose?

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Geotechnical Subsurface Investigations

In my years of being involved in the civil engineering realm, several entities, both private and public, have undervalued the information revealed and achieved from a geotechnical or subsurface investigation program.

It has been my experience that the most challenging aspects of any construction project is getting structural foundation elements out of the ground or providing a stable subgrade for various types of roadway pavements, as just a few examples.

A geotechnical investigation looks at the site subsurface for various things such as:

  • Depth to rock, rock type
  • Soil types and depths, their consistency (cohesive soil: clays) and/or relative density (cohesionless soils: sands)
  • Water features and depths, depth to water table, seasonal estimations of water table fluctuations, capillary rise

Industry accepted techniques have been established such as Standard Penetration Tests which can be correlated to soil properties such as cohesion, angles of internal friction, and rock strengths. These values are consistently used for design of foundation systems, retaining wall systems, and slope stability analyses. Additionally, further testing of obtained samples of soil or rock can be catered to mimic in-situ conditions at the site to provide better analysis of the soil-structure interaction.

The most basic subsurface investigation can provide information for designers when performed by experienced geotechnical firms. Because of their experience local to areas where they perform their work, significant history and background of the soil and rock types has been obtained through the years.

The types of information and recommendations which can be presented are as follows:

  1. Allowable bearing pressures – used to design foundation sizes utilizing an allowable load transfer to the soil or rock at the bearing elevation.
  2. Feasibility of reusing cut material as fill and to what standard it should be compacted in a controlled fill scenario.
  3. Moisture conditions to be considered before, during, and after construction which can be useful in deciding long-term maintenance needs.
  4. Evaluation of an existing soil surface for stability characteristics prior to placement of fill material. This is especially important in deep fill scenarios.
  5. Anticipated depths at which rock will be encountered – which we know can be a costly endeavor if unforeseen.

Finally, it should also be noted that borings only provide information relative to where they are drilled. Significant changes in strata borings are always a distinct possibility as the nature of soil and rock in some areas can change drastically. However, information gained coupled with a geotechnical engineer’s experience can often mitigate these concerns substantially, or at least disclose the potential scenarios.

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Importance of Roadway Operations and Maintenance

In our world today we have an incredible amount of freedom to move about wherever and whenever we want. We just hop in the car, spend some time on the road and voila. We go to work, visit friends and family, or just go out for ice cream.

But sometimes we find ourselves asking, “Why is this lane closed? I’m in a hurry,” and assume there must have been an accident to cause this inconvenience. “It must be a bad one, traffic is terrible. I hope no one was injured.” Then when you find out there is no accident but a crew diligently working on the road you think, “What? Why are they doing this now? Couldn’t it wait till a time when I’m not trying to get through?” Unfortunately, if we waited until a time that was convenient for everyone there would never be time for maintenance, and maintenance needs to be done.

Our roadway infrastructure ranges from brand new to 100+ years in age. Even roads that are brand new still need maintenance. There are numerous reports that talk about the condition of the nation’s infrastructure and how bad it is. The majority of the nation’s interstates were built 50 and 60 years ago with some structures approaching the end of their designed lifespan. To make things more challenging for DOTs they have to make decisions with tighter budgets.

Road maintenance (Asset Management) is similar to home maintenance in the fact that there are variables that guide your decisions. Let’s use the roof on your home as an example of different aspects of maintenance to consider.

Condition: knowing the condition of the roof is a critical part of the decision making process. If the majority of the roof is in good shape but you are missing a few shingles you may just want to repair the shingles. Maybe the wind is steady against the front of your house but not the back. You might need to replace the front half every 5 years and the whole thing every 10. When enough shingles have blown off, they are deteriorated, or they are reaching the end of their lifecycle, then it may need to be replaced. If you installed 20 year shingles and it’s been 19 years you might want to consider replacement.

Budget: replacing a roof is an expensive endeavor and you want to make sure you have the money to cover the cost or the roofer might not show up. Knowing the condition helps tremendously with budgeting. Environmental factors: you don’t want to expose the roof to rain or snow. That’s what it’s supposed to keep out, right? You might skip scheduling it in April (April showers) and wait till July or August to make repairs.

Material requirements: the ideal temperature for asphalt shingle installation is between 70 and 80 degrees. Any colder than 70 and they may not seal correctly.

Resources: you’ll inevitably need some resources to help. Probably a ladder or some type of lift, extra manpower, a truck to get your materials to the house, etc.

Safety: if you install your own shingles you’ll want to make sure your ladder is safe, that you always use a three point stance when climbing up and down, and that you have a harness among other things. Or you can hire a professional and let them worry about it. So like the homeowner, budgets, asset conditions, environmental factors (weather/seasonal), material requirements, resources, and safety all have an effect on the decision making process of Transportation Asset Management.

The Asset Manager has to also consider items the homeowner does not: the scale (number of assets and locations) and contending with traffic. Asset locations: the homeowner’s asset is in one location, where the maintenance manager has tens of thousands of assets of different types scattered over hundreds of miles. In this situation, the asset location becomes important to help direct work and eliminate wasted efforts.

But wait a minute! That’s great you are considering all these different factors, but why are you in my way? The homeowner doesn’t have to contend with Traffic. With scheduled work, some maintenance work can be completed at night when traffic volumes are low. But even low traffic volumes have increased risk factors such as an increase in the number of drunk and tired drivers. Some work is just better accomplished during the day. You have more light to see and temperatures are usually more conducive for the workers and materials used.

Either way, the maintenance worker has to keep one eye on traffic and one eye on the job. They work just feet away from 2 ton hunks of steel traveling at 70 miles per hour. Traffic engineers do everything they can to keep workers safe. They design special boxes to go on big trucks that absorb the blow of a misdirected vehicle called crash attenuators; and they require workers to install signs, cones, barrels, messages signs that give the traveling public as much advanced warning as possible. The public can also call 511 for traffic information, check the 511 app, or use third party apps such as Google Maps and Waze all to see how traffic is flowing.

We refer to juggling all these different variables as Transportation Asset Management. This is all done to keep the infrastructure in the best shape possible for as long as possible, to keep the workers and traveling public safe, and make sure travelers can get from point A to point B with as little interruption as possible while staying within budgets. So the next time you run across a work zone hopefully you’ll have a better appreciation for the amount of work and planning that has gone into that work.