Sustainable Construction with Topcon

Michael Gomes, vice president of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at Topcon, talks to Mike Woof, editor of World Highways magazine, about the use of technology to deliver sustainability in road construction.
February 7, 2024
By Mike Woof
Michael Gomes, vice president of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at Topcon
Michael Gomes, vice president of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at Topcon

Q. Where has Topcon technology been used on some key projects to deliver sustainability in construction?

A. When we talk about sustainability, it's really about a balance of not just profit, but people and the planet. At Topcon, it’s about how our sensors, our tools for measurement, can be used. It's the data from those tools that is the valuable piece in sustainability and, importantly, being able to use those data layers in construction projects. That can be to prove that you're using less fuel through telematics or to prove that you're moving less total material or that you're actually using less material. You have more on-time coordination.

In road building, all of these accumulate to bring added value to sustainability. With the SmoothRide system, in particular, you have the benefit of ensuring that the old road surface, when it's milled off, is done to within a few millimetres as required.

Sustainable Construction with Topcon


Q. Please explain the benefits of that for the asphalt-paving process in terms of material costs.

A. For example, a consistently smooth road creates value for taxpayers because vehicles will use less fuel. Our SmoothRide system can document the smoothness of the road and with the intelligent compaction process you have the right amount of compaction. With this optimised amount of compaction you get optimal road wear and the contractor has used the optimal quantity of material. For the logistic part of the paving process, using products like our Pavelink solution, you have on-time delivery of paving material to the paver. Where you have the coordinated operation and the material is arriving at the right temperature, in the right sequence, at the machine, you get a very, very consistent paving process that results in optimum road smoothness. In other words, you're saving material, reducing costs and extending the wear-life of the pavement. Again, over time, you’re effectively reducing costs. You're getting more for less, in a sense. But when we begin to talk about sustainability, there is a value above this and that is the saving in material which also translates into profit. This helps to drive the contractors as well as the people who are paying for the projects. But there are also benefits to other people working on the project. They're doing higher-value work, they're managing and operating the machinery much more efficiently and can be part of a greater decision-making process. They benefit from improved site safety because when they're using sensor-based appplications there is less need for grade checking, thereby improving safety around the machines. Because you're optimising the haulage process, you're reducing the fuel burned by the truck fleet. So, there are a lot of savings. Profit, people and the planet, that is what sustainability is about.

Q. SmoothRide is being used mainly on large highway and airport projects. Can you tell me how this technology can improve sustainability on smaller projects?

A. We have examples in Europe with various road agencies that manage the entire highways network. But they're using technologies like our SmoothRide on many smaller regional roads to get the benefits we've talked about, such as less total material used and increased road life. In fact, I would argue that other agencies that manage smaller and regional roads are starting to understand the benefits of SmoothRide to get a more sustainable and longer-lasting asset.

Q. How many of the highway authorities are actually requesting the use of this technology to deliver sustainability?

A. More and more agencies are doing so but the short answer is probably not enough yet. That's why we appreciate this opportunity to talk today in order to help people understand that these technologies exist now and that they do fit into sustainability agendas. Part of the problem is that sustainability is becoming a buzzword. While the actual technologies like our SmoothRide and our road-building portfolio are well known, people haven't necessarily been thinking about the bigger picture, meaning the benefits around the material, the benefits to the operators, as well as the long-term benefits of the well-built road.

Sustainable Construction with Topcon

Q. What is Topcon's own focus on sustainability? Has the company set targets or altered its operations to meet the demands of sustainability?

A. Topcon Corporation is really embracing sustainability, starting with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We support a larger number of these through the development of a wide range of our products. Whether it’s in Healthcare, in agriculture or part of the infrastructure process from the dirt work to actual road and bridge construction, we’re bringing benefits to people all the way along.

Q. How do your clients or the contractors measure the sustainability profile of their supply chains?

A. Most of the contractors focus on the incentives that are for themselves, simply because if they can’t make a profit, nobody benefits. In this respect, we need to show them where the incentives lie. In some cases, the incentives might be around optimised use and/or delivery of material. In other cases, it's around road surface smoothness. In yet other cases, it might be around proving that the logistics of a project are happening according to plan. The reality is that each contractor around the world will have a different focus. In Japan, it's towards things like climate change. In Europe, it's really around material use and also there is a large social element to a project. Then in the United States in many cases the SmoothRide standard is only now being adopted. It's new to lots of people. The picture is that more and more of these pieces are coming together. But, I suppose, for the contractors, there are definite obvious benefits as we discussed, such as material savings or the bonuses they'll get if the smoothness of the road surface is very good. These are going to be big pluses for them.

Sustainable Construction with TopconQ. How many contractors would you say are actually interested in sustainability? Is it only the major firms or are a lot of the smaller companies showing interest?

A. It’s starting with many of the largest firms but it depends who in the company is really driving sustainability. Firms that serve large institutional investors and which operate in areas that are very environmentally sensitive are the lead adopters. But increasingly it's those small- and medium-sized contractors that are beginning to get engaged, whether it's because of the benefits of material savings or simply the peace of mind that they are doing the right thing or whether it's around reducing operational risk through machine control. As I’ve noted before, people’s sustainability priorities might be different, but in the end it’s not just for profit, but also people and the planet.

Q. It might be cynical, but some firms might view sustainability as simply a box-ticking exercise?

A. Yes, for a lot of the industry, the money factor is the key issue. But increasingly, whether that's improving operator safety, improving on-time performance, the overall benefits are visible to road users. All of these things have a cumulative benefit. And we are also seeing much more frank and open discussions on sustainability and where the benefits lie and to whom.

Q. What roles do you think clients play in improving the sustainability of road projects?

A. Paving is a very complex process and clients in many cases are voicing concerns over what they think is important. This is where we can point to the benefit of things like the SmoothRide standard and demonstrate to them that all is possible. We can show them how to do more with less and that they can use the digital data layers to prove this. We are also providing evidence of better on-time performance, more coming in on schedule and on budget and, importantly, the fact that they're getting paid more. At the end of the day, technologies such as SmoothRide are about creating opportunities for creating incentives to reach a project’s sustainability goals. You can use hard facts that come from things like telematics and data layers to prove that the client and contractor together are doing the right thing by the people and the planet.

For more information on companies in this article