So he knows what he’s talking about when he deals with customers. “Anti-corrosion properties are key when it comes to construction machines,” he suddenly remarks in his Swabian-inflected German, while pointing to a road roller on the right-hand shoulder.
Traffic is still moving, but paralysis is about to set in. The usual behavior is also evident as manic lane-changers seek momentary gain with no thought for anyone else.
Shaking his head, Pechwitz continues his train of thought. “You can imagine how tough the coatings have to be on that type of machine,” he says. So powder coatings or combined powder and liquid products are used on milling, rolling, rock-crushing, paving machines, and similar technology. But the demands placed on coatings have risen in recent years.
Pechwitz scratches his head. “Twenty years ago, customers didn’t have their own coating specialists. Today, many of them have labs where they test what we as manufacturers produce. In addition to the anti-corrosion properties, they examine the visuals, gloss levels, and gradients. The requirements in our field are almost up there with the coatings for truck cabs!”
Wörwag places a premium not only on technical expertise but also, and especially, on individual consulting services. “That’s one of our specialties as a medium-sized family-run company, which distinguishes us from the big corporations in the field,” explains Pechwitz. In his position as head of sales, he is supported in Germany by four account managers, two market managers, and two technical customer managers. Traffic has meanwhile slowed down even more. The car right in front of us suddenly stops.
The left lane isn’t going anywhere either. So the traffic jam has now set in. “There’s a construction site up ahead, and the road narrows,” says Pechwitz. Construction sites as obstruction sites.
A paradox really, considering that the point of road work is to improve traffic flow.
German drivers are sorely afflicted by this problem. According to the latest annual report from the German Automobile Association (ADAC), drivers spent a good 457,000 hours stuck in around 720,000 traffic jams in 2017. That adds up to about 52 years. If their vehicles were lined up in a row, they would form a column stretching nearly 1.45 million kilometers (0.9 million miles).
But traffic jams exact a price, not only in time and patience. The German government calculates that they cause the economy to lose 250 million euros – a day!
For transport and traffic expert Michael Schreckenberg from the University of Duisburg-Essen, the underlying reasons are obvious (see “We shouldn’t adopt an adversarial attitude” to the right).
“Aside from the fact that there are ever more cars on the roads in general, Germany is by far the major transit country in Europe,” he notes. “From east to west, from north to south, all the routes use our freeways. Truck volume alone has been increasing every year by around two percent.”
Trucks not only fill the roads, but also inflict enormous damage on them. “We need to realize that a single truck wears down the road surface as much as 60,000 passenger cars,” says the expert.
And one of Germany’s big problems is that it can hardly keep up with repairing all the damaged roads, which means it doesn’t have the resources to do anywhere near the amount of urgently needed expansion work.
„Drivers have to be more cooperative.“
Dr. Schreckenberg, are construction sites the main reason for traffic jams on freeways?
No, construction sites and accidents only account for
40 percent of traffic jams. Most congestion is caused by too many vehicles or inappropriate driving styles. And traffic volumes are continuing to rise. We should be building a lot more roads. But the money isn’t available. That being said, there’s room for improvement at construction sites. Sometimes construction is done simultaneously on the main road and an alternative route, so you can’t get around it. We need to improve our construction site management. I’m working on new strategies for this right now.
How should we change our driving behavior to prevent traffic jams?
Drivers have to be more cooperative. We could significantly increase throughput at construction sites if drivers didn’t view everyone else as adversaries. The zipper principle hasn’t worked for a while now. Connected autonomous cars could be helpful here in the future. We’ve calculated that just one percent of cars equipped with this technology would be sufficient to substantially improve throughput at bottlenecks.
When the GPS says to take a different route to avoid a traffic jam, should we do that?
No. Everyone else has a GPS too, so you’ll just be stuck on the alternate route along with them. I also see a danger in the devices. They keep adjusting anticipated arrival times upwards, which stresses out drivers and raises risk levels.
But as an important part of the European transport axis running from France to southeastern Europe through Germany and Austria, the A8 is at least being expanded. Right now, it usually has two lanes in each direction, which are being increased to three.
In 2012, work began around the Merklingen exit in the Alb-Donau district, which Pechwitz is now approaching in stop-and-go traffic. Construction is taking place on segment number 4, which extends for 23 kilometers between Hohenstadt and Ulm. An estimated 3.5 million cubic meters of soil will be moved by 2021 in an effort to enable traffic to flow freely again. And 26 crossover structures – such as bridges, underpasses, and culverts – will also be built.
Forecasts clearly show the urgent need for more lanes. The regional traffic authority in Tübingen expects that within two years, 85,000 vehicles will be using this segment of the freeway every 24 hours – a good 12,000 more than today. And if the construction site weren’t gargantuan enough as it is, Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) is excavating the rocky ground of the Swabian Jura alongside the freeway for its new Ulm-Wendlingen line. Craters and enormous piles of earth are everywhere to be seen, and all the drivers and their passengers look out onto a beige-brown lunar landscape.
Against this backdrop the various construction machines stick out like bright splotches of paint. Now at a standstill again, Pechwitz remarks, “Although many drivers are annoyed with the construction sites, I’m happy when I spot our customers’ vehicles.” These customers include two of the largest machinery makers in Germany. One is the Wirtgen Group headquartered in Windhagen in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Under its brand names of Wirtgen, Vögele, Hamm, Kleemann, and Bennighoven, the company provides a full range of road construction machines, which do crushing, screening, mixing, installing, compacting, milling, and recycling work (Infographic as PDF).
Its machines are used around the world, and their white, green, orange, and blue paint jobs come primarily from Wörwag’s powder-coating production facilities in Renningen, around 25 kilometers west of Stuttgart.
That is also where the characteristic yellow paint for Bomag is made. A specialist in compacting systems, Bomag is headquartered in the town of Boppard near Koblenz. It makes machines that compact soil, asphalt, and refuse, as well as stabilizers, recyclers, millers, and finishers.
Wörwag has worked with both Wirtgen and Bomag for many years. Business unit five, to which Pechwitz’s team belongs, is relatively small compared to other units, such as that for the automotive sector – but every bit as sophisticated.
A special priority is placed on personal contacts. Pechwitz enjoys a warm welcome wherever he goes. That is due to his above-mentioned technical expertise, but also to his open and uncomplicated nature. “I’m not your typical head of sales,” he says with a smile. “You won’t catch me very often in a suit and tie, for example.”
He has been dealing with construction machines for more than twenty years. What is it about them that fascinates him? The fact that they do both heavy-duty and precision work.
Many of them, for instance, have considerably more advanced autonomous driving functions than conventional passenger cars. “Today’s paving machines, for example, analyze the earth by ultrasound and calculate exactly the amount of asphalt that needs to be applied for a perfect surface,” he says. “Or road rollers. If you feed them the right coordinates they can compact a freeway without a driver.”
A motorcycle weaves through the lines of cars, eliciting a few envious looks. When not at work, Pechwitz himself is a fan of two-wheelers. He restores old motor scooters. And rides them of course. However, he has resolved to cover the good eleven kilometers from his home in Pflugfelden to his office in Zuffenhausen by bicycle. That is healthier, he says, and is also a form of exercise. And talking of sports, this is something he encourages among his colleagues at work, too, by organizing the company’s traditional soccer tournament and annual ski trip. “And we don’t skimp on the après-ski part,” he says with a wink.
His smartphone rings. “How’s it going?” comes the voice of his colleague Matthias Knapp from the loudspeaker on the hands-free system. “It’s not, at the moment,” replies Pechwitz. “Stuck in traffic at the construction site?” “That’s right, a typical Tuesday morning.” According to ADAC statistics, Thursdays are the worst days for traffic jams, and Sundays the best. It’s time for a break.
When a yellow “M” appears on the right as the Audi slowly rolls toward the Merklingen exit, Pechwitz leaves the freeway. “McCafé has the best coffee,” he says and leaves the traffic jam behind. Following a coffee and two cigarettes, he returns to the A 8. The traffic is still sluggish. But a short time later, it begins to flow. Then we hit the part of the freeway that has already been expanded to three lanes – and off we go! From the obstruction site to the sprint lane – the construction machines have done their job.
By: Thorsten Schönfeld
Photos by: Toby Binder