Building roads to anywhere
Special technology paves the way for local success story
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Dec 29, 2012 06:00 am
It’s the story of an American dream turned Canadian reality.
Marc Breault never went to university, he didn’t finish high school and he began his career as a delivery agent for Pepsi.
The bottles on his office cabinet still remind him of those days in the early 1980s.
Except that Breault has long since moved on, first to chief distributor for Pepsi in Northern Alberta and British Columbia, and then to sales manager for EPCOR in Edmonton.
And when that job ended, he started his own company in 2004.
Today, Paradox Access Solutions has grown from a one-man show to a 70-plus employee success story in Campbell Business Park.
“I got laid off and decided that there is no security in having a job because jobs end,” Breault said.
“Now I am selling road products.”
Breault said it was his brother who told him that oil companies didn’t know how to access remote areas.
They either waited until winter, when the land was frozen and vehicles wouldn’t sink into the muddy ground.
Or they paved it with heavy machinery, bulldozing and ripping the land apart.
With changing environmental regulations, a new market opened up for matting that allowed machinery to access isolated sites without harming the land.
Paradox’s first product was rubber mats made from recycled car tires. But the material turned out to be less than satisfactory.
“Flexibility was our enemy. The mat would flex so much it was almost wash-boarding,” he said,
Typical suppliers produce mats from softwood lumber, while Paradox started selling mats made from bamboo, plastic and fibreglass.
It wasn’t an easy market to access, Breault said.
Wood mats retain more water and mud, but are cheaper, and he needed to sell companies on materials that were less familiar and more expensive.
“Matting was there but nobody understood the difference of materials, that no matt will carry it all,” he said.
“We had to know why we are using what mat to resolve issues.”
Despite his first tough sales, his business got him attention and a deal to sell Neoweb.
The honeycomb-shaped material is laid over the ground and filled with gravel, woodchips or dirt, turning the most impassable region into a passable road.
The combs allow the matting to maintain its form while a steamroller compresses it. The road is then laid on top of it.
Due to its shape, it is capable of supporting heavy machinery by taking the energy that comes from above and redirecting it horizontally.
A cover below the material protects the ground from further damage.
“That’s the uniqueness of Neoweb. We can go into environments that traditionally could not be accessed,” Breault said.
When the road is no longer needed, Paradox can take it down, shake out the web and return the area to its natural look.
The technology was originally used by the United States military and employed in the wars in Iraq and Korea.
But Breault said it needed some fixes to give it durability and make it suitable for civilian construction.
Despite its proven success in regions such as Russia, Africa and South America, he said it took some convincing before he could get it on the market.
“Because it was so unique we had to hire our own engineers and have our own installation crews and now we are a full-fledged road building company,” he said.
He added that it was out of pure desperation that oil companies first hired him; they needed to get a road built in winter on impassable ground.
“That was our beginning and we installed the material in minus 45 degrees,” he said.
“We found the people failed before the material, but we proved that it worked and after that I was excited to see the capability of the material.”
Paradox is the only company in Canada with the rights to produce Neoweb.
Unlike other materials, Breault said it takes different fillings, which makes it a more environmentally friendly solution.
Currently, he is experimenting with crushed glass and gravel as fillers – material that usually end up in a landfill.
“We are creating an avenue to re-use recycled concrete and asphalt, testing to use glass as a filler and waste materials inside the cells,” he said.
“If you look at glass, there’s no contamination that can happen.”
While the company’s office is located in St. Albert, Breault distributes mats from warehouses located around Alberta and Saskatchewan.
And what was once the smallest component of his business now constitutes almost all of his business.
“The thing I love about Neoweb is that it’s an engineered material and we can not only design roads but we can design them on a fourth dimension, which is time – to show how long it will last,” he said.
In theory, he said, he can now build roads that last up to 50 years.