Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings
May 1996, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

Maintenance Technology Exchange Partnership: Minnesota Department of Transportation/Finnish National Road Administration

Päivi K. Martikainen and John H. Scharffbillig

Minnesota Department of Transportation,
395 John Ireland Boulevard, MS 722,
St. Paul, Minnesota 55155.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) and the Finnish National Road Administration (FinnRa) conducted a maintenance worker exchange during the winter of 1995–96. The intent of this exchange was for both agencies to get first-hand knowledge of each other's winter road maintenance methods of operation, equipment, and materials by actual hands-on involvement. The exchange program is of obvious benefit to both parties. FinnRa has many equipment and operational innovations of interest to Mn/DOT. Some of the more interesting equipment innovations include automatic greasing systems for graders and other equipment, and automated grader mold board control systems to obtain precise vertical and horizontal control. Of much interest is the floating system for grader attachments to obtain better control of the front plow, wings, and blades. FinnRa is well advanced in cutting-edge technology with its use of various toothed blades and rubber slush cutting edges. From an operational perspective, FinnRa's use of self-directed work teams and the emphasis FinnRa places on local managers and operators working towards reducing costs enable them to better compete with private industry. Similarly, FinnRa's exchange worker will bring new equipment, operation, and training ideas to his own agency for possible implementation. These include zero-velocity salt/sand spreading, fiber optic lighting for snow plows, mechanical icebusters, and carbide cutting-edge technology. Operational items include the greater use of snow blowers, side wing plows, and siping of truck tires for greater traction. In summary, both agencies have found innovative and cost-effective ways to deliver their services to the road user. From this first worker exchange experience, Mn/DOT will examine similar opportunities with other agencies. Key words: winter maintenance, snow and ice control, technology transfer, international, innovation.

Program History

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) has a long history of partnering with other agencies in transportation related projects, especially in winter maintenance research. Mn/DOT also has facilitated various technology transfer and employee training programs throughout Minnesota and the United States. As part of its Maintenance Technology Exchange Program, the Minnesota Department of Transportation sent John Scharffbillig, a highway maintenance supervisor, to work with the Finnish National Road Administration (FinnRA) for a period of three months during the winter season 1995–96. He was stationed at the Raisio Roadmaster Area located on the southwestern coast of Finland. In turn, Mn/DOT hosted Marko Kolattu, a senior highway maintenance operator from FinnRA, for the same period of time. Marko was stationed in Mn/DOT's Nopeming Maintenance Sub-area in District 1, Duluth, which borders Lake Superior. These locations are illustrated in Figure 1.

FinnRA was chosen as the other partner in Mn/DOT's program, since the two agencies have been in cooperation since the early 1970s and have successfully exchanged personnel before for different periods of time. And specifically in the field of winter maintenance research, the cooperation started with exchanging reports and official visits about ten years ago. Since then FinnRA and Mn/DOT have put together a six-point joint research program, of which two projects have been started to date: a Salt Usage Comparison Study and the Maintenance Technology Exchange Partnership.

Program Goals

The purpose of this worker exchange was for both agencies to get first-hand knowledge of each other's road maintenance (particularly winter maintenance) equipment, materials, and methods of operation in order to improve their own related technologies through research, new innovation, possible implementation, technology transfer, and employee training. This knowledge was gathered by observing the host agency's field operations including actual hands-on involvement in those operations, and participating in the daily work activities in accordance with a detailed work program approved by Mn/DOT and FinnRA. The exchange on both sides also included various visits to local maintenance equipment manufacturers in order to obtain the latest knowledge on the host country's designs and innovations.

Through this exchange Mn/DOT received a double benefit compared to a one-way visit. First, the FinnRA operator toured various maintenance areas, giving Mn/DOT field personnel a chance to learn from him and his reactions relating to the differences between the two agencies' maintenance operations. Similarly, Mn/DOT got the insight of its own operator's experience in Finland and continues to have him as a resource for field research and personnel training.


Both operators remained as full-time employees of their own respective agencies throughout the three-month exchange period. Funding for the related costs was provided by each agency for its own operator. But to limit the need for actual money transfers between agencies, an agreement was prepared to address the exchanging of costs and expenditures accumulated during the program. In addition, a formal Partnership Agreement was signed to specify issues relating to liability in the case of an accident during the exchange involving motor vehicle/ personal injury claims.

Innovative methods and equipment from finland

John Scharffbillig's experience in Finland has shown that FinnRa utilizes innovations in equipment and methods which are of immediate interest to Mn/DOT, as explained in detail in his monthly reports (2,3). A few of the most important ones are described in the following paragraphs.


The principal working parts of the automatic safeguard greasing system are the air-operated piston type pump and lines to the grease fittings. This system works similar to a conventional grease gun. A spring pushing on a plunger maintains a constant pressure to the fittings. The system runs both on an automatic timer or via a manual switch. When the unit is activated a solenoid opens letting the air pump power the grease flow to the fittings. Warning lights on the system let the operator know when it's out of grease or of clogging or other problems. Use of the safeguard greasing system has significantly reduced equipment maintenance costs in FinnRA.

Automatic slopper control is used when doing final grading of a surface. It is set to the angle wanted and it automatically keeps the grader blade at the selected level and angle. This function is controlled by sensors that are mounted on the turn table and the body of the grader. When the grader goes up or down, this system makes the needed corrections automatically, instead of the operator having to guess at a needed setting.

Super Kellunta floating system is installed on FinnRA graders to obtain better control of the snow removal attachments including front plow, side wing, main blade, and rear drag blade. This system permits the attachments to be either fixed in place or floated with a capacity to add down pressure on the attachments when needed. The system allows the front plow to be angled up or down, sideways, etc. The main blade is controlled to a finer degree than the other attachments, as the controls are principally configured for grading.

The Finnish National Road Administration is well advanced in winter maintenance cutting edge technology. These include the Olofsfors P-300 "swiss cheese" blade, carbide-tipped pin blades, rubber slush blades, and a quick-attach system to mount these cutting edges. The Swedish P-300 blade has proven effective in removing compacted snow and ice, and it leaves a grooved surface for detention of deicing chemical or brine. The adjustable rubber blade mounted behind the front plow or the underbody blade is widely used for the removal of soft snow and slush. This eliminates the need for more chemical to melt the snow or slush to runoff water. The quick-attach mounting system for the various cutting edges is in itself a unique and time-saving innovation.

Mn/DOT has already tried two sets of the P-300 system, as initiated by the Swedish manufacturer. There is a big difference in the principle behind the operation of the P-300 blade compared to standard Mn/DOT blades, specifically in the mounting angle. It is now expected that with John's practical experience Mn/DOT will further be able to implement the use of this new cutting-edge technology.


In terms of operational procedures there are quite a few features which are most interesting and highlighted in by John in his reports (2,3). According to him, the local Roadmaster operational levels are very aware of the operational costs and their own competitiveness. With FinnRA's drive to reduce operational costs, all the managers and workers are aware of what each activity costs and are making deliberate attempts to further reduce those costs. These maintenance forces are now forced to compete with private industry for their maintenance work which drives their cost consciousness.

In a similar vein, the FinnRA maintenance workers act as self-directed work teams. Each employee is asked for input into the operations and programming, is aware of their common goals for efficiency, and generally has a strong sense of personal responsibility to help meet these goals.

Innovative methods and equipment from minnesota

During his stay in Minnesota, Marko Kolattu visited six of the 14 maintenance areas within Mn/DOT and two county highway departments. He received the Minnesota Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and operated very diverse equipment. Marko concentrated on issues that he could take back to Finland to his work as a maintenance operator and described the most important innovations in his monthly reports (4,5). Marko's overall impression was good, and he was most of all impressed with Mn/DOT's Traffic Management Center (TMC) in Minneapolis and the Highway Helper Program being run within the Metropolitan area. What he also found interesting was the way Mn/DOT has set up its operator training in units, covering topics such as hazardous materials, truck operating training, etc., and actually making its maintenance field personnel participate in the training in regular intervals.

At the end of Marko's visit he identified the zero velocity concept, fiber optic warning lights, and some specific snow removal equipment as the things with most potential for successful implementation within FinnRA in the near future. These concepts are briefly described below.

Zero Velocity Spreader Concept

Zero velocity spreading of salt and/or abrasives is a technology under increasing development in Minnesota and several other states. This technology, as developed through the Tyler spreader in Minnesota, can substantially reduce salt and/or sand use and increase the maximum speed of the application. It is also considered that the technology has a direct application within FinnRA's mode of maintenance operations. Figure 3 illustrates a conventional Tyler zero velocity spreader unit on a Mn/DOT truck.

Fiber Optic Warning Lights

Fiber optic warning lights are currently being field tested by Mn/DOT in order to provide better visibility of the snowplow in a snow cloud to the other road users. Initial tests appear to demonstrate that the fiber optic lights better pierce the snow cloud and define the snow plow within. Marko Kolattu believes this innovation will soon be part of a standard maintenance vehicle package in Minnesota, and that it is of great interest within FinnRA, too.

Snow Removal Equipment

Other Mn/DOT maintenance operations equipment of interest to FinnRA include the grader-mounted Icebuster_ scarifier, illustrated in Figure 4, which is a rotating star wheel device for mechanically crushing hard packed snow and ice which is then removed by the grader blade. Also, Mn/DOT has long been a user of carbide cutting edges which have been very effective. Tests conducted a few years ago in Finland didn't produce similar results for FinnRA due to a different blade operating and mounting technique. Yet after Marko Kolattu has seen the way the cutting edges are used by Mn/DOT, it is now expected that they can be effectively used in Finland with a small change in their operating technique.

In its snow removal operations, Mn/DOT widely uses medium or large truck-mounted snow blowers to remove large drifts or large snow banks. They are also used effectively for clearing snow from intersections, interchange areas, and under bridges. While not used in Finland, Marko believes that they would effectively complement FinnRA's snow removal fleets. Mn/DOT also uses side wings to remove snow from both median and right shoulders. Mn/DOT will keep the shoulders clear of snow, including the leveling of banks beyond the shoulder, whereas FinnRA does not typically achieve the same level of snow removal. Again it was seen by Marko that opportunities exist within FinnRA's operations for greater use of side wing plows.

An additional concept of interest was the siping of truck tires in the Duluth District. This is a method of closely spacing shallow transverse slices on the tire wearing surface to increase friction on slippery surfaces.

implementation and transfer of new technology WITHIN Mn/dot (2,3)

For Mn/DOT to fully utilize the experience, innovations, and ideas acquired by John Sscharffbillig, he was assigned to a one-year mobility to have sufficient time to "download" the information to Mn/DOT field maintenance personnel. The information and experiences collected during the exchange will also apply to the local government level, especially to county agencies, since FinnRA is responsible for maintaining all public roads in Finland excluding city streets. Therefore, as part of this mobility, he will also transfer gained information to local government agency personnel through several forums such as interactive presentations and workshops working through the Minnesota Circuit Rider Technology Transfer Program (which in itself is a partnership between Mn/DOT, the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies, the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, and the Federal Highway Administration) (1).

In addition, selected innovations are to be subjects for further maintenance operations field research within Minnesota. The exchange worker is expected to be an active champion, sponsor, or a principal investigator for Mn/DOT maintenance research projects developed and approved based on the technology brought from Finland. It is also expected that he will study, facilitate, and work towards implementation of specific innovative FinnRA operational knowledge as well as maintenance technologies or modifications to fit into Mn/DOT's scheme of maintenance operations.

A note of caution must be observed when planning to use any other agency's standard equipment. The Scandinavian blades, for example, use metric measurements for mounting hole spacing which differs from American or Mn/DOT dimensions. So there will typically be some modifications needed to adopt each other's equipment. In the case of the P-300 cutting edges, it was necessary for Mn/DOT to acquire separate mounting boards from the same manufacturer. If an idea or innovation catches on, subsequent volume purchases could provide for adaptations to the other agencies requirements, and in Finland's case it should lead to international private sector partnerships.


As a final result of the Maintenance Technology Exchange Partnership, both agencies have already found new, innovative, and cost-effective ways to deliver their maintenance products and services. Also, in some measure they received a second opinion by comparison of their respective operative methods, confirming that most of their maintenance operations are managed and handled in an effective manner. Yet the most immediate result of the exchange for Minnesota is its input through technology transfer and training to maintenance field operations personnel and culture throughout the state.

To continue its active Maintenance Technology Exchange Program, Mn/DOT has approached other state agencies in the United States and Canada, as well as some international transportation agencies, to create further opportunities for maintenance technology exchange partnerships, based on the positive experience with FinnRa. Mn/DOT will be pursuing cooperative exchanges of both personnel and equipment with interested states, provinces, and countries during the coming year.


  1. P. Martikainen (Ed.). Statewide Maintenance Operations Research Report: 1995. Minnesota Department of Transportation, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1995.
  2. J. Scharffbillig. International Maintenance Technology Exchange Program: Monthly Report # 2. Minnesota Department of Transportation, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 1996.
  3. J. Scharffbillig. International Maintenance Technology Exchange Program: Monthly Report # 3. Minnesota Department of Transportation, St. Paul, Minnesota, February 1996.
  4. M. Kolattu. FinnRA - Mn/DOT International Technology Exchange Program: Monthly Report # 1. Finnish National Road Administration, Tampere, Finland, January 1996.
  5. M. Kolattu. FinnRA - Mn/DOT International Technology Exchange Program: Monthly Report # 2. Finnish National Road Administration, Tampere, Finland, January 1996.

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