Lab Corner: Certification for asphalt binder technicians

Certification. A quick check of a thesaurus gives synonyms such as “guarantee,” “qualifications,” and “official recognition.” A certified product is one that the producer has guaranteed meets certain standards. In business, a person that is certified in a particular area is someone that has successfully demonstrated knowledge and proficiency in that area. A person that is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is just one example. Regardless of whether it is a certified product or person, the certification provides an official recognition that a certain set of qualifications has been met.

In today’s business world, there is an increasing focus on certification?teachers, IT professionals, travel agents, etc. The web site of the American Culinary Federation gives an idea of how other industries are viewing certification.

It may be easy to understand why you need to be certified to be an accountant. But maybe it is not so easy to understand why a construction materials technician (or chef) would need certification. So, is certification important for construction materials like asphalt? To answer that question, look at the Code of Federal Regulations. Issued in June 1995, 23 CFR Part 637, Quality Assurance (QA) Procedures for Construction states:

“After June 29, 2000, all sampling and testing data to be used in the acceptance decision or independent assurance program will be executed by qualified sampling and testing personnel.”

The key word in this statement is “qualified.” What does “qualified” mean to the asphalt industry? To some, it means attending a training course and receiving a professional development certificate. To others, it means taking and passing an examination that tests the person’s knowledge and proficiency.

It was this latter interpretation that was adopted by the Northeastern Asphalt User Producer Group (NEAUPG) in the late 1990s for the certification of PG Asphalt Binder Laboratory Technicians. By resolution, both users and producers of the NEAUPG agreed that technicians responsible for PG asphalt binder testing were required to attend a certification course administered by the New England Transportation Technician Certification Program (NETTCP) and pass a certification exam consisting of written and laboratory proficiency parts.

Was it worth the effort? Consensus among both users and producers in the NEAUPG is “yes,” with a noted reduction in testing variability. This can be seen in the following quote from a producer:

“While getting everyone through the (NETTCP) course successfully was not easy, in the end the benefit was worth the effort. Through this improved understanding of the test methods and performance of the tests, we greatly reduced our variability between the technicians and between our lab and third party labs. This resulted in fewer discrepancies with the state agencies and a greater confidence in the results so that we could tighten up the manufacturing specifications.”
– Doug Brown, Citgo Refining

Building on the success of the NETTCP and the Asphalt Institute’s own Asphalt Binder Technology courses, the Asphalt Institute (AI) has developed the National Binder Technician Certification (NBTC) program. The intent of this certification program is to provide a consistent nationwide means of ensuring that asphalt binder technicians are knowledgeable and fully qualified to produce valid specification compliance and quality assurance data.

Putting it in less lofty terms, through the NBTC program, we want to improve testing repeatability for asphalt binders so that there is better confidence in test results and fewer disputes between asphalt suppliers and user agencies. We believe that the best way to minimize variability in testing is to ensure that all technicians responsibile for testing of PG asphalt binders have been suitably trained and have demonstrated this understanding by achieving certification. It is also important that this certification is implemented nationally to ensure a consistent understanding of the standards and laboratory best practices across state lines.

The process of making the NBTC program a reality began in February of this year with the publication of MS-25, Asphalt Binder Testing: Technician’s Manua1 for Specification Testing of Asphalt Binders. This manual authored by Dr. Dave Anderson, is a true technician’s manual that can be used as a supplement to the AASHTO test procedures in the performance-graded (PG) asphalt binder specification (AASHTO M320). It will serve as a principal reference in the NBTC certification courses and exams.

The next step in the implementation process occurred in October, when a four-page informational brochure was developed, introducing the program to the industry. An introductory letter and brochure were sent to each state highway agency.

Finally, AI will conduct the first NBTC courses and exams in 2008 at our headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky, and at other locations throughout the United States (and Canada). We understand the difficulty faced by some users with out-of-state travel authorization. As such we plan to offer the courses and exams at various locations outside of Kentucky.

We believe that a national binder technician certification program is an important part of the effort to reduce asphalt binder testing variability, with the other important contributor being, of course, the AASHTO Accreditation Program. These two programs should complement each other well.

Interested in the NBTC program and reducing testing variability? Then we need your help. While we can offer certification courses and exams that are the same everywhere in the nation, the real goal of reducing testing variability will be more readily achieved by following the path of the NEAUPG in the late 1990s in requiring technicians responsible for PG asphalt binder testing to attend a course and pass a certification exam. In other words, we can offer the program, but cannot require that technicians become certified. That is a decision that belongs to the individual user-producer groups.

For more information on the NBTC program, please contact

Mike Beavin (
Mike Anderson (