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Title: Roller-compactor  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Soil compaction
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


"Roller-compactor" redirects here. For other types of rolling compactors, see Compactor.

A road roller (sometimes called a roller-compactor, or just roller) is a compactor type engineering vehicle used to compact soil, gravel, concrete, or asphalt in the construction of roads and foundations, similar rollers are used also at landfills or in agriculture.

In some parts of the world, road rollers are still known colloquially as steam rollers, regardless of their method of propulsion. This typically only applies to the largest examples (used for road-making).


The first road rollers were horse-drawn, and were probably just borrowed farm implements (see roller (agricultural tool)).

Main article: steamroller

Since the effectiveness of a roller depends to a large extent on its weight, self-powered vehicles replaced horse-drawn rollers from the mid-19th century. The first such vehicles were steam rollers. Single-cylinder steam rollers were generally used for base compaction and run with high engine revs in a low gear to promote bounce and vibration from the crankshaft through to the rolls in much the same way as a vibrating roller. The double cylinder or compound steam rollers became popular from around 1910 onwards and were used mainly for the rolling of hot-laid surfaces due to their smoother running engines, however both cylinder types are capable of rolling the finished surface. Steam rollers were often dedicated to a task by their gearing as the slower engines were for base compaction whereas the higher geared models were often referred to as 'chip chasers' which followed behind the hot tar and chipping laying machines. Some road companies in the United States used steamrollers through the 1950s, and in the UK, some remained in commercial service until the early 1970s.

As internal combustion engine technology improved during the 20th century, kerosene-, gasoline- (petrol), and diesel-powered rollers gradually replaced their steam-powered counterparts. The first internal-combustion powered road rollers were very similar to the steam rollers they replaced. They used similar mechanisms to transmit power from the engine to the wheels, typically large, exposed spur gears. Some users did not like them in their infancy, as the engines of the era were typically difficult to start, particularly the kerosene-powered ones.

Virtually all road rollers in commercial use now use diesel power.

Uses on a road: Start-to-finish

Road rollers use the weight of the vehicle to compress the surface being rolled (static) or use mechanical advantage (vibrating). Initial compaction of the substrate on a road project is done using a padfoot drum roller, which achieves higher compaction density due to the pads having less surface area. On large freeways a four wheel compactor with padfoot drum and a blade, such as a Caterpillar 815/825 series machine, would be used due to its high weight, speed and the powerful pushing force to spread bulk material. On regional roads a smaller single padfoot drum machine may be used. The next machine is usually a single smooth drum compactor that compacts the high spots down until the soil is smooth, and this is usually done in combination with a motor grader to get a level surface. Sometimes at this stage a pneumatic tyre roller would be used. These rollers feature two rows (front and back) of pneumatic tyres that overlap, and the flexibility of the tyres provides a kneading action that seals the surface and with some vertical movement of the wheels, enables the roller to operate effectively on uneven ground. Once the soil base is flat the pad drum compactor is no longer used on the road surface. The next course (road base) would be compacted using a smooth single drum, smooth tandem roller or pneumatic tyre roller in combination with a grader, and a water truck to achieve the desired flat surface with the right moisture content for optimum compaction. Once the road base is compacted, the smooth single drum compactor is no longer used on the road surface (There is however an exception, if the single drum has special flat-wide-base tyres on the machine). The final wear course of asphalt concrete (a.k.a. asphalt or blacktop in North America, or macadam in England) is laid using a paver and compacted using a tandem smooth drum roller, a three-point roller or a pneumatic tyre roller. Three point rollers on asphalt were very common once and are still used, but tandem vibrating rollers are the usual choice now, with the pneumatic tyre roller's kneading action being the last roller to seal off the surface.

Rollers are also used in landfill compaction. Such compactors typically have padfoot or "sheep's-foot" drums, and do not achieve a smooth surface. The pads aid in compression, due to the smaller area contacting the ground.


The roller can be a simple drum with a handle that is operated by one person, and weighs 100 pounds, or as large as a ride-on road roller weighing 21 short tons (44,000 lb or 20 tonnes) and costing more than US$150,000. A landfill unit may weigh 59 short tons (54 tonnes).

Roller types

Pedestrian operated

  • Rammer (bounce up and down)
  • Walk-behind plate compactor/light
  • Walk-behind plate compactor/heavy (with reverse)
  • Trench roller (manual unit or radio-frequency remote control)
  • Walk-behind roller/light (single drum)
  • Walk-behind roller/heavy (double drum)

Ride-on smooth finish

  • Tandem drum (static)
  • Tandem drum (vibrating)
  • Single drum roller (smooth)
  • Pneumatic-tyre, a.k.a. rubber tyre or multi-wheel
  • Combination roller (single row of tyres and a steel drum)
  • Three point roller (steam rollers are usually three-point)

Ride-on soil/landfill compactor with pads/feet/spikes

  • Single drum roller (soil)
  • 4-wheel (soil/landfill)
  • 3-point (soil/landfill)
  • Tandem drum (soil/landfill)


  • Tractor-mounted and tractor-powered (conversion – see gallery picture below)
  • Drawn rollers or towed rollers (were very common once, but not so now)
  • Impact compactor (uses a square or polygon drum to strike the ground hard for proof rolling or deep lift compacting)
  • Drum roller with rubber coated drum for asphalt compaction
  • Log skidder converted to compactor for landfill
  • Wheel loader converted to compactor for landfill

Drum types

Drums are available in widths ranging from 24 to 84 inches (0.6 to 2 metres).

Tyre roller types

Tyre rollers are available in widths ranging up to 2.7 metres (8.9 ft), with between 7 and 11 wheels (e.g. 3 wheels at front, 4 at back): 7 and 8 wheel types are normally used in Europe and Africa; 9 and 11 in America; and any type in Asia. Very heavy tyre rollers are used to compact soil.

Variations and features

  • On some machines, the drums may be filled with water on site to achieve the desired weight. When empty, the lighter machine is easier and cheaper to transport between work sites. On pneumatic tyre rollers the body may be ballasted with water or sand, or for extra compaction wet sand is used. Modern tyre rollers may be filled with steel ballast, which gives a more even balance for better compaction.
  • Additional compaction may be achieved by vibrating the roller drums, allowing a small, light machine to perform as well as a much heavier one. Vibration is typically produced by a free-spinning hydrostatic motor inside the drum to whose shaft an eccentric weight has been attached. Some rollers have a second weight that can be rotated relative to the main weight, to adjust the vibration amplitude and thus the compacting force.
  • Water lubrication may be provided to the drum surface from on-board "sprinkler tanks" to prevent hot asphalt sticking to the drum.
  • Hydraulic transmissions permit greater design flexibility. While early examples used direct mechanical drives, hydraulics reduce the number of moving parts exposed to contamination and allows the drum to be driven, providing extra traction on inclines.
  • Human-propelled rollers may only have a single roller drum.
  • Self-propelled rollers may have two drums, mounted one in front of the other (format known as "duplex"), or three rolls, or just one, with the back rollers replaced with treaded pneumatic tyres for increased traction.



  • ABG (Germany) — SD/TD (purchased by Ingersoll Rand and now part of Volvo CE)
  • Albaret (Germany) — PT (now part of Caterpillar)
  • Ammann-Rammax (Swiss) — SD/TD/PT (Rammax of Germany and Ammann of Switerland, owner of STA designs)
  • Atlas (Germany) — SD
  • Aveling-Barford (England) — TD/PT/3P
  • Benford (England) — SD/TD (purchased by Terex)
  • Bitelli (Italy) — SD/TD/PT (now part of Caterpillar)
  • Blaw Knox (England) -TD/PT (known for pavers, but also had roller models)
  • BOM-MACH (South Africa)
  • BOMAG (Germany) — SD/TD/PT (BOMAG/HYPAC in the USA market)
  • Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company (USA) (purchased by Kohring and eventually Bomag in the USA)
  • Case CE (USA) — SD (brands the Ammann/Sta machines as Case in the USA
  • Caterpillar Inc. (USA) — SD/TD/PT (has the former lines of RAYGO, BROS and Bitelli
  • Coates (Australia) — TD (disbanded)
  • CMI-Terex (USA) — 3P (has the former lines of REX and Benford)
  • Davelco (Australia) — TD (disbanded)
  • Dynapac (Sweden) — SD/TD/PT/3P (now part of Atlas Copco)
  • Galion
  • Hamm AG (Germany) — SD/TD/PT/3P (now part of the Wirtgen group)
  • Huber — Company
  • HYPAC (USA) — part of Bomag USA
  • Hyster (USA) — SD/TD/PT (part of HYPAC and Bomag USA)
  • Ingersoll Rand (USA) — SD/TD/PT (now owned by VOLVO)
  • Ingram Compaction
  • Kamani Engineering Corporation (India) (now part of the RPG Group)  — tractor-mounted  — production ended c. 1970-1980
  • Kemna, Breslau
  • KMEC
  • Lebrero (Spain) — SD/TD/PT
  • LeeBoy (USA) — SD
  • LiuGong
  • Magistral-S (Russia)
  • Marshall (England) — TD
  • Mikasa
  • Moore Malcolm Road Rollers (Australia) — PT (now disbanded)
  • Multiquip/Rammax
  • Mustang (England)
  • Pacific Road Roller (Australia) — SD/PT (disbanded)
  • Pannel Plant (Australia) — SD/TD (purchased by Bomag)
  • Raygo (USA) — SD/TD/PT (purchased by Caterpillar)
  • Rex (USA) — SD/TD/3P (purchaced by CMI and then Terex)
  • Sakai Heavy Industries, Ltd. (Japan) — SD/TD/PT/3P
  • Sany (China) — SD/TD/PT
  • Sicom (Italy) — SD/TD
  • Simesa (Italy) — SD
  • Sinoway Industrial (Shanghai) Co.,Ltd
  • [World Equipment](China) — SD/TD/PT
  • STA / Stavostroj (Czech Republic) — SD/TD/PT (now owned by Ammann; many companies use the STA PT roller design)
  • STAMPEDE (South Africa)
  • Stone Equipment (USA) — SD
  • Strothert & Pitt (England) — TD
  • SuperPac (Canada) — SD (was Champion Superpac)
  • Tampo (USA) — SD/TD
  • VIPAC (South-Africa) - Manufactured by HA Plant Maintenance (High Quality Pedestrian Rollers)-TD
  • Vibromax (Germany) — SD/TD/PT (purchased by JCB, now branded JCB)
  • Volvo CE (Sweden) — SD/TD/PT (purchased Ingersoll Rand, now branded Volvo)
  • Wacker Neuson
  • Wallis & Stevens (England) — 3P
  • Waterous Engine Co.
  • NTC STAVEBNI TECHNIKA (Czech Republic) — manufacturer of walk-behind and light tandem rollers


  • SD = Single drum
  • TD = Tandem drum
  • PT = Pneumatic tyre — Rubber tyre or multi-tyre are also common
  • 3P = 3-point rollers — These are very similar to the old steam roller design

Road rollers in popular culture

In fiction: As a character

Roley is one of the main vehicle characters in the children's books and television series, Bob the Builder. He is a green roller with a cab, enclosed power unit and no chimney, and so is obviously diesel-powered. Nevertheless, his official title is Roley the Steamroller. This is an example of the persistence of "steam roller" to describe a large modern road roller in layman's English.

In motion pictures: As a weapon

Filmmakers seem to like the finality of a roller of some kind flattening a human. In most cases, however, the roller is not actually steam-powered, even though it is usually referred to as such. In all of the following examples, the rollers cited are diesel-powered.

In software

In the Japanese manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the villain Dio Brando attempts to finish off his rival Jotaro by dropping a road roller (sometimes translated as "steam roller") on him from midair.

The Vocaloid2 singing synthesizer characters Kagamine Rin/Len are associated with a yellow road roller in fandom.

See also

External links

  • Road Roller Association — UK-based society dedicated to the preservation of steam and motor rollers, and ancillary road-making equipment.
  • Road Roller Manufacturers & Suppliers
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