Better Mechanics for Manholes

The right products make setting and maintaining manholes at grade a simple task.

Better Mechanics for Manholes

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American Highway Products is a family business that was born by chance in a Cleveland traffic jam.

Raymond Fier, P.E., started AHP in 1978. His sons Eric and Scott were the company’s first employees at ages 16 and 14. The brothers worked outside the company after college, but came back and took over the company in 1995 ushering in a new era of growth working with utilities across the U.S. and Canada. Today, the company makes a host of products that make manhole, catch basin and valve box rehabilitation and maintenance easier and more efficient.

Municipal Sewer & Water recently spoke with Scott Fier and General Manager Jason Downing about the company’s past, present and future.

MSW: Tell us a little about the history of American Highway Products and how it got started.

Fier: My father, Raymond Fier, started AHP in 1978. He was a graduate of Case Western Reserve with a degree in mechanical engineering. In the early ‘70s he started his own engineering consulting company and designed only new machinery — machines that did not exist at that time. He was considered a mechanical genius. He enjoyed the challenge of designing original machines, and designed many new mechanical products that were patented by his customers. Some of the projects he worked on included NASA’s crawler and satellites, truck suspensions, automatic welding machines, railroad maintenance machines and things for many other industries.

This changed in 1977. He was stuck in traffic in Cleveland, Ohio, on the way to a meeting. He witnessed a man installing a four-segmented cast iron manhole riser. He watched the man struggling to expand the bolts, going around to each bolt, turning, then on to the next bolt until he dropped his wrench into the sewer. He thought, “There must be a better mechanical way of doing that.” Raymond went to work at age 48 designing and creating four patented products for American Highway Products over the next few years. He designed the machines to make the product as well. Our ring-rolling machine can roll a ¾-inch-thick bar extremely accurately in 45 to 70 seconds, depending on bar size. It’s the key machine in making our product precise.

In 2016, I designed a fixture to make 1.5 million different sizes of manhole risers, made two of the fixtures and then added robotic welding to both. It is the first time Lincoln Electric ever used two lasers and touch sense on one fixture to weld 1.5 million different sizes, so they did a case study on it.

MSW: Why are manholes such a universally important topic for municipal utilities?

Fier: A manhole allows the maintenance crew to access the utility. It is the only way to quickly access the utility and diagnose a problem. They must be kept to grade on road maintenance projects and always accessible by maintenance crews.

Downing: The topic of manholes reaches a wide range of utility service providers and municipal departments throughout the country. The majority of underground utilities — sewer, water, electric, stormwater, phone, etc. — have manholes. They’re important to all those different providers to gain access for inspections, maintenance and upgrades.

MSW: What’s the most common problem you see your municipal customers facing?

Fier: Finding a manhole riser that fits their casting, does not rattle loose in traffic, receiving it quickly, and finding the correct riser height for the job.

Downing: It is critical to our infrastructure that access to manholes is convenient. Manholes come in a variety of styles and sizes, which can be problematic when bringing them up to grade during asphalt resurfacing projects. Finding a company that can manufacture exactly what’s needed for quick and reliable adjustment to the new grade is a common problem. Our customers need to get a reliable product fast.

MSW: Tell me about the Pivoted Turnbuckle Riser and how it was developed.

Fier: Our patented, pivoted-at-both-ends Expandable Manhole Riser mechanically expands and contracts without creating a built-in moment in the linkage causing it to bend or break when expanded or contracted. 

Downing: The Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser was developed and patented by Raymond Fier, P.E. It wasn’t just the pivoted turnbuckle design that took the product to the top; the engineering and design of the manufacturing machinery used to get the final product also contributed to the success.

MSW: What does the full suite of AHP products provide for municipal utilities?

Fier: Our main product is our Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser used to raise the lid to a new grade when repaving the streets. We also manufacture a compression Valve Box Riser used in small, round utilities such as water or gas valves in the street. Another riser we offer is for catch basin/inlet storm grates. We also offer inclined risers for manholes and catch basins/inlet risers. We offer a rubber adjusting ring (Flex-O-Ring) used for new construction or rehab of manholes.

For mill & fill projects we offer rubber ramps to protect motorists from the utility’s exposed edges after the street is milled. It eliminates having to ramp each utility with cold patch and then having to remove it before paving. Our Manhole Safety Ramp is used for the manholes and our Safety Ramp is used for the transverse milled edge at the beginning and the end of the milled road, steel plates or bridge deck.

We also offer the EZ-Lift tool for removing concealed pick-hole lids, the ID Locator for finding paved-over utilities and our Sewer Lid Seal Kit to stop rattling lids and seal out I&I.

MSW: How has your product line evolved to better meet the needs of customers with aging infrastructure and limited budgets?

Fier: Our riser lowers the cost, project time and liability of bringing utilities up to a new grade. First, the average cost of digging up a frame, resetting it and backfilling with cement or asphalt is $500 to $1,000 per adjustment. A typical Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser cost is around $120. Second, our risers are installed in front of the paving operation, eliminating closing off the road to adjust utilities. That saves a large amount of time compared to a manual adjustment of manhole casting. It also eliminates liability of preforming the manual adjustment around active lanes.

Downing: We manufacture risers in a way that you could consider job-shop manufacturing. What that means is there is no standard size we make — we work off the dimensions provided by our customers to make exactly what they need. This helps those customers using older castings get the size riser they need to adjust them rather than buying a new frame and lid or manually adjusting 

the structure.

MSW: Is your product line aimed more at infrastructure rehabilitation or new construction?

Fier: Our manhole riser, catch basin/inlet risers, valve box risers, safety ramps and manhole safety ramps are used on infrastructure rehabilitation. Our rubber adjusting ring is used on new construction.

MSW: What differentiates you from the competition?

Fier: Our Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser is the most efficient, powerful, expandable riser available. Our service is five business days to manufacture. We manufacture over 1.5 million different manhole riser sizes and our riser heights start at ¾-inch and go up in ¼-inch increments. We also offer Inclined Manhole Risers and Catch Basin Risers that allow you to change the angle of the manhole lid or storm grate to match the new crown of the road.

Downing: American Highway Products caters to projects that involve utility structures that need adjustment to grade, whereas our competitors offer many different products for applications other than utility adjustments. This is why we are able to provide a product to meet their specific manhole requirements with faster turnaround times than our competitors.

MSW: Do you sell direct to contractors and utilities or go through distributors?

Fier: American Highway Products covers 30 states directly. In the other 20 states we have 14 factory representatives. All of Canada is 

covered by factory representatives.

Downing: With so many different styles and designs it is not always possible to have a stocking distributor. We prefer to have factory representatives that have direct contact and experience with our target audience.

MSW: What’s coming up for AHP in 2021 and what can customers expect out of you in the future?

Fier: Product reliability and service is what we are known for. That will never change.

Downing: We continually upgrade equipment and do extensive training throughout the winter months. This helps us every year to be prepared to provide top-notch service for all our customers.

MSW: What else would you like people to know about American Highway Products?

Fier: We are an easy company to do business with. Over half our customers have been using our product for 15 to 40 years. That shows great commitment from our customers for our products and services.

Downing: We want to make all customers feel confident we will be there for them when they need us. We accommodate rush orders every day and strive for only excellent reviews. We understand that situations come up that require our product fast and our goal is to keep our customers’ paving operations moving, not being at a standstill because they need risers. 


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