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Mix Design Fundamentals

HMA consists of two basic ingredients: aggregate and asphalt binder. HMA mix design is the process of determining what aggregate to use, what asphalt binder to use and what the optimum combination of these two ingredients ought to be. There are several different methods used to go about this process, of which the Hveem, Marshall and Superpave methods are the most common. The mix design fundamentals discussed here are applicable to all mix design methods.

A sieve analysis for aggregate gradation Operating the Marshall hammer Mixing aggregate and asphalt binder
Figure 1: Aggregate Gradation for Mix Design
Figure 2: Operating the Marshall Hammer
Figure 3: Mixing Aggregate and Asphalt Binder



HMA is a complex material upon which many different, and sometimes conflicting, performance demands are placed. It must resist deformation and cracking, be durable over time, resist water damage, provide a good tractive surface, and yet be inexpensive, readily made and easily placed. In order to meet these demands, the mix designer can manipulate all of three variables:


By manipulating the variables of aggregate, asphalt binder and the ratio between the two, mix design seeks to achieve the following qualities in the final HMA product (Roberts et al., 1996):

Basic Procedure

No matter what specific method is used, the basic mix design procedure remains the same. All mix design processes involve three basic steps:

  1. Aggregate selection. Different agencies/owners specify different methods of aggregate acceptance. Typically, a battery of aggregate physical tests is run periodically on each particular aggregate source. Then, for each mix design, gradation and size requirements are specified. Normally, aggregate from more than one quarry stockpile is required to meet gradation specifications.
  2. Asphalt binder selection. Different authorities can and do specify different methods of asphalt binder evaluation. In Hawai'i, most agencies/owners use the Superpave PG system. Formerly, the aged residue (AR) viscosity grading system (a type of viscosity grading system) was used.
  3. Optimum asphalt binder content determination. Mix design methods are generally distinguished by the way in which they determine the optimum asphalt binder content. This process can be subdivided into:
    • Make several trial mixes with different asphalt binder contents.
    • Compact these trial mixes in the laboratory. This compaction is meant to be a rough simulation of actual field conditions.
    • Run laboratory tests to determine key sample characteristics.
    • Pick the asphalt binder content that best satisfies the mix design objectives.

Result: The Job Mix Formula (JMF)

The end result of a successful mix design is a recommended mixture of aggregate and asphalt binder. This recommended mixture, which includes aggregate gradation and asphalt binder type is often referred to as the job mix formula (JMF). The JMF may subsequently be altered based on field performance, however at a minimum the mix design provides the initial JMF. For HMA manufacturing, target values of gradation and asphalt binder content are specified based on the JMF along with allowable tolerance limits to allow for inherent material and production variability (see Table 1 and Figure 4). These target values and tolerance bands are based on the JMF and are much tighter than general HMA gradation requirements. Thus, the mix designer is allowed substantial freedom in choosing a particular gradation for the JMF and then the manufacturer is expected to adhere quite closely to this JMF gradation during production.

Table 1: An Example Job Mix Formula (JMF) with Tolerance Limits for a State Mix IV

Sieve Size
3/4 inch
1/2 inch
3/8 inch
No. 4
No. 8
No. 16
No. 30
No. 50
No. 100
No. 200
Specification Band
85 - 100
72 - 88
48 - 66
30 - 47
21 - 37
15 - 27
9 - 21
6 - 16
4 - 10
Tolerance Limits
+/- 7%
+/- 7%
+/- 7%
+/- 7%
+/- 4%
+/- 4%
+/- 4%
+/- 4%
+/- 4%
+/- 2%


Figure 4: Example Job Mix Formula (JMF) with Specification and Tolerance Bands

Any particular mix design is specific to the material with which it was designed. In other words, a mix design is unique to its asphalt binder grade and aggregate source. Therefore a mix design produced from a quarry on the Big Island may not be appropriate for HMA produced using aggregate from a quarry on Kaua'i. This does not, however, imply that either aggregate source is better; they are just different.

Depending upon the specifying agency/owner, mix design requirements can vary. The typical specifications and procedures are listed below by agency/owner:

  • HDOT. HDOT requires the pavement contractor to develop a mix design.  Contractors typically use the Marshall Method because of its simplicity and reliable results.  Once the mix design is submitted to HDOT, they verify it using Hveem equipment at their laboratory.  For Superpave mixes, contractors must use the Superpave mix design method and HDOT's verification also uses the Superpave mix design method. Mix designs are almost always intended to produce one of the standard State mixes.
  • Counties. Counties require the pavement contractor to develop a mix design.  Contractors typically use the Marshall Method because of its simplicity and reliable results unless a Superpave mix is specified in which case the Superpave mix design method would be used.  Often times, a pre-existing HDOT-approved mix design can be used or one the contractor knows will work well for the given material and application.  In general, it costs between $2,500 and $3,000 to develop a new mix design.
  • Private owners. Requirements vary. Generally, contractors are allowed more freedom to select their own mix design, however it generally comes from an existing HDOT or County mix design or one that they know works well for the given material and application.
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