Before breaking ground on a new project, it’s important to know what buried utilities are hiding underground. Services such as One-Call are a great starting point at identifying a utility’s location, but they are not foolproof. Vacuum excavators, on the other hand, can be essential to your fleet, helping to expose utilities so you don’t cause serious and costly damage.
Vacuum excavation technology has been around in some shape or form since the 1950s. Vacuum hoses are often seen around work areas suctioning the earth to expose a utility in a quick and safe manner. Operators can safely identify and positively locate a utility — avoiding the potential of damaging it during a dig.
Vacuum excavator manufacturers provide their histories, summaries and specs for their product lines over the next several pages. Take a look at these machines and consider the benefits they offer when keeping crews safe on the job and utilities in working order.
The FXT Series Features Fully-Enclosed, Lockable Vac Ex Trucks
The Ditch Witch vacuum excavation product line is designed for an extensive range of cleanup and soft excavation tasks, while minimizing damage to utilities. Designed to take care of non-hazardous, non-flammable spills and unwanted fluids, Ditch Witch vacuum excavation systems are available in a variety of sizes and configurations. They offer exceptional suction power and water pressure to help customers tackle virtually every possible cleanup or soft excavation task. From valve box cleanup, commercial and residential landscaping and posthole digging, to a wide range of projects for road crews, rental yards, homeowners and golf course superintendents, the FX20, FX25, FX30, FX50 and FX60 take care of the job.
Just recently, Ditch Witch expanded its line of quiet and productive vacuum excavators to include truck vacuum excavators — giving greater mobility and maneuverability on the jobsite and outstanding performance in a compact package. The truck vacs can be mounted to the single-axle truck of your choice within specifications, new or used, and can be customized with toolboxes and other support equipment. The Ditch Witch truck vacuum product line includes the FXT30, FXT50 and FXT60.
Product Spotlight: FXT50 Vacuum Excavation System
The Ditch Witch FXT50 truck vacuum excavator has the power and functionality to do it all — everything from potholing to cleanup of non-hazardous, non-flammable spills, HDD fluids and jobsite debris. Equipped with a 49-hp Deutz diesel engine, the FXT50 has an extremely efficient 1,020-cfm blower and a powerful water system with a water pressure capacity of 3,000 psi and 5-gpm flow. The FXT50 has easy accessible controls and service points; and curbside controls that can be configured for left- or right-hand traffic, for greater safety and convenience. There is a choice of 500-gal spoils tank with 200-gal water tank or 800-gal spoils tank with 400-gal water tank to meet the requirements of virtually any size cleanup job. At 82 dBA, the FXT50 is the quietest in its horsepower class, says the company. A fully-enclosed, insulated and lockable power pack protects major components from weather and vandalism, while leading the industry in noise reduction.
“Versatility is a vacuum system’s main attraction, but there are numerous other benefits,” says Jason Proctor, Ditch Witch Vacuum Excavation Systems Product Manager. “For one, vacuums are much easier on the environment, particularly around utility construction sites, where damage prevention is of critical importance. A vacuum system, properly used, is one of the easiest and most effective ways to locate utilities through a technique referred to as potholing or daylighting. This practice involves physically uncovering the buried utility to determine its exact location. This is faster, less labor-intensive and results in a small hole that is less expensive to refill and/or patch.”
Stay On the Job Longer with Vermeer by McLaughlin MEGA Vacs
For underground drilling contractors, what matters most is getting product into the ground safely and efficiently, yet quickly. The sooner a project is finished, the sooner the next one can begin, and the next, which is the name of the game. So it goes without saying that the more time a contractor spends actually drilling, the sooner he will finish. When it comes to drill rigs, bigger isn’t necessarily better; however, with vacuum excavators on the jobsite, bigger can be better — and faster.
Product Spotlight: MEGA Vacs
McLaughlin’s MEGA VAC line of vacuum excavators features truck-mounted units having the ability to arrive on a jobsite, pothole for existing utilities and then remove drilling fluids from larger and longer bore projects. The MEGA 2000 skid-mounted vacuum excavator has a 99-hp Kubota diesel engine with a 1,200-cfm blower and features a 2,000-gal spoil tank and 925 gallons of fresh water to ensure you have the power and capacity required.
The MEGA 2600 skid-mounted vacuum excavator is designed for fluid management and HDD support for up to D100x120 class rigs and maxi-rig jobs. The Mega 2600 is typically paired with PP100XT DEEP power pack providing additional suction power with the 23 in. of mercury DEEP blower for increased fluid management capabilities. The MEGA 2600 also features 300 gallons of fresh water, making it a versatile potholing unit when needed.
“Vacuum excavators come in all sizes and options, so it’s important to select a unit that will best fit your intended use,” says Jeff Wage, Vice President of McLaughlin Group. “Water-based units typically dig faster than air-based units and are effective in a wide variety of soil types. However, with hydro excavation the displaced spoil cannot be returned to the site immediately without drying, as it will not meet compaction specifications. On the other hand, spoil from air systems can often be directly returned to the site, but typically air excavation systems are not as productive in hard ground conditions, such as clay. Also pay special attention to the filtration system and select a system that will filter the spoil multiple times before the vacuum blower and the proper hose size and vacuum system avoid clogging based on soil conditions.”
Vactor HXX HydroExcavator Provides Safe, Smart and Reliable Vacuum Excavation
For more than 100 years, Vactor Mfg. has provided customers around the world with a wide range of material handling equipment. Today, Vactor Mfg. is a leading provider of vacuum excavation equipment used by contractors and municipalities across the country for non-destructive digging in a wide range of applications, and an industry leader in sewer and catch basin cleaners and industrial vacuum loaders featuring innovative technology and custom configurable designs. With one of the largest and most developed distributor networks in the industry, Vactor Mfg. has more than 50 North American distributors in more than 100 locations to serve the municipal market, as well as six factory direct locations through FS Solutions for industrial customers. Vactor’s 240,000-sq ft facility in Streator, Ill., is staffed by more than 500 employees. The ISO 14001:2004-certified facility is recognized for achieving continual improvement of its environmental performance.
Product Spotlight: Vactor HXX HydroExcavator
Ideal for drilling mud reclamation, safely exposing and identifying underground utilities, slot trenching, drilling rig cleaning, frac tank and general tank cleaning and large-volume excavation projects, the Vactor HXX HydroExcavator provides up to seven hours of continuous operation with the on-board water. The standard variable flow water systems allow lower water flow, resulting in less operator fatigue and a cleaner, more precise digging process. The systems also allow for up to 25 gpm for those projects requiring higher water flow capabilities. Features include a 12-cu yd debris body fabricated from corrosion- and abrasion-resistant steel; a 1,200-gal high-density polyethylene (HDPE) water tank that retains heated water temperature longer than steel; and a top-mounted, 7-ft hydraulic extendable boom that provides 320-degree rotation for optimal boom coverage. Heated pump cabinets and a built-in boiler allow the HXX to work on frozen ground in sub-zero temperatures.
The HXX features multiple vacuum source configurations including, a chassis-powered positive displacement blower for a simple, single engine vacuum source; a Hibon 8702 Tri-Lobe Blower (28-in. Hg) 5,250 cfm at maximum speed 2,000 rpm; and a positive displacement (PD) vacuum system with Roots 824 rotary lobe blower, 3,500 cfm at maximum speed 2,250 rpm. For added protection, three vacuum reliefs are incorporated and set at 18-in. Hg. This option includes a micron final filter screen and housing, located prior to the inlet. This lighter weight system enhances fuel economy and payload.
“The search for a vacuum excavator begins the same as any piece of equipment: Know the job you’re planning to complete,” says Ben Schmitt, Product Manager at Vactor Mfg. “By identifying the type of work your crew will perform, the equipment decision process will run a lot more smoothly. It’s also helpful to know the size of a typical application so that the correct size debris body is selected to complete the work as efficiently as possible.”
Two Hydro-Excavation Units Designed to Expose Utilities Efficiently
For more than 10 years, Hi-Vac Corp. has been manufacturing hydro-excavation equipment for use by contractors and municipalities. As the use of this equipment has grown, it has become a more important part of the Hi-Vac offering. It is no surprise that utility companies have embraced this technology as it has been proven safer than digging and does not require backhoes or other mechanical equipment that can damage underground utilities, piping systems and other critical infrastructure. Hi-Vac Corp.’s X-Vac line of hydro-excavation equipment is specifically designed to perform this function safely, effectively and efficiently.
Product Spotlight: X-10 Hydro Excavator
The X-10 Hydro Excavator uses a state-of-the-art water pump and vacuum technology to safely locate and expose any type or size of underground utilities. Soil, sand and rock are quickly and safely excavated. The risk of underground utility strikes is virtually eliminated. Precision engineering assures that air and water volumes can be independently controlled to provide the ideal mix for any application. The unit includes four 250-gal water tanks (1,000 total) with a 12-cu yd debris tank and a 5,250-cfm, 27-in. Hibon vacuum. The X-10 also includes a cyclone separator with enlarged collection chamber.
“Anyone involved in or serving the utility industry is keenly aware of the cost involved with damaging natural gas pipelines, telecommunication lines and other buried utilities from mechanical excavating,” says Jim Carnathan, Manager of Ultra Vac & X-Vac Products. “That is why more and more contractors, municipalities and utility companies are purchasing hydro excavators. Quality of construction is key as choosing the right equipment will lead to fewer breakdowns of the equipment and less downtime on the project.”
AllExcavate Series Now Has High Dump Option
Since their acquisition in 2006, Vacall machines have been designed, manufactured, sold and supported by Gradall Industries Inc., which has earned a worldwide reputation for strength, versatility and quality. The Gradall influence served to further strengthen the Vacall product group, first introduced in 1951 as a high performance solution to clear and maintain sewer lines and perform many other vacuum and jetting tasks that routinely challenge governments and contractors.
Today’s AllExcavate hydro excavators, as well as Vacall’s AllJetVac combination jetting/vacuum sewer cleaners and other models, are designed with extra durability, efficient energy consumption, reduced emissions, precise operator control and industry-leading vacuum and jetting power.
Product Spotlight: AllExcavate Hydro Excavators
Vacall AllExcavate hydro excavators now feature a new step-in compartment to provide operators with warmth and protection from inclement weather — an especially welcome advantage on winter-weather digging sites or oil and gas exploration locations. The standard heated compartment is roomy, with enough space for an operator to change out of wet and muddy boots and clothing. The compartment also has floor drainage, racks to hang dry clothing and another rack to store the high-pressure hand gun and extensions. Even larger compartments with extra room are among the AllExcavate options.
Vacall offers three boom and intake tube or hose design options on the AllExcavate. The first is a heavy-duty full-length rubber hose, which is durable yet flexible and runs from the turret mounted on the debris tank to the pick-up point. A steel tube-in-tube boom and intake that connects to an identical rubber hose elbow, leading to the pick-up point, and the original steel tube-in-tube with steel elbow are also available.
Standard and optional debris bodies and water tanks are available with lifetime warranties, maximizing the machine’s working life. The highly efficient AllExcavate models generate high-pressure water flow and vacuum forces to remove dirt from around water, sewer, gas and other utility lines, as well as around foundations where mass excavation is not possible or practical. Available water pumps work at 10 and 25 gpm with 3,000 psi.
Another popular option on AllExcavate models is a high dump option. This feature allows the debris tank to be dumped as much as 76 in. above ground level — a popular option when there is a need to dump material into roll-off or other containers.
Vacall consulted with Kelly Clark, Chief Operating Officer of HZX Hydro Excavation, with seven locations throughout the United States and thorough knowledge of all hydro excavation brands. He suggested that buyers ask various manufacturers for references — the names of existing machine owners who can provide first-hand knowledge about these points:
- Strength and reliability of unit under heavy use
- Vacuum and jetting forces
- Product support, including parts and service experiences
- Simplicity of operation, requiring minimal training
- Precise performance capabilities to control and monitor water usage and power
- Typical operating costs including fuel consumption and routine service
- Warranty coverage
SYSTEM 5000’s Small Footprint Offers Added Vacuum Speed
Vacmasters has been a family-owned and operated engineering and manufacturing company for almost 60 years. With vacuum excavation systems as its primary business, the company’s dedication to excellence over the years has made it a leader in air-vacuum excavation systems for underground utility locating.
Vacmasters has designed and developed high-velocity proprietary nozzles for its systems, and all engineering and fabrication stays in house for quality control. The five air-vacuum excavation systems that the company designs, develops and manufactures — the SYSTEM 1000, SYSTEM 3000, SYSTEM 4000, SYSTEM 5000 and SYSTEM 6000 — dig potholes and perform trenching jobs in a matter of minutes using high-pressure air. Potholes are used for exposing underground utilities, environmental soil sampling and pipeline maintenance. Vacmasters also manufactures and sells factory-direct the SpoilVac hydro-vac system used in directional boring.
Product Spotlight: SYSTEM 5000
The SYSTEM 5000 is the newest addition to the Vacmasters air-vacuum excavation family. With 50 percent more vacuum power than the SYSTEM 4000 while offering the conveniences of a hydraulically powered full-opening rear door, the SYSTEM 5000 makes utility jobs extremely fast while offering the same safety benefits of Vacmasters’ entire line of products. While maintaining a smaller footprint than larger vacuum excavation equipment, the SYSTEM 5000’s added vacuum speed will allow you to complete more billable work in a day’s time.
“It is important to understand that it takes more horsepower to dig a hole with air than it does with water,” says Trevor Connolly, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Vacmasters. “This is because air is a ‘soft,’ compressible gas and water is a ‘hard,’ non-compressible fluid. Air systems work by delivering supersonic air from the air lance while still in a compressed state. The compressed air then travels into all the porous spaces in the soil and begins to expand and break apart the soil while the operator is simultaneously vacuuming up the spoils. Conversely, water works by cutting the soil and turning it into mud. One of the major problems with water is that it is very indiscriminate in what it cuts: water can cut through either the soil or a buried utility.
“In addition, preventative maintenance on your new equipment ensures peak performance from your vacuum excavation system,” Connolly continues. “Daily maintenance for these systems usually consists mainly of fluid level checks and changes. In the early days of vacuum excavation, cleaning of the vacuum filters was labor intensive. It is always important to remember that if you manually clean the filters with water, the filters must be thoroughly dry before operating the system.”
Wisconsin Manufacturer Home to Original Supersucker Vac
Since 1972, Wisconsin-based Super Products LLC has been a leading manufacturer of truck-mounted vacuum equipment. Early on in its existence, the company’s product line included industry’s original Supersucker industrial vacuum loader and its Camel combination sewer and catch basin cleaners. Super Products quickly earned a solid reputation for developing innovative, cost-effective and time-saving equipment and its products became quite popular throughout industrial, municipal and contractor markets.
Looking to further expand its equipment line and taking notice of the emerging need for a less invasive, safer alternative to traditional digging methods, Super Products introduced its first hydro excavator — the Mud Dog — in 2001. While the original Mud Dog 1000 featured a 10-yd debris tank capacity, the company has continued to expand its product line during the last decade. It now offers several size models from the Mud Dog 650 with 6.5-yd debris capacity to the 16-yd capacity hydro vac, the Mud Dog 1600.
Product Spotlight: Mud Dog 1200
The newest addition to Super Products’ line of hydro excavators is the Mud Dog 1200, which debuted last fall. Ideal for operating in oil fields as well as a variety of applications such as potholing, daylighting, slot trenching, debris removal and exposing utilities, this 12-yd hydro excavator offers superior boom function, a “tilt-ejection” unloading system and other unique capabilities that increase operator convenience, jobsite efficiency and bottom-line profitability.
One of the more impressive features found on the 1200 is its rear-mounted telescoping boom. In addition to 335-degree rotation and 27-ft reach, this articulating boom is capable of upward and downward pivot action. While the 45-degree upward pivot results in 16 ft of vertical lift above horizon, the boom’s ability to pivot downward 25 degrees enables digging as deep as 14 ft below grade with just a single 7-ft dig tube. To unload its debris collector body, the 1200 utilizes Super Products’ industry unique ejector technology, which boasts an ejector plate to smoothly push the load out of its collector body and into the disposal site.
According to Super Products’ Product Manager Dan Koziczkowski, having a clear understanding of their needs prior to beginning the decision-making process will be extremely valuable for customers in the market for a hydro excavator. “By identifying the most common, and most challenging, hydro excavation demands their crews may face, customers can ensure they purchase equipment that is best suited for their business and the services they offer,” he said.