Hydroexcavation in a Small Package

Nimble and versatile trailer-mounted SpoilVac hydroexcavating units work where bigger trucks dare not tread.
Hydroexcavation in a Small Package
Joshua Allen of Denver-based Diversified Underground uses one of the company’s five SpoilVac hydroexcavators from VACMASTERS to locate a utility line.

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Contractors that provide multiple services benefit greatly from equipment that can also multitask. A good case in point is Diversified Underground, which relies on five SpoilVac hydroexcavators from VACMASTERS to do everything from caisson excavations and slot trenching to culvert and catch basin cleaning, utility line locating and sludge removal.

In addition, the more maneuverable trailer-mounted SpoilVacs enable the Denver-based company to compete in a niche market: providing excavation and vacuum services in difficult-to-access locations where larger hydroexcavating vacuum trucks can’t work, says Mark Allen, the company’s general manager.

“The medium size of these units allow us to offer customers a good, competitive price and grab a piece of the market that bigger trucks can’t enter,” Allen says. “A lot of our competitors run big vacuum trucks and charge a lot more to be on a job site … but we can outbid those bigger trucks. So in many cases, we can locate utilities faster and more economically with the SpoilVacs.”

Each unit measures roughly 19 feet long, 8 feet high and features an 800-gallon, carbon-steel debris tank that tilts up to 45 degrees for gravity-based rear drainage; a powerful positive displacement blower (780 cfm); a 36 hp Kubota diesel engine; a high-pressure waterjetting system (2,250 psi at 3 gpm); an 800-gallon water tank; 50 feet of 1/2-inch-diameter jetting hose; a cyclonic filtration system; and 20 feet of 4-inch-diameter vacuum hose.

The diesel engine is enclosed for quieter operation, which allows crews to work at night in residential neighborhoods. The company — which also does pipeline inspections and directional drilling — spec’d a larger water tank than the standard 200-gallon unit in order to improve productivity. “When we’re cleaning vertical inlets (catch basins) we need more water, and  the same is true for a lot of the soil around here, which is usually hard clay or pretty rocky,” Allen explains. “We also spec’d 4-inch vacuum hose because it doesn’t clog as much as 3-inch hose.”

Reliability and service also rank high on the list of reasons why Diversified Underground — which has been providing hydroexcavating services in the Denver area for 16 years, says principal owner Richard Chuapoco — now owns five SpoilVacs. One of the units is more than 10 years old, but “still runs like a champ,” Allen says.

On-the-job breakdowns are a profit killer, he says, noting that when machines go down, the company loses time while paying employees’ wages even though they’re not able to work. In addition, Diversified Underground is usually the second contractor on a job site after pipeline locators. Tasked with finding the depth at which pipelines are located, the company must finish its work before the next contractor — usually excavation firms — can get it in.

As such, no one wants to be the contractor that has to stop working, creating a negative domino effect that puts projects behind schedule. “Getting in and out quickly is important,” Allen says. “We always seem to be under the gun.”

But when breakdowns do occur, Allen says the service crew at Barone Inc., the parent company of VACMASTERS, gets the SpoilVacs up and rolling in short order.

Another benefit: The SpoilVacs are easy to use and maintain. Key components are readily accessible and controls are user-friendly; Allen says a newbie can be trained to run the units in one day. “They’re very well-engineered machines, designed with a minimum amount of electronics, so there are fewer things that can go wrong,” he explains.

The SpoilVacs — which weigh about 6,000 pounds — are towed by four-wheel-drive Ford F-450s or International 5500s. That allows Underground Diversified to also carry “squeegee” (gravel backfill material) to job sites, which provides another cost advantage because competitors with large vacuum trucks would have to bring a second truck on site to accomplish the same task, Allen says.

Depending on soil conditions and the accuracy of the utility line locations, the SpoilVacs might be able to pothole about 35 locations in a good day. But if the work sites consist of rockier ground, productivity might dip to three a day. But either way, Allen says the 800-gallon debris tank is adequate for most jobs and a good compromise cost-wise, as opposed to buying larger vac trucks.

Because the SpoilVacs usually can be backed right up to potholing sites, the 20-foot-long vacuum hose is typically long enough. In the rare instances where it’s not, the unit carries an extra 100 feet of hose for longer-range applications, Allen says.

That’s not to say that Diversified Underground doesn’t ever think about investing in a larger hydroexcavating machine. “But every time we look at the price tag of a big truck, we say, ‘No, let’s just get another SpoilVac,’” Allen says. “They’re very reliable workhorses. We know we can take them to a job site and get work done in a timely manner with minimal breakdowns. You just can’t ask for much more than that.”


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