Power Surge

Versatile Schwalm USA robotic cutter brings power and productivity to Iowa contractor’s job sites

Power Surge

Cutter operator Lorenzo Tapia (left) and camera operator Pedro Funes get set up to clear out a line with the Schwalm Talpa FSR 2060 robotic cutter system. 

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Cleaning sewer lines to prep them for pipe lining can be risky business, if for no other reason than the lines aren’t usually in great condition to begin with. That makes them vulnerable to further damage that could require an expensive solution: open-trench replacement of the pipe — the very thing lining technology was designed to avoid.

Contractor Kyle Baxter doesn’t worry much about that scenario, thanks to the Schwalm USA Talpa FSR 2060 robotic system that his company, AccuJet Sewer and Drain Cleaning, purchased in early 2018. In fact, the Schwalm technology is the primary reason he expects to more than double the company’s gross revenue for sewer line prep work to more than $800,000 this year compared to about $300,000 last year. The company will probably prep about 125,000 feet of sewer lines this year for lining, he says.

The Schwalm unit helped drive that revenue jump with its power and reliability, which give Baxter the confidence to tackle jobs with pipes that are in less-than-perfect condition.

“We probably wouldn’t have gone after some of those jobs as hard as we did because of the risk factors,” says Baxter, 34, who established his company in 2006 in Perry, Iowa, a small town located about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines. “Plus, we get pipes a lot cleaner with less liability, as far as the pipes breaking apart.”

Unlike some other cutters, the unit is very effective at scouring newly installed sewer pipe during required post-installation cleaning and inspections. “We used to use a drum-type cutter and it left about half of the taps protruding,” Baxter says. “On the other hand, the Schwalm will take it all the way — make it flush with the pipe.”

Moreover, Baxter says they can do a greater variety of jobs with the Schwalm and do them faster, too, which increases the company’s productivity and profitability. The secret is the unit’s powerful and efficient air-powered motor. “You don’t get a lot of power loss when you’re grinding something,” he says. “When you hit something, it takes a lot to stop that motor.

“We just did a job in Illinois   where we had to cut out 56 taps in a sewer line. With a conventional tool, that might’ve taken a week. But we started on a Monday and finished on Wednesday. So we cut the job time almost in half. And we can charge more, too, because people are willing to pay more for a company that does a better job.”

Baxter also praises the unit’s hydraulic lift mechanism, which lifts, lowers, rotates, and swivels attachments. “Before we were burning out a lot of electric motors. But the Schwalm is a lot more rugged.”

Baxter and his wife, Mindy, own the company, which employs 18 people and works in Iowa, as well as parts of Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska. It owns three Vacall AllJetVac AJ1215 combination sewer trucks on 2015 Freightliner MD 108 chassis with 12-cubic-yard debris tanks, 1,500-gallon water tanks, and water pumps made by General Pump and Myers.

In addition, the company has invested in three inspection trucks outfitted by Envirosight, and a Chevrolet cube van dedicated to the Schwalm robotic system.

About 30 percent of the company’s business comes from cleaning and inspecting newly installed sanitary sewer and stormwater lines for municipalities; another 30 comes from maintenance contracts to clean and inspect sewer lines for municipalities; and another 30 percent is generated by pre-lining prep work for pipe lining contractors. The rest comes from cleaning and inspecting commercial drainlines that are 8 inches in diameter or larger, Baxter says.

Thanks to its versatility, the Schwalm robotic system works in a wide variety of applications, from reinstating lateral lines and removing failed pipe liners to cleaning pipelines and installing lateral connection packers and compression plugs. Different heads can be attached to the unit, allowing it to grind, sand, cut, and chip away at mineral deposits, built-up grit, tuberculation, and even concrete. “We use everything from a diamond cutting wheel to wire brushes to chipping hammers,” Baxter says. “Just about anything you can put on a 4-inch angle grinder you can put on the Schwalm.”

As an example of the unit’s power and durability, Baxter recalls one job where a foot-long section of an 8-inch-diameter sewer truss pipe was completely filled with concrete. Using a chipping-hammer attachment, the Schwalm worked through the concrete plug in about four or five hours.

Baxter looked into buying a Schwalm unit about a year ago after a bad experience with a similar product. The difference was remarkable, he says. “We’ve had the Schwalm since January and it hasn’t broken down yet, and those things take a lot of abuse with that air motor spinning around all day at 13,000 rpm. It’s pretty much a bulletproof machine.”


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