Silent Cutters Bring Big Financial Benefits

Quiet electric-powered robotic cutters reduce initial investment and maintenance costs and need less elbowroom on job sites

Silent Cutters Bring Big Financial Benefits

Christopher Coots, foreman at C&L Water Solutions in Littleton, Colorado, sets up a ProKASRO Electro robotic cutter to enter a manhole.

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When Chris Larson first saw a ProKASRO Electro robotic cutter at work in 2014 while on a business trip to Germany, he immediately recognized the financial benefits it could bring to C&L Water Solutions in Littleton, Colorado.

Now roughly four years later, the sewer maintenance and trenchless pipe rehab company owns three of the electric-powered units, used primarily to reinstate sewer laterals in newly lined mainline pipes. While the three units represent a sizeable investment — in the neighborhood of about $900,000, which includes three fully outfitted trucks — they’re slowly paying for themselves, due to reduced initial capital costs and lower operating expenses, says Larson, the company’s chief operations officer. He’s the son of company owners Larry and Chrystalla Larson.

The electric tools (which also can run on a lithium battery) haven’t significantly increased productivity because their performance is very similar to traditional hydraulic- or pneumatic-power robotic cutters. Instead, the benefits accrue from the ability to use smaller, less-expensive Ford Transit extended cab vans instead of larger box trucks; the latter are needed to hold all the components required to run a more conventional robotic-cutter system, he says.

When paired with a fully outfitted Ford Transit XLT extended-cab van, the approximate cost of the entire system is between $375,000 and $400,000. That compares to more than $500,000 for a fully outfitted box truck, Chris Larson says. To carry its first Electro robotic-cutter system, C&L uses a 2002 GMC 5500 truck with a 16-foot box body. But since then, it switched over to Transits.

The Transits are roughly $25,000 cheaper than box trucks. The company also saves about $15,000 more because the Electros require a smaller generator (8 to 12 kW versus 30 to 40 kW). In addition, there’s no need for an air compressor or a hydraulic pump, either of which can cost upward of $20,000. (In a conventional setup, the generator provides for all lighting and system power needs and a PTO-driven air compressor or hydraulic pump runs the cutter head.)

Moreover, the associated fuel and maintenance costs are lower than those generated by larger trucks. “There definitely are advantages to using smaller vehicles,” Larson says. “Just think about a box truck, which gives you decreased fuel efficiency; needs bigger and more expensive tires, which can cost about $1,000 more than smaller tires; and requires more expensive overall maintenance. Plus, there’s all that extra room in box trucks that you have to trim out with more lighting and flooring. That all costs money.”

Another bonus: Smaller trucks are more maneuverable, and their smaller footprint can mean the difference between parking on the shoulder of a road or taking up a full lane of traffic and requiring a flagger on the job. “So a smaller footprint is good for easier traffic control and quicker job site setups,” he explains. “And the Transits still are strong enough to tow the same trailers our box truck tows.”

In addition, the Transits are better suited for urban areas where narrow alleys and low overhead wires are common, he adds.

Features on the Electro robotic unit include forward and reverse movement; a pan-and-tilt camera; two independent 2 kW electric motors, one for each drive axle; and different sets of wheels for various traction requirements. It weighs about 84 pounds and measures 6 inches tall by 30 inches long by 5 inches wide.

Larson already was partial to ProKASRO equipment. That’s because since 2007, C&L Water Solutions — which serves customers in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — has used the German company’s UV light-cured pipe lining technology.

The Electros compare favorably powerwise with pneumatic- or hydraulic-powered units. While they produce fewer revolutions per minute, the Electros make it up by generating more torque. “So if they’re programmed correctly, they’re just as efficient as, say, a pneumatic-powered cutter,” he says. Maintenance on electric motors is easier, too; all operators need to do is apply a spray lubricant on the top shaft bearing every day, Larson notes.

One more benefit: The Electros are significantly quieter than traditional units, which helps when crews work in densely populated urban areas, he says. “In the middle of the night, sometimes pneumatic motors can get very loud, almost like a siren in a pipeline. People nearby can actually hear it in their homes. With electric systems, it’s totally silent; you can’t hear anything.” That improves communication between crew members, which in turn increases job site safety.

Overall, Larson is pleased with how the Electros have performed. “They’re relatively new to the United States, and they’re going to keep making a big difference at our company. They certainly are money machines.”


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