New Heights of Productivity

A fleet of portable vacuum loaders keeps crews busy removing gravel from thousands of rooftops

New Heights of Productivity

Exterior Maintenance Inc. currently owns eight of the trailer-mounted VecLoader. The units’ power, durability and reliability contribute heavily to the company’s bottom line.

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Removing gravel ballast from flat roofs in preparation for new roof installations can be a laborious, time-consuming task. But crews at Minnesota-based Exterior Maintenance Inc. (EMI) make short work of such jobs, thanks to a powerful assist from VecLoader Titan 624 portable vacuum units built by Vector Technologies.

Headquartered in North Branch, about 55 miles north of Minneapolis, EMI has used VecLoaders to remove gravel from thousands of buildings in Minnesota — as well as parts of North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin — since the 1990s. The company currently owns eight of the trailer-mounted units, and their power, durability, and reliability contribute heavily to the company’s bottom line every year, says Jon Peterson, vice president of sales.

“Three of our machines operate all summer long, seven days a week,” Peterson says, noting that EMI works primarily as a subcontractor for roofing contractors but occasionally gets hired by individual business, too. “We could use a vacuum truck, but the VecLoaders are so much smaller and lighter — more mobile.

“That’s important because the idea is to tow the machines with a 1-ton pickup truck and put the machines where we need them on site,” he continues. “With the VecLoaders, we can work in pretty confined areas to get access to roofs, plus our drivers don’t need commercial drivers’ licenses.”

Each two-axle VecLoader is powered by a 150 hp John Deere engine and relies on a Howden Roots blower (3,510 cfm). The units measure almost 17 1/2 feet long by nearly 8 1/2 feet wide and just more than 11 feet high, and they weigh 10,500 pounds when empty. They can collect from 4 to 8 tons of material an hour (based on steel-grit collection at a distance of 200 feet) and the 7- to 8-cubic-foot hopper can be raised high enough to empty waste into a dump truck or container, then lowered for easier transport.

“One thing we really like about the VecLoaders is how simple they are to set up,” Peterson says. “You drop the legs and then raise the bag house (hopper) with a hydraulic jack. I can pull onto a job and have the machine set up within 15 minutes. And the capacity you can suck with it is incredible compared to how simple it is to set up.”

EMI crews use 6-inch-diameter, heavy-duty hose made by Kanaflex to reach a rooftop. Then the operator attaches 20-foot sections of Schedule 40 PVC pipe as needed, plus another 25-foot-long section of hose that attaches to what Peterson calls a “gravel cart” — essentially a vacuum-cleanerlike attachment that sucks up gravel. “We use the PVC pipe instead of more hose because the gravel travels easier through pipe than hose, plus the pipe is less expensive than hose,” Peterson says.

The operator has two gravel-cart options, one for pea gravel and another for larger ballast gravel. When working with large ballast gravel, the two-man crew can remove about 15,000 square feet of gravel a day under optimal conditions and roughly 25,000 square feet of pea gravel. “We can really rock it out, that’s for sure,” Peterson says. “If it’s a really large and high-priority job, we can put two or three machines on it and knock it out in a weekend.”

To maximize productivity, the VecLoader has two useful settings. The first allows the operator to dictate how long the machine generates vacuum power; the second determines how long the machine will idle during dump mode. When starting a job, the operator experiments to figure out how long it will take to fill the hopper with gravel and then how long it will take to dump its load. The operator sets the timers accordingly.

“When the vacuum power shuts off, the vacuum breaks and the gravel falls out of the bottom of the hopper and into a dump truck,” Peterson explains. “When the vacuum power goes back on, the door (on the bottom of the hopper) closes and the guys keep on working. So after the timers are set, you don’t have to mess with (manually) turning it off and on any more.

“Sometimes a machine will run 10 or 12 hours straight. We’ll turn it on in the morning and never shut it off all day. We fill up one truck, and when it leaves to haul the gravel away, another truck comes in. They’re very sound, well-engineered machines; they have to be because we’re constantly throwing tons of gravel at them every day.”

As roof technology changes, there’s less need for gravel ballast. But Peterson isn’t worried about running out of work. “If you fly anywhere in the country and look at roofs as the plane lands, there are millions of square feet of gravel on roofs still out there,” he points out. “And if we ever run out of roof work, we’ll just find other ways to use the VecLoaders. You can use these machines to suck just about anything.”


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