It Pays to Think Small When Trying to Tap the Hydroexcavation Market

Some contractors opt for smaller trailer-mounted units when getting started in the vacuum excavation game

It Pays to Think Small When Trying to Tap the Hydroexcavation Market

Vac-Con’s Mudslinger is an example of a smaller, trailer-mounted unit that makes it easier for contractors to start offering vacuum excavation services. 

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Investing in a large hydrovac unit isn’t always feasible for contractors like Jim Tieffel who don’t do a lot of hydroexcavation work to begin with. Currently when Tieffel, a plumbing contractor in Alabama, finds an underground pipe that needs replacing, he calls upon others to handle it. But he’s ready for that to change.

“I’m tired of paying out that money when it’s something I could easily take on,” Tieffel says.

So at the 2019 Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show in Indianapolis, a top priority for Tieffel was to check out the various trailer-mounted vacuum excavation options on the market — something much more economically realistic for his business.

“Contractors are paying $50,000 a year to contract out these services, but they can buy trailer units for as little as $120,000,” says Mike Richards, a sales rep for RED Equipment, a Vac-Con dealership in Iowa. “They pay for themselves, and they last a long time.”

Many applications

Operating trailered units to expose and replace damaged waterlines is only one way the machines can be used. There are many others. Manufacturers have even started to see arborists use them to plant trees.

“It’s a very broad market in what we’re seeing,” says Chapman Hancock, vacuum excavator product manager for Ditch Witch. “As vacuum excavation is getting accepted in more and more areas, we’re seeing different uses for trailer units. Drill operators aren’t only using it for the mud disposal — they have that vac in front of the drill exposing every line, using that best practice to make sure they’re seeing every line they cross.”

Telecom companies themselves are starting to add units.

“Telecom crews are making sure the utility line was put in where they thought it was,” Hancock says. “There are a lot of owners of utilities — whether it’s gas, fiber, water, whatever it is — going out and doing GPS locations themselves after the contractor has done the work.”

Adam Russell of JD Brule Equipment, a Tornado Global Hydrovacs dealership, says his company’s trailer unit isn’t only for digging, either.

“It’s not just a hydrovac, it’s a sewer cleaning tool,” Russell says. “It’s for the utility guys who have frozen conduit or guys who are doing catch basins.”

Easing into the industry

Terry Rawn, who was an integral part of the design of Tornado Global Hydrovacs’ trailer unit, says trailers are a way to introduce contractors to the market without having to buy the big $500,000 trucks.

“Trailers are a great way to get started in the industry,” says Rawn, who also operates Hydrovac Nation, a website and social media group for the hydroexcavation industry. “Companies would rather get their feet wet with a smaller unit than take on the cost of a large hydrovac unit. We find that company owners want to go back to owning equipment instead of contracting work out. A trailer unit is a great way to get started, and for some, that is all they will ever need.”

Tornado Global Hydrovacs’ unit, called the T70 Twister, has a 6-cubic-yard debris tank and is capable of holding 720 gallons of freshwater. The T70 is powered by a Tier 4 Final, 74 hp Cummins diesel engine and has an industrial positive displacement blower capable of 1,200 cfm at 15 inches Hg. The water pump is capable of up to 5.6 gpm at 3,500 psi. The trailered unit has operator controls on the rear and is capable of wireless operation.

“This unit will compete with the smaller chassis-mounted hydrovac units currently on the market,” Rawn says. 

No CDL needed

The T70 Twister is much like other trailer units from Ditch Witch and Vac-Con in that they can be easily hauled around with a non-CDL driver’s license.

“You just need the right-sized truck, like a Ford F-350 or a similar-sized vehicle,” says Richards of RED Equipment. “Most cities and contractors have vehicles that big, which makes trailered units attractive.”

Vac-Con’s Mudslinger trailer-mounted unit can be fitted with either a 990 or 1,190 cfm, 16-inch Hg positive displacement blower and can have debris tank sizes of 535 or 845 gallons. The debris tank has a hydraulic dump hoist with a 55-degree dump angle. The Mudslinger water pump is capable of 4 gpm at 4,000 psi.

Always changing

Ditch Witch’s lines of trailered vacuum excavation units have been on the market a number of years, but the company continues to make improvements to them.

The HX line of trailer excavators has standard cyclonic filtration, adding extra filtration before material is delivered to the debris filtration.

The HX50, equipped with a 49 hp Kubota diesel engine, features a 1,005 cfm blower and a water pressure capacity of 3,000 psi. The boom is capable of 330-degree rotation. The HX30, powered by a 24.8 hp Kubota diesel engine, features a 512 cfm blower and a water pressure capacity of 3,000 psi. 

“If you look at the overall package, we’ve really made the trailer purpose built,” Hancock says. 

The changes between the FX line and the HX trailered units include taking out all the mesh lining on the deck, making the trailer itself the skid for the vac system. The overall height of the unit is cut down by 10 inches, and ground clearance is increased by 5 inches. The trailer is also 6 inches narrower, allowing for easier access on job sites.

“When we took a step back and looked at the FX and what we wanted to do, everything we did was contractor driven,” Hancock says. “We go out and we talk to them. All of our designs are based heavily on their input. We want to make sure we’re making it better. It has to have a good look to it but, more important, it needs to function the way an operator would want it. If there’s improvement points, we always want to know about them.”

Making the move

By the end of the WWETT Show, Tieffel had gathered a few quotes from some manufacturers and knew he was going to make a decision in the coming weeks.

“It’s a move we have to make to remain competitive in our market,” Tieffel says. “I’m not ready for a huge truck, but these trailers will come in handy, and in the long run, the money will stay with me at these jobs.”


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