From: Grading & Excavating Contractor
Written By: Carol Brzozowski

Hydro- and vacuum excavating systems are becoming so much an increasing part of the construction site landscape these days that one manufacturer states it’s been the busiest year for his company to date, with the demand in some cases exceeding supply.

The driving factors: increasingly strict construction site regulations, the growth of oil and gas exploration in North America, and not truly knowing what lies underneath the ground despite line locating technology.

Vacuum excavation is a technology that uses water or air as the medium to loosen the soil surrounding buried utilities, points out Ben Schmitt, product manager for Vactor Manufacturing. A vacuum source will remove the soil into a debris body for offloading at a remote location or back into the excavation site. Since only water or air is being used to disrupt the ground, buried utilities are exposed without disruption or damage, he adds. “By using vacuum excavation as the preferred method of exposing utilities for repair, the user protects the asset from damage along with any other buried utility that may or may not be known to occupy the same general area,” Schmitt says. “Not knowing the exact location of other buried utilities is a leading cause of unintentional utility strikes.”

Schmitt explains that on most dedicated hydroexcavators available today, end users can choose either a fan system or a positive displacement (PD) blower as the vacuum source. Each has distinct advantages. A fan system “moves an incredible amount of air, excavating more rapidly than other systems,” he says. “It’s also easier to operate and maintain, and the unit’s overall weight is usually less. Also, fan units are generally less expensive than the PD versions. “A PD blower moves air over longer distances and generates higher amounts of vacuum, allowing for excavation at greater depths, but at slower speeds than fan units,” he adds. End users often have unique applications that lead to a preference for one type of vacuum system, so Vactor offers both PD and fan machines, says Schmitt. “In either the fan or PD configuration, a simplified airflow path design will maximize pickup and filtration effectiveness,” he says. “Additional features that improve the unit’s overall productivity include extendable or telescopic booms offering a wide range of rotation and mounted on the curb side, large-capacity water tanks and debris bodies, heavy-duty solid construction, heated pump and hose reel cabinets, convenient operator controls, and tool storage.”

Vactor’s typical customers are primarily municipalities, contractors, and utilities, as “non-destructive vacuum excavation is quickly gaining acceptance as a relatively safe, effective alternative to traditional excavation methods,” notes Schmitt. “We see a rapid growth in vacuum excavation,” Schmitt adds. “The method is increasingly becoming the preferred alternative to conventional excavation practices. The cost of strikes to buried utilities is a risk most construction companies, utilities, and cities are no longer willing to accept. As a result, there is a desire to seek alternative means. Vacuum excavation is true damage prevention.”