Portable vacuum excavators from Vermeer Australia have been a regular feature on sites for years. The vacuum excavators were originally used to clean septic tanks and car wash pits and to remove the resulting slurry from horizontal directional drilling projects. Now contractors are discovering that these machines have a wide range of uses from potholing for utilities, to cleaning valve boxes and to digging post holes.
According to Dave Gasmovic, President and CEO of McLaughlin, the vacuum excavator has come of age and contractors are discovering that vacuum excavators have multiple uses to reduce labor costs and speed up projects. Vacuum excavators are self-contained units that use pressurised air or water to displace spoil and a pump to remove the displaced spoil. The displaced dry or wet spoil is stored in a holding tank on the vacuum.
Vacuum excavators can be mounted to a trailer or the back of a truck and range in size from 100 to 1200 gallons (379 to 4542 L) of capacity. Since vacuum excavators use air pressure or water to remove spoil, they are ideal for potholing or identifying existing utilities during underground construction projects.
Brian Showley, Vice president of Sales for VAC-TRON Equipment stated that damaging existing utilities can be costly, and it could result in project downtime and potential contractor fines. Showley also added that water pressure and air are more forgiving than a backhoe, compact excavator or shovel around utilities.
In addition, the air and water move around the existing utilities, giving the operator a clearer view. Operators can select the amount of air or water pressure depending on the utility. For example, lower pressure may be used for fiber and higher pressure for water or gas lines.
Some contractors use these units to remove grain and coal trapped in the corners of barges, clean gutters and remove chips from stump removal projects. An expanding market for vacuum excavators is their use in excavating post holes for highway guard rails and installing fencing in residential or commercial areas.
Using a vacuum excavator helps to reduce the chance of damaging an existing fiber line with an auger along a highway or existing utilities in a residential or commercial development. The displaced spoil can be moved up to 200 feet (60 m) from the source, and only one person is required to operate the unit.
Vacuum excavators come in all sizes and options. Water-based units dig faster through a wide variety of spoil types and reduce the volume of the material, which means more displaced wet spoil can be moved into a holding tank.
However, the displaced spoil is wet and cannot be returned to the site immediately without drying. Contractors are continuously finding new uses for vacuum excavators that can save time and labor. For example, the units are being used to clean out valve boxes for routine exercising and storm sewer catch basins.