Innovations in Vacuum Excavation Continue

By: Liz Duff, Technical Writer, Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa | September 28, 2010

As the vacuum excavation market becomes more competitive, one company found its niche by doing something different — giving the industry an opportunity to excavate with or without the use of water.

Developed in 1998 as a brand of American Manufacturing & Machine Inc., VAC-TRON® Equipment quickly became a leader within the underground utilities and environmental cleanup markets with the advancement of their vacuum systems line. The first unit, a trailer-mounted PMD 500GT vacuum system, was delivered to a dealer in Florida in March 1998.

"We came up with this product at the time when the underground fiber optic network was being installed," says VAC-TRON president, Don Buckner. "There was a huge demand for a product to work with directional drills and excavate ahead of the drill."

Traditionally, when horizontal directional drill units are boring underground, a slurry-type material is used to help the machine penetrate the ground, assisting with pull back of lines through the hole that has been created and preventing the hole from caving in. Following boring, the slurry should be cleaned up. The machine can also be used to clean up frac-outs, which may occur during drilling, and when the slurry material builds up amid the bore path.

VAC-TRON units are used to clean up slurry, while also providing a potholing function to identify and verify the depth and direction of underground utilities to avoid striking them while drilling. Units are also furnished with a filtration system that filters the air coming out of the debris tank down to half of a micron, protecting the blower from damage and providing the ability to excavate without the use of water.

Need Drives Innovation

The possibility of contaminants entering the water supply has recently presented a need to shut off water valves quickly to contain contaminated water flow and prevent it from spreading into communities. Because of this concern, cities need to have the ability to reach the valves quickly to shut off the water flow. However, some water valve boxes may be filled with compacted dirt, making them hard to reach and taking several hours to clean by hand. These issues presented a need to have water valves exercised once a year so that they are readily accessible if the need arises.

VAC-TRON saw a potential market for a machine to assist in water valve maintenance, and thought of a way to combine a vacuum excavator and valve exerciser. VAC-TRON came up with the FlowMaster™, a unit used to clean out debris and exercise water valves and fire hydrants, making water valves more accessible.

According to Brian Showley, vice president of sales for VAC-TRON Equipment, the FlowMaster is a compact unit that can be towed behind a pickup truck and pulled near a water valve box or fire hydrant. A high-pressure washer is attached to the unit to clean the water valve box and remove sediment. An arm with a hydraulic motor attached to the unit swings out to exercise the water valve by spinning it open and close.

A water valve box is an 8-inch (20.3 cm) diameter tube from the ground surface down to an underground valve which can be as deep as 15 feet (4.6 m) below the surface, depending on the freeze line. When it rains, water and sediment flow into the box and compact it, and in the event of a water main break or contaminated water, the water and sediment slow down the process of shutting off the valve.

The FlowMaster registers the torque needed to open and close the valve, along with the number of rotations taken to open and close the valve. For example, a 6-inch (15.2 cm) valve takes 19 rotations to open and 19 to close. If fewer rotations are taken to open and close the valve, then the city may not be receiving all of their water flow, and valves need to be exercised further to break up sediment inside until they reach their full rotation.

Although exercising water valves is only a suggestion at this point, many cities are already implementing the process. In a typical working day, approximately 25 valves can be exercised each day with the FlowMaster because due to its efficiency, whereas only two or three can be exercised daily if done by hand. It eliminates the need to have one or two people walk in circles around a valve using a t-bar to exercise it and clean it by hand.

Along with exercising water valves, FlowMaster units also exercise fire hydrants while on-site because some hydrants may not open or may be disconnected in time of need.

Showley states that a majority of their demonstrations are from cities that may not know where their valves are located. They hire contractors to locate, exercise and repair the valves. Many of these contractors use a GPS tracking system to track and pinpoint the valve, so at the end of the day they have a mapping system showing all of the valves that were checked and their conditions.

FlowMaster Targets Cities

Michael Wilson, maintenance manager for the City of Leesburg, Fla., has been pleased with the FlowMaster. "The unit accomplishes everything that we need it to do," Wilson says. "It works well for cleaning valve boxes, exercising valves and hydrants, and completing soft digs without the use of water."

Wilson says that the City of Leesburg was actively seeking a vacuum excavator unit and decided that the FlowMaster was the most economical and efficient unit on the market, given its unique options and features. "We purchased the unit approximately a year ago and appreciate that it is a compact unit that can accomplish several tasks," he says.

VAC-TRON and Vermeer Alliance

Vermeer Manufacturing Company and VAC-TRON Equipment recently entered into a strategic alliance allowing Vermeer to act as a distributor of the VAC-TRON line through their worldwide dealership network. "Combining VAC-TRON Equipment's extensive vacuum excavation equipment line with Vermeer's full-service worldwide dealership network will benefit both companies as well as customers," says Buckner.

Sales, distribution, product support, and parts and service are provided by Vermeer dealerships, and equipment is branded Vermeer/VAC-TRON.

"Our alliance with Vermeer has allowed for better customer support in the field and has provided more convenience for demonstration by seeing the product up close," Showley says.

Provided By: Vermeer Manufacturing Company

Pella, Iowa

Vermeer and the Vermeer Logo are registered trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

VAC-TRON and FlowMaster are trademarks of Don M. Buckner d/b/a

American Manufacturing and Machine Company.