The market for vacuum excavation is expanding in all
directions. What was once the realm of smaller contractors with one truck doing
sub-contract work for larger contractors, the industry is now seeing more and
more of the large contracting firms adding vacuum excavation to their
“The growth in vacuum excavation is largely due to the
increased focus on preventing utility strikes and improving job site safety.
There’s a tremendous risk of injury and expense associated with power/service
outages, burst waterlines, gas explosions and damaged property that can result
when a buried utility is struck during mechanical excavation,” says Nick Bruhn,
product manager of Vactor Mfg., in an interview with Forrestor Media. “Vacuum
excavation increases work site safety and decreases the cost of digging by
minimizing the risk of utility strikes.”
By most reports, growth in the vacuum excavation business is strong. As
more contractors learn what hydro and air excavation can do, they are finding
that its benefits more than outweigh its costs. Vacuum excavation contractors
agree that the process is considerably costlier than using a backhoe, but it is
infinitely less expensive than utility damage.
Vacuum excavation has its roots in the petroleum industry,
where it has been used for years to expose underground oil pipelines and valves.
to the Vac-Con Inc. website, vacuum excavation in the oil and gas industry
began in the 1960s where the vacuum truck operators began using a high-pressure
water stream that, when heated, made easy work of turning frozen earth into
muddy slurry that the excavator could suck into its holding tank.
The real challenge, however, came in the 1980s when the
National Energy Board increased the safe zone for transmission pipelines. Only
non-destructive methods of excavation were permitted to be used within the safe
zone, of which hand digging was the only accepted practice at the time. That
was fine but hand excavation is a time-consuming process and its application
was limited. As a result, various companies began exploring for non-destructive
alternatives, and vacuum excavation technology quickly became popular for those
working around pipelines. This lead to a real increase in its use in the
pipeline sector through the 1990s.
The drive for the growth to the whole vacuum excavator industry across North America was also the construction industry labor shortage. If the contractor is relying on manual excavation, the project will take longer and require more workers to complete the tasks in a timely fashion. Vacuum excavation has proven to be a safer and faster alternative and requires less manpower.
increased focus on damage prevention to protect construction workers, homeowners,
businesses and the infrastructure itself also continued to be a factor. Regulations are
changing and new laws are being passed, it seems like every day, regarding safe
digging initiatives. Operators and
workers who accidentally hit utilities when digging, can cause contractors
heavy fines, terrible publicity, and lost future jobs. Manufacturers say that
these contractors are continuing to embrace vacuum excavation largely because
of these safety issues.
Vacuum excavators are a great option however, not only
because of the safety factor but also for its the rate of production, which in
fact seems to be the real drive for the industries boom.
At the turn of the 21st century, the demand for vacuum
excavation led to new designs focused on improving performance on a variety of
job sites. Reduced noise, for example, supported the excavators’ growing use in
residential neighborhood projects. Innovations within nozzle technology focus
on increasing digging capability while reducing damage to underground
utilities. Larger tank capacities kept machines on job sites longer and
provided greater hauling capacity, improving contractor profitability. For
example, some municipal operators improved time savings by nearly 50 percent
with larger tank sizes.
vacuum excavators made the move from the oil patch to the city, vacuum
excavator manufacturers also began designing smaller trucks to fit
smaller job sites making them lighter and easier to operate in urban environments. The smallest units even fit into the back of a
pickup truck. These trailer units cost less than vacuum trucks, and they can
gain access to difficult places, like parking ramps.
Vacuum excavation is cost effective,
and it works faster, and it avoids tremendous financial liabilities. As the
awareness of vacuum excavation is increasing, and more vacuum
excavators are used for damage prevention and utility location around the U.S.,
market demand is surely accelerating the need for these machines.