Keep Your Vacuum Excavator in Top Shape with this Thorough Maintenance Regimen
By Pam Kleineke Jul 06, 2012
Equipment isn’t cheap, so when you make the investment in a new machine, you want it to last. That’s where maintenance and a good upkeep regimen come into play, especially with hard-working pieces like vacuum excavators. These machines play an important role on a jobsite by suctioning the earth to expose a utility in a quick and safe manner. In 10 minutes or less, the operator can safely identify and positively locate a utility — avoiding the potential of damaging it during a dig. With such a significant task at hand and a hefty price tag (prices can range anywhere from $50,000 for a small trailer unit, to more than $400,000 for truck-mounted vacuum excavators), maintenance is key to keeping these machines working efficiently.
“As with any piece of machinery, maintenance is critical to keeping a vacuum excavator functioning and productive,” says Brett Hart, product manager of Vactor Mfg. “Vacuum excavators are powerful machines with many moving parts. Keeping the machine in top working order will lead to longer life, higher levels of productivity and better retained value.”
Just like other equipment, vacuum excavators follow a timetable for routine maintenance. Hart points out that maintenance items vary from daily checks of hoses, drain points and oil levels to semi-annual inspections of probes, sensors and bolts. In order to determine your machine’s maintenance regimen, it’s best to start with the operator’s manual that each manufacturer provides. This go-to book will offer a comprehensive list of recommended scheduled maintenance.
The No. 1 major point in vacuum excavator maintenance should be components that can hinder safety if compromised. “It’s critical to check safety-related equipment on a daily basis,” Hart says. “Any guards, vacuum protection devices and the like should be inspected prior to using the equipment.”
Aside from safety equipment, oil levels, vacuum hoses, water hoses and fittings should also be inspected on
a daily basis. Today, there are two main forms of vacuum excavation — air and hydro. While most of the maintenance tasks are the same, there are some slight differences between the two. Air vacuum excavators use compressed air to loosen the soil and positive displacement blowers to vacuum the spoils into a tank. Hydro vacuum excavators use high-pressure water to loosen soils, and the residual slurry spoils are easily extracted into the debris tank.
Both types of vacuum excavators rely on hydraulics to power the moving parts, so a clean and well-maintained hydraulic system is essential to keep the equipment operating properly.
“Each moving joint needs to be periodically greased to prevent binding,” says Hart. “Wear items — such as vacuum hoses and tubes — require frequent inspection due to the highly abrasive nature of vacuum excavation.”
The air filtration system also needs some attention. Hart says that the system should be checked and maintained to protect the vacuum system and prolong the life of the components. In addition to the upkeep required on vacuum excavators, Hart says that hydro excavators require maintenance of the water pump system.
“Filters should be inspected and cleaned or replaced to protect foreign matter from entering and damaging pump seals,” he says. “The handguns and water lances should be inspected to ensure they are in proper and safe working order.”
On top of maintenance checks, operators can aid a vacuum excavator’s productivity by running the machine properly and seeking advice from their equipment dealers.
“Seasoned vacuum excavating operators know how to make the unit perform at peak efficiency,” says Hart. “It’s an art to know where to set the vacuum and air system. The most common mistake is to assume that running the unit at full speed always results in more productivity. Operating the unit beyond what the job requires only results in more maintenance, more wear parts cost and higher fuel consumption.”
Contractors and machine owners can also look to their equipment dealers for maintenance tips and operating support. The same team that aided in the buying process can be a great resource in after-sale needs.
“The dealer can offer the customer the ongoing service required to keep these units operating at peak performance,” says Hart. “The dealer will typically have factory-trained technicians and offer OEM replacement parts to ensure quality service and repairs are provided. In addition to service work, the dealer is connected to factory resources to help customers gain extra training or expertise for certain applications.”
Vacuum excavators are highly productive, purpose-built machines that allow a contractor to pinpoint a utility’s location and dig safely without having to worry about any dangerous or costly consequences. In order to keep them working properly, it’s important for crews to keep up a thorough maintenance regimen and give this hard-working machine the proper TLC it deserves.
Pam Kleineke is associate editor of Compact Equipment, based in Peninsula, Ohio.
Vactor Celebrates 101 Years in the Machinery Business
This year, Vactor Mfg. proudly celebrates 101 years of providing customers around the world with a wide range of material handling equipment. Originally founded in Chicago in 1911 as the Myers-Sherman Co., a manufacturer of pneumatic farm equipment, Vactor Mfg. has evolved to become an industry leader in sewer and catch basin cleaners, industrial vacuum loaders and vacuum excavators featuring innovative technology and custom configurable designs.
With one of the largest and most developed distributor networks in the sewer cleaning industry, Vactor Mfg., a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corp. — and part of its Environmental Solutions Group — has more than 50 North American distributors in 100 locations to serve the municipal market and six factory direct locations for industrial customers.
“Our history began with the design and manufacture of products such as milking machines, feed blenders and mixers and grain storage and conveying systems,” says Mark Weber, president of Federal Signal Corp.’s Environmental Solutions Group. “The pneumatic conveying systems in these original products provided the impetus for our success as a global leader in the sewer cleaning industry. While Vactor Mfg. has changed and expanded considerably over the years, we remain dedicated to the original spirit of innovation and hard work upon which our business was founded. Our dedication to innovation and service will continue to guide us into our second century of business.”