Multi-Purpose Machines (That are Simple to Operate) Remain Focus of Jetter and Vacuum Market

The best machines, as any operator in the field knows, are easy to operate and simple to fix. That is especially true in the jetter and vacuum machine industry, where people of all skill levels need to be able to run equipment in often unpleasant and sometimes dangerous conditions.

NLB Corporation in Wixom, Michigan, makes and designs high-pressure water jet pumps and accessories. According to company spokesperson Jim Van Dam, the company has responded to market demands by developing simple-to-maintain and even simpler-to-repair pumps and jetters with cartridge-based components.

The reason for the change? The skill of the workers. In the past, companies and cities generally had highly trained mechanics and others on their staffs who were able to provide routine maintenance for the complex machinery. That is no longer true. As a result, companies such as NLB had to re-think the design of the machinery without sacrificing the quality.

Instead, companies and others who are in the market for jetter and vacuum equipment increasingly are drawn to machines that almost anyone can repair and maintain. NLB has responded to that challenge over the years with its 125, 225, 325, and 605 pump lines, according to Van Dam. By changing a couple of components, a pump can go from 8,000 psi to 24,000 psi.

“That (simplicity) is very attractive to a buyer,” Van Dam explained. “Now, they can have one pump—one investment—that does a wide range of applications. These pumps give people the ability to do a lot of different applications.”

For example, one pump can be adjusted from 100- to 700- horsepower with a simple change-out.

Another adjustment to meet the reality of the workforce has been in the design of the machinery. If a mechanic is trained to work on the 605 pump series, the parts will look the same on the 125 series. “They will be able to work on any one of these series of pumps,” Van Dam said.

“Even though we’ve developed easy-to-repair and -replace machinery, we’ve brought a level of quality to these parts,” he said.

The same is true for the accessories that the company has developed—a cartridge system that just requires the operator or maintenance worker to remove the cartridge and to drop a new one in for repairs of all sorts.

In the past, operators had employees who could repair a component or who were willing to perform maintenance on a pre-determined schedule. Because many places do not have a mechanic available, the company or municipality prefers to discard the broken component and get a new one. Compliance with a recommended maintenance schedule is not something that can be assumed to happen.

The key for any component prone to wear or break down is that they must be easy to install. “All the new accessories we build are cartridge based,” Van Dam said. “You can pull it out, and drop a new one in, and go.”

Another trend Van Dam sees in the industry is machinery designed to keep the operator separate from the water jet. Companies are very concerned about safety and liability. “More and more, there is a desire by the plants and contractors to make it as safe as they can,” he said.

As a result, NLB has developed machinery that can manipulate the water jet rather than have the operator do so directly. The change keeps the operator far from potential harm.

Another company making improvements is Vactor Manufacturing, which makes combination sewer cleaners and jetters for sewer line maintenance, along with specialty products including vacuum excavators and glycol recovery vehicles. The company is a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corporation’s Environmental Solutions Group, which also includes Elgin Sweeper, Guzzler Manufacturing, and Jetstream.

Preventing leakage and improving efficiency in its components is something that the company has been working on. Vactor has introduced what a spokesperson describes as “a unique gasket” that can prevent leakage from eight-inch flanged vacuum tubes. The Vactor V.T. Seal, as it is called, “enhances the sealing between flanges on the standard eight-inch Vactor aluminum vacuum tube,” according to company representative Tim Montgomery.

“Easily installed on your existing tubes, the V.T. Seal eliminates vacuum leaks and prevents the dripping of sludge on the outside of the pipe without the use of duct tape,” he further explained.

“This results in increased vacuum truck efficiency in applications involving heavy debris, compact sand, dense silt, and compressed sludge. The contoured rubber seal can be applied to one flange or both mating flanges for added sealing and (it) locks with the standard clamp.”

Marty Bolde is a regional sales manager for Hi-Vac Corporation of Marietta, Ohio. The company is a global manufacturer of industrial cleaning equipment such as portable industrial vacuum cleaners, industrial floor sweepers, vacuum excavators, and sewer jetting and vacuum units.

Bolde said about ninety-eight percent of his customers are municipalities. Maintaining and repairing equipment is not an issue. Rather, his clients are asking for multi-task vehicles. “That seems to be the big word right now,” he said. “They want a truck that will do sewer cleaning, hydro–excavating, and other work. We’re pretty good at making vehicles that will work for the sewer department, roads, bridges, and construction,” Bolde said.

With the equipment Hi-Vac sells, “They can use the trucks for sewer cleaning in the morning and hydro-excavating in the afternoon. They next day, they may use it for water-blasting graffiti off a bridge,” he said. “They want a truck to move from department to department because the trucks are getting to be very expensive. People are wanting multi-task vehicles.”

Steve Godwin of the Cleveland-based Wastequip Cusco described the industry as “mature,” with no major changes or tweaks to his company’s offerings. The company has provided equipment to the liquid waste industry for more than forty years. Among the company’s products is a combination machine that performs hydro-trenching. The machine brings precision to trenching by using a high-pressure water spray to remove debris from lines and cables underground. The increased control is perfectly suited for areas with gas lines and other sensitive areas that are tricky for backhoes.     

Those in the industry say that combination machines will continue to drive the marketplace because they are becoming simpler to operate and are a relatively economical choice; they can perform many functions for cash-strapped cities and industries.

In addition, some machine models are attractive to buyers due to the single-engine power source—again, a design that allows people of all skill levels to operate the equipment.

Simplicity plus efficiency appears to be the key to growth in the jetter and vacuum combination machine industry. As the prices of machines creep up, buyers are demanding that they perform more tasks. Simplicity of operation is a factor, but not the overriding reason for buying a multi-task machine, according to some manufacturers.

For those companies who have skilled mechanics at their disposal, the combination and multi-task trucks are becoming more and more in demand. City managers like to have a single piece of equipment that can do a variety of jobs.

Combination machines that can do multiple tasks—with the addition of a hydro-exaction system, for example—make the machines attractive for use in many city departments. One vehicle can do heavy-duty work for the sewer, street, and water department. It just makes sense, according to those in the industry, to make sure an expensive piece of equipment can perform many jobs.

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