With the OSHA Silica Rule, there is a lot of talk about vacuum technology within the rental industry. But the use of vacuum equipment isn’t just for controlling dust. It’s widely used by the utility industry for soft excavation, removing jobsite debris and managing horizontal directional drilling (HDD) fluids. Similar to the OSHA Silica Rule, utility contractors are mandated by several laws that make using a vacuum excavator a requirement.
Over the last two decades, there has been a huge demand for vacuum excavators in utility installation and other construction sectors as contractors see the benefits of soft excavation methods. It is the perfect time to get into the vacuum excavator rental business.
How vacuum excavators work
Vacuum excavators use high-pressure water or compressed air to penetrate and break up soil. Then the unit’s powerful vacuum removes the loose material. Often called potholing or keyholing, this soft excavation method can quickly expose buried utilities without causing damage to buried conduit, pipe or utility lines in the process. There are also endless applications for using the vacuum without the high-pressure wand.
The increasing number of buried utilities occupying city street rights-of-ways is driving vacuum excavator use. Before digging for a new utility line, a contractor must call in for locates so existing utilities can be marked. In addition, contractors are often required to expose any buried lines that a new installation may cross to help avoid striking an existing utility.
Vacuum excavator usage extends beyond exposing underground utilities, though. They are used by HDD crews to suck up mixing fluids used while boring. In fact, in most of the country, crews are now required to have a vacuum excavator on site. Most companies invest in their own but may rent vacuum excavators from time to time to supplement their fleets.
Utility contractors aren’t the only people using the machines either. Municipalities and sign installers use vacuum excavators for digging. Many businesses will also use vacuum excavators for industrial cleaning.
Vacuum excavator rental potential
With recent market growth and a list of potential applications, rental fleet managers shouldn’t look at vacuum excavators as niche machinery.
The key to success with vacuum excavator rentals is first knowing which type of customers your sales team should be targeting. The most significant rental revenue potential is with utility contractors. While the majority of utility contractors already own vac systems, there is still a need to supplement — especially when they are working in challenging ground conditions.
Soil type and utility product size dictate the volume of drilling fluid needed on boring jobs. Larger-diameter product sizes and certain clays and rock require a lot of fluid, which can be challenging to handle with a single vacuum excavator. Rather than shutting down the drill and waiting for the vac tank to be emptied at an approved dump site, utility crews would prefer to pull in another vacuum excavator to help. They don’t need a second unit for every project, so renting is the preferred option.
DOT weight restrictions being introduced for vacuum excavators across the country will also have utility contractors looking to supplement their fleets. Municipalities and sign installers are also potential rental customers to consider because they don’t need the machines every day, so vacuum excavator rental makes more sense.
Getting started with renting a vacuum excavator
There are a lot of different manufacturers and models of vacuum excavators in the market. Choosing the best model or models for a rental fleet comes down to which units will have the most extensive customer base and dealer support.
Vermeer offers truck- and trailer-mounted vacuum excavator units with a range of spoil tank sizes, starting at 300 gal (1,135.6 L). Models also vary in the amount of material they can displace, the volume of air being moved and suction pressure. For rental applications, vacuum excavators like the Vermeer CV SGT and LP XDT vac series are best suited for contractors and municipalities. These units are trailer-mounted and can be equipped with a spoil tank ranging from 500 gal to 1200 gal (1,892.7 L to 4,542.5 L). They are among the most popular sizes of vacuum excavators for potholing and fluid management applications.
Adding any new line of equipment to a rental fleet requires internal training. The sales team needs to know whom to target and their basic operations. The service team needs to understand how to perform routine maintenance and make repairs when needed. While vacuum excavators are not challenging to operate or much different to service from other machines, having a local dealer will shorten the amount of time spent learning.
Options and accessories extend usage
To further expand the rental rate of return, vacuum excavators can be equipped with additional options and accessories.
The most popular ones include hydraulic booms to make handling the hose easier, a hot box that warms the water coming out of the high-pressure wand, a core saw for potholing through pavement and concrete, and a sewer jester for cleaning pipes.
Some accessories will increase the number of applications vacuum excavators can be used for. These include sweepers and cleaners, which can help clean up a jobsite after an outdoor event, and a misting ring to help handle dry dust and debris during microtrenching applications.
The use of vacuum technology in the construction industry is on the rise. With a little bit of knowledge and the right equipment, there is tremendous growth potential for vacuum excavator rentals. Talk to your local Vermeer dealer to see how they can help you grow your rental business.
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