Alternative Forms of Excavation Gain Popularity in U.S.

Equipment advancements, educational opportunities are driving forces behind growth of the industry
Alternative Forms of Excavation Gain Popularity in U.S.
John Barron of Williams Brothers Plumbing fuses two 20-foot sections of HPDE pipe using the McElroy Pit Bull 26 fusion machine by heating each end of the pipe to 450 degrees.

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Ron Lindquist sat in a hydroexcavation seminar at the 2015 Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show in late February and was surprised by what he saw in the room — not very many open seats left.

Lindquist, owner of R&M Septic & Sewer, doesn’t own a hydroexcavator for his company but does do some vacuum excavation work at mobile home parks with a trailered unit.

“It’s become more and more popular,” says Lindquist, of North Branch, Minnesota. “It’s a safer way to work.”

Lindquist says if he were younger he would definitely be purchasing a hydroexcavator, knowing that is where the trend is leading for excavation work.

Hydroexcavation continues to grow
Hydroexcavation got its start in Canada’s oil and gas fields, where contractors saw the technique’s efficiency versus other methods of daylighting, such as digging with backhoes. The cold weather in Canada often froze the ground, making it harder to excavate by traditional methods, and contractors began doing hydroexcavation with heated water.

The technique is beginning to pick up steam in the U.S., where it was first introduced in the oil and gas fields and now is being used in utility and municipal work as well.

“We serve the oil and gas industry and the broader infrastructure construction and utility segments,” says Premier Oilfield Equipment CEO Ian Dickinson. “We’ve got trucks operating in tight urban settings working on utilities such as fiber and waterlines.”

Even though Canada is still ahead in hydroexcavation, it appears the U.S. is starting to catch up.

“I think it’s going to continue to grow,” says Dickinson. “The old days of rip and repair are gone, and safety is first.”

The Canadian government has adopted a zero tolerance policy for utility strikes. Regulations impose stiff fines, penalties and even imprisonment as a result of the absolute intolerance to utility strikes. In Canada, a contractor cannot dig within 45 cm of any buried cable or pipe, with any mechanical means, making hydroexcavation a valuable tool.

The U.S. currently has over 20 million miles of buried utilities, cable and pipelines, and while the U.S. Department of Transportation prohibits digging within 18 inches of a buried pipeline or cable, buried utilities are often improperly marked or not marked at all.

Premier Oilfield Equipment is now finding contractors in the U.S. who will not touch the dirt without a hydroexcavator.

“That’s an evolution we’ve seen in just the last year and a half to two years,” Dickinson says. “I think the adoption rate is actually moving more quickly than I assumed it would a couple years ago.”

More benefits of trenchless
Hydroexcavation isn’t the only excavation industry that is starting to gain popularity in the U.S.; other contractors are seeing more interest in directional drilling, pipe bursting and boring.

“The market has been pretty robust. It’s been growing since 2009 overall with the directional drill market,” says Josh Beddow, marketing manager for Toro.

Toro, known for its lawnmowers and other turf equipment, entered the directional drill market three years ago. The company now offers horizontal directional drills, riding trenchers, compact utility equipment and compaction equipment.

“I think the benefits of trenchless technologies, using directional drills versus open cut is leading some of that growth as people want to mitigate their rehabilitation costs,” Beddow says. “Using directional drills and the technology on the location side is allowing that to advance and continue. I think you’ll continue to see that market grow.”

Jason Haas, director of marketing for HammerHead, has also seen its technologies become more popular in recent years. The company’s piercing tools line has seen year-over-year growth in sales. Its pipe bursting line had a record year two years ago, and last year was similar. More growth appears likely this year, Haas says.

“The plumbing industry has been able to kind of grab onto trenchless a lot quicker,” Haas says. “They’re hot on the technology.”

Driving the industry
The changes in technology behind trenchless excavation may not be obvious, but there have been advancements.

“I think there’s been the development of more specialized equipment,” Dickinson says. “I think the hydroexcavators have gone through more evolution than the sewer cleaners or industrial vacs. Even with our trucks we haven’t had a huge change in the basic structure.”

Premier Oilfield has done a fair amount of integration to make the machines more complete, Dickinson notes. The trucks have an extended cab where boots, gloves and other equipment can be kept heated.

Education is also important to the industry.

“The 25 years that we’ve been in business, education is key to our industry,” Haas says. “Associations like NASTT, IPBA and NASSCO exist to educate the marketplace. They are a big driver of making this industry move forward.”



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