Nozzle knowledge

Machine in the UAE is set to revolutionise trenching and ditching

The new tool can be based on any chassis, but here an MB Actros is used.
The new tool can be based on any chassis, but here an MB Actros is used.
The truck is an interesting, if expensive solution.
The truck is an interesting, if expensive solution.


A new machine in the UAE is set to revolutionise how we think about trenching and utility ditching

Anyone who knows about trenching will tell you of the condition known as ‘backhoe fade’ This occurs typically when the bucket on a small excavator gets put through a utility pipe and the suddenly it is ‘pffzt’ and lights out for everybody in the street.

Not only can disrupting a gas, water or electricity pipe be dangerous, but it can obviously be extremely expensive. ‘We had a fibre-optic cable that was broken by a backhoe recently’ said Joe Chappell, operations director of Action Int. Services.

Well, that is where a new ‘suction excavator’ comes in. Using a pair of enormous fans powered from the truck’s hydraulic system, the machine is capeable of moving an enourmous volume of air. To be slightly more technical, the suction excavator uses air as the transport agent. In order to make this physically possible, the air volume must be greater than the material volume to suck.

If it is, than the machine can suck almost anything, like one of those wet and dry vacuum cleaners that you sometimes find in workshops. Because it doesn’t work like a pump, it doesn’t need a constant flow of material to work. This means that it is an extremely versatile machine, suited to a wide variety of tasks beyond that of a simple sludge sucker.

“The key to the machine is that it only sucks up what is loose and there is no mechanical action into the soil, so it won’t break anything. So if you have a fiber optic cable or a pipe you can just literally lift everything around it and keep it in place” Chappell explained.

Any site manager who has had to deal with a shovel going through a fiber optic will know that it is not a simple matter of twisting the ends back together – serious cost is involved. “It  cost AED 36,000 to repair – even though it was a ten minute job” he added.

This new comer won’t damage cables, but we were skeptical about using it as an excavator. These worries were relieved when we saw the machine working on some solid ground. The great nozzle snorted up unbroken soil to a depth of about a meter. The time? About a minute. 

It was reasonably quiet in use as well. Certainly, you wouldn’t want one as a next door neighbour, but in operation it was quieter than all but the very smallest excavators. The boom is controlled by remote, just like a modern conrete pump, and having a built in bin meant that there was no dusty excavation pile.

In fact, there was no dust coming out of the machines extractions at all, which struck us as odd. “You won’t get a plume of dust with this machine because of the high filtration, basically the air is on top” Chappell explained.

Because you can ‘dig’ right down on to cables, there is no need to scoop around either side of the utility pipe which means a smaller excavation size and reduced reinstatement costs through not over excavating. This means fringe benefits, such as work finished more quickly, more time freed up for other plant on site, less disruption to residents and so on.

The German makers of this machine will build it on any chassis that the customer chooses, and the version that Action IS has bought is based on the new-model Mercedes Actros with two-axle steering and an electronic-shift gearbox.

Of course there are disadvantages too. The machine is not cheap, particularly compared with the cost of a man with a shovel, (though Action IS would be quick to point out that the machine we looked at is for hire) Also, the system can obviously only be used in places where an Actros-size truck will fit.

There are other areas where the machine would be useful, according to Eric Martinez an applications engineer at the company.

He suggested it would be handy for cleaning up spilled loads on the roads. “You could clean up powders or sludges such as cement mix or slurry” he said. “From a health and safety point of view it is very efficient as all the contamination is kept in its sealed bin until disposal” he said.

While this model is the first to be seen in the Middle East, as far as we know, various legislation changes in Europe has encouraged the use of suction pumps over traditional excavators for small trenches.

Indeed, when the banks of a river burst causing extensive flooding in Ruag, Switzerland. When this happened, no less than nine suction excavators were found to clear up the mess. Each machine was worked 14 hours perday, cleaning a pile of 15,700 tonnes of mud and 15,000 tonnes of contaminated water were shifted over a total of 2000 working hours.

Whether there is a market for a machine like this in the Middle East remains to be seen, after all labour is cheap, and many of the advantages that have sold it in Europe just don’t apply here. However, utility contractors that are finding that they have to keep forking out for replacement cables and the like might find the investment is worthwhile.

Equally,  groups who need to mop up spills on a regular basis, such as the RTA would do well to keep the number of rental firms like Action IS on speed dial. Either way we look forward to seeing these devices suck the Emirates clean soon. 

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PMV Middle East - September 2020

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