Powerful vac truck opens up new markets, improves productivity and employee safety for Minnesota contractor.

It’s usually difficult for a contractor to significantly boost productivity, increase customer satisfaction, enhance employee safety and open up new markets, all in one fell swoop. But there’s always an exception to a rule, and in this case, it’s OSI Environmental, an industrial-cleaning firm that accomplished all of the above by investing in a powerful Powervac 1650 Mini vacuum truck built by Presvac Systems.

For years, the Minnesota-based company used liquid vac trucks to collect semisolid waste from a variety of facilities, ranging from wash-basin sumps at mines to frac tanks in gas and oilfields. But work crews typically had to add water to the waste, then agitate it to make it easier for the vac trucks to load the material, explains Pat Tracey, general manager of OSI. The company operates seven offices scattered around the Midwest (in Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin) and one in Texas; Tracey is based in Eveleth, Minnesota.

“It was manageable,” Tracey says. “But we might have to add 1,000 gallons of water to remove 1,000 gallons of sludge. That adds to the waste. So now we’re generating far less waste and saving customers the expense of using all that water, too. The truck pulls out solids and semisolids much more effectively. I’d say we’ve cut the time spent on most jobs by 50 percent.”

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As an example, Tracey points to oil/water separators the company cleans every week for mining customers. Before, that task usually took six to eight hours.

“Now our crew is usually back by noon, so we can do two jobs where we normally could do only one,” he says. “That’s a substantial difference.”

Furthermore, adding water to regulated waste makes it unsuitable for landfill disposal, which meant crews had to instead containerize it in 55-gallon drums or cubic-yard containers, then transport them to a permitted facility for disposal. That raised costs for customers, Tracey notes. “But with our new truck, we don’t have to add water, which results in acceptance into permitted landfills,” he says.

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“And it’s not as labor intensive, either,” he adds. “Our guys used to have to shovel waste by hand toward the hose. But now the high-suction blower – which produces much higher (vacuum) volume than our liquid vac trucks – draws in the material much faster and easier.” In addition, that also minimizes the need for confined-space entry work in pits and tanks, which results in safer working conditions for employees and reduced costs for customers, Tracey says.

“All the environmental work we do is highly regulated in terms of safety,” he explains. “In the mining industry, for example, MSHA (the Mining Safety and Health Administration, a division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) does daily property inspections … and they like what we’re doing. We do a lot of work in depressed pits, and if there’s no need to put someone in there, everyone likes that.”

The truck is built on a 2012 Peterbilt 348 chassis with a 3,000-gallon, DOT 407/412 carbon-steel debris tank. It features a 1,600 cfm rotary-lobe blower made by Robuschi USA Inc., a 350 hp Paccar PX8 diesel engine, an Eaton Fuller 10-speed manual transmission, and heated valves. Unheated valves tend to freeze up during frigid Midwestern winters, so heated valves help to reduce downtime, Tracey says. “Plus, when valves freeze up and bend, they no longer seat properly, which means they can’t pass a DOT inspection,” he adds. “And new valves can run anywhere from $400 to $800 apiece.”

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Tracey also lauds the debris tank’s full-opening rear door, which greatly improves dumping efficiency when combined with a tank vibrator; that combination of features eliminates the need for employee confined-space entry to remove debris from the tank, he says.

The Presvac unit also enables OSI to offer another selling point to customers at high-volume waste sites: roll-off vacuum boxes, which help lower customers’ costs because they’re not paying to have a vacuum truck serve as a long-haul, waste-transport vehicle. Here’s how it works: An operator uses one hose to connect the vacuum truck to the vacuum box (which usually holds about 4,000 gallons of waste). Another hose then runs out the other side of the vacuum box to the waste-collection point.

As debris travels toward the debris tank, solids drop out to the bottom of the vacuum box. When a box fills up, the crew swaps in another box. Then the customer can hire a lower-cost truck to take the vacuum boxes to a disposal center, rather than sending a more expensive by-the-hour vacuum truck on a long-haul drive, Tracey says. “We couldn’t do that (use vacuum boxes) with our liquid vac trucks because they couldn’t sustain enough vacuum power,” he points out.

Overall, Tracey can’t say enough about how the Presvac unit has changed the dynamics of his business. It not only helps him bid for contracts more successfully, the unit also enables the company to take on jobs it couldn’t do before. “We now take on jobs that involve vacuuming heavier materials that we would’ve walked away from in the past,” he says. “It broadened our bid capability because it can do so much more.

“The truck definitely was a worthwhile investment,” he continues. “It’s a wonderful piece of equipment. We’re considering adding another one so OSI can add to its services and be more efficient at others.”

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