Contractor Technology

Excavating without a bucket

Peter Owens talks with Blair Skevington about his success building a large hydro excavator for use in civil contracting.

SKEVINGTON CONTRACTING formed in 2004, is based in Palmerston, between Dunedin and Oamaru.

Skevington Contracting is owned and operated by Blair Skevington.

It is a now a well-established excavation and heavy machinery operator owned by Blair Skevington who found a niche with a large hydro excavator he commissioned and had made in Canada.

Until the Christchurch rebuild started after the 2011 earthquake, the company operated almost exclusively around Otago and the West Coast of the South Island, mostly for the local mining industry. This contractor has enjoyed a long-term relationship with OceanaGold at nearby Macraes, a company Blair worked for before setting up his own company. Its work in this area did not go unnoticed. In 2014 Skevingtons was named in the Deloitte New Zealand Fast 50 Awards as the ‘Fastest Growing Services Business in Otago and lower South Island’.

With the opportunity to work on the Christchurch rebuild after 2011, Blair saw the need for specialised extraction equipment and while hydro excavators were already available in this country he saw the opportunity to use a larger machine on larger, sensitive ground works.

In 2012 he had discussions with a number of manufacturers before ordering a large hydro excavator from Canada where hydro excavation was long-established. Larger than other hydro equipment used here, the excavator was built to Skevingtons’ specifications by Supervac, a Canadian company based in Levee, Quebec and with over 30 years’ experience in hydro excavation manufacturing.

It took the manufacturer nine months to build the machine under the supervision of the company’s hydro excavator manager, Steve Hall. It had to be specially designed for our roading conditions, with the trailer unit built in a way that dispersed its weight to meet our heavy vehicle regulations.

It took another three months to transport it here before being put to immediate work in the mining sector and doing pole foundation work for line companies before it was sent to Christchurch, where it proved ideal for delicate excavation work of underground pipes and cables in Christchurch’s rebuild. The actual operation is quite simple. Hydro excavation equipment combines high-pressure water with air vacuum to break up the targeted material and then a vacuum lifts the slurry from the excavation area. The debris is transferred to a debris tank.

Hydro excavation is said to save time and causes less congestion and traffic in the excavation area because the equipment can be positioned at a distance.

The company will not disclose what it paid to buy and transport its hydro excavator, but Blair says that while it was very expensive indeed, he does not regret the acquisition of this unit. Depending on the type of material it is working, the company charges its operating costs between $480 and $550 per hour. When it is working, the unit uses up to 40 litres of water per minute and the cost of buying water varies considerably throughout the operating areas.

Blair concedes hydro excavation can work out to be more expensive than other types of excavation, but it significantly lowers any risk of damage or personal injury, which are invariably expensive and time consuming. 

Hydro excavation equipment combines high-pressure water with air vacuum to break up the targeted material and then a vacuum lifts the slurry from the excavation area. The debris is transferred to a debris tank.
This article first appeared in Contractor June 2017.

Related posts

Don’t try this on the motorway

Charles Fairbairn

Parting words from Jeremy Sole- a final column

Charles Fairbairn

Crushing big time

Charles Fairbairn