More Than a Hunk of Metal

The right nozzle can make an enormous difference in the performance of a big-ticket cleaning truck and the health of a collection system

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It hardly seems right: You spend $200,000 or $300,000 for a combination cleaning truck. And then how much you get out of it depends on the $100, $300 or $500 nozzle you put on the end of the hose.

Yes, it’s true: Use the wrong nozzle, or a worn-out nozzle, and a great deal of that truck’s cleaning capability and power may be wasted. You may be doing little more than spraying water into a pipe.

Do you doubt it? Ask Duane Johnson, Pumper & Cleaner Expo presenter and vice president of Affordable Pipeline Services in San Diego, Calif. He recalls accompanying a city crew and its brand-new combination truck in an unsuccessful effort to clean grout from a line. Johnson suggested switching to a high-speed rotating nozzle.

Upon deploying the nozzle, the operator looked at the pressure gauge, went into a panic, and hit the truck’s kill switch. He said the truck should not be operating at such a high pressure at the engine rpm he was using.

Upon questioning, it turned out that the truck had never developed adequate pressure before because the crew had been using, for the past eight years, a single basic cleaning nozzle that had a useful life expectancy of six months. “I guarantee that crew never really cleaned a stick of pipe,” Johnson says. “They had been driving that truck all over town and never really cleaned a thing.”


Choosing wisely

This case, while extreme, illustrates that nozzles are incredibly important in pipe cleaning. One of this month’s MSW feature stories tells of a community that understands this. The village of Great Neck, N.Y., applies a variety of cleaning nozzles in its strategy for keeping its sewer clean and flowing freely.

As in so many endeavors, it’s a case of the right tool for the job. There are separate types of nozzles for knocking debris off pipe walls, for flushing debris out of lines, for moving heavy volumes of debris in big pipes, for cutting roots, for blasting through grease clogs, for chewing up hard obstructions, and more.

Beyond that, nozzles themselves come with different degrees of sophistication.

Nozzle technology has improved greatly in recent years — modern nozzles are much more than just hunks of metal with holes. They are designed by engineers to suit specific purposes and to meet specific standards of performance and service life.


Three tiers

At the most basic level, there are three kinds of nozzles. Tier 1 nozzles consist of a steel housing with orifices drilled out in different locations and sizes and at different angles. “The issue with these nozzles is that they have a flat inner surface,” says Johnson. “So all the cleaning energy we haven’t lost in the hose comes into the nozzle, hits the flat surface, and has to redirect and come out.”

There are places where Tier 1 nozzles will work just fine, and places where they are completely inadequate. They are the least expensive as a class, but they also deliver the least performance, and their useful lives are relatively short.

Tier 2 nozzles are designed for longer life and better performance. They have durable inserts that users can remove and replace while the main nozzle body remains intact. Some of these nozzles use long-lasting titanium or ceramic inserts and include flow straighteners that improve fluid mechanics by reducing turbulence.

Tier 3 nozzles are the next evolution. They include features such as internal ceramic discs and controlled rotation, but most important, they direct flow more efficiently so that energy loss through the nozzle is greatly reduced. As a result, these nozzles operate at higher capacity and clean more effectively. They cost the most, but they can make a difference in performance and productivity that far outweighs the difference in price.


The whole package

Of course, the right nozzles will not solve every problem. An effective cleaning program requires the right set of nozzles, on a well-maintained cleaning truck, operated by a thoroughly trained and experienced crew, deployed according to a sound strategy. A good training resource for cleaning teams is the Jetter Code of Practice Manual, published by NASSCO.

In the end, it all comes down to return on investment: Getting the most cleaning punch for the dollar. Often, says Johnson, municipalities pay big money for a truck and then are reluctant to spend money on nozzles.

He asks: “Why would you spend $350,000 on a truck and then use a $60 nozzle?” To do so looks like the ultimate in false economy. F

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Ted J. Rulseh, 877/953-3301;


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