Multitasking Machine

Combo hydroexcavator-valve exerciser makes a tough job easier for Iowa utility.

Multitasking Machine

The Anamosa Water Department’s three employees exercise all 672 valves in the city’s water system every year, a task that took twice as long before the department got its Hurco Spin Doctor 800 valve exerciser.

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There was a time when excavating buried valve boxes and exercising main and water hydrant valves in the city of Anamosa, Iowa, was a laborious, time-consuming chore.

But that all ended about six years ago when the city’s Water Department invested roughly $50,000 in a trailer-mounted Vac 250 hydroexcavating unit with an attached Spin Doctor 800 valve exerciser, manufactured by Hurco Technologies.

The unit enables the department’s three employees to exercise all 672 valves in the city’s water system every year. That includes 263 fire hydrants, says Jim Henson, superintendent of the department.

Before the city bought the Hurco unit, employees could exercise about half of the valves annually. Now they can do the entire city in just one season, he says.

“It basically doubled our productivity because the guys don’t get as tired. It’s incredible that we can do all the valves in just one season. And that allows us to do more projects in a year.”

Department employees used to exercise valves the old-fashioned way: By hand with a valve wrench, says Henson, whose department is responsible for operating and maintaining roughly 32 miles of water mains.

“And if we needed to clean out the valve boxes, we’d take along a shop vac and a portable generator.

“When you’re turning valves all day, you get tired. By the time you’re done tinkering around with cleaning out valve boxes and turning valves, you’re pretty whipped. I’ve been in this business for more than 40 years and I’ve turned a lot of valves — it’s a job.”

In fact, it’s such a strenuous task that employees would sometimes admit defeat when they’d come across a really tough frozen valve, he says.

“They’d say, ‘OK, this one is good — let’s move onto the next one.’ I’ve heard this happens at other towns around here, too. Some towns don’t even exercise their valves because it’s so difficult.

“We had to make it easier and more comfortable to do this strenuous job.”

Power for productivity

The Vac 250 features a tiltable 250-gallon debris tank, either a CAT 36 hp diesel engine or a Kohler 34 hp gasoline engine, a Gardner Denver vacuum pump, a 250-gallon water tank and a Giant water pump (3,000 psi at 4.7 gpm).

The Spin Doctor, which can apply up to 400 foot-pounds of torque, features an articulating boom that can extend up to 9 feet; with an extended-reach option, it can extend up to 13 feet and provide 270 degrees of side-to-side coverage. Self-leveling and swivel action allows operators to tackle valves that aren’t perfectly straight vertically.

“It also offers variable-torque control, which is really useful,” Henson says. “You can break the nut off the top of a valve if you don’t watch the torque.

“And it’s not built cheaply, either. The trailer is very well made. Our unit also has directional caution arrow lights on the back, which is very useful from a safety perspective.”

Henson also says the articulating boom, which can reach about 4 feet below surface level to 7 feet above surface level, allows access to valves in hard-to-reach places. “It’s a very handy feature,” he says.

Versatile machine

The hydroexcavating capability makes the unit even more flexible and versatile. It saves time compared to hand-excavating or using a shop vac to suck up dirt.

“If dirt is pretty compacted, we just take the wand and spray it really good, then suck up the slurry into the debris tank,” Henson says.

The department also uses the nozzle to wash down dirty vehicles and wash dirt and mildew off the exterior of the department’s 144,000-gallon, aboveground concrete detention tank, which holds well water prior to treatment.

“We use it many times for other jobs around town, too. It’s a very versatile machine.”

Furthermore, the unit provides detailed information about each valve’s condition as well as its exact GPS coordinates. For example, if a valve stem wobbles, which indicates a potentially faulty stem, a computer records it.

“It graphs everything we do,” Henson says. “It provides many details, right down to whether a valve was hard to turn in the middle of exercising it.”

When a job is finished, the operator hooks a computer to the unit, which then downloads data.

“When I walk in my office, it then automatically downloads the data to our geographic information system map,” Henson says.

Overall, the unit is durable and easy to operate. Hurco initially provided on-site training, but now the department handles it internally. “It’s pretty easy to figure out how to use it,” he says. “We’re so happy we bought it — we can finally keep up with all the valve turning.” 


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