After working for several years on the residential side of the pipe cleaning and plumbing industry, Morris Baziuk saw a greater need for contractors on the municipal side. This prompted the Winnipeg-based business owner to sell his share in a residential services company to fund the purchase on a flusher truck and Uni-Jet Industrial Pipe Services was born.
The year was 1979 and Baziuk, along with his wife Ursula, started the company and still helm it to this day. Though in the last 40 years they’ve managed to amass more than just a flusher truck. Today the company’s services include large diameter sewer cleaning and inspection, hydro excavation, manhole inspection, high pressure water blasting and industrial cleaning.
“Morris and Ursula started in 1979 with one jetting truck and grew the business to include 112 pieces of equipment and about 60 year-round employees,” says Shane Cooper, C.E.T., operations manager, Uni-Jet Industrial Pipe Services. “By far it is the sewer cleaning inspection that represents the largest segment of our work.”
Many of the company’s core employees – its supervisors and foremen – have been with Uni-Jet for more than 25 years. This knowledge of the industry is irreplaceable and allows Uni-Jet to excel at projects where other contractors may falter. Cooper says this is one area where he would like to see more growth – not just as a company, but the industry as a whole – because those employees will be set to retire soon and there isn’t a large pool of good, reliable, labor to fill the ranks.
“As we bring our new people on, we train them under these experienced employees, so we can have the next round of supervisors waiting here in the wings,” Cooper says. “We do have a lot of knowledge in our core people. It is a matter of extracting that knowledge and passing it along to our younger employees.”
From Small to Big
Initially, the company started with a focus on the smaller municipal lines working for system owners around the Winnipeg area. But, like his jump from residential services to commercial and municipal work, Morris Baziuk saw a need to address the larger diameter main sewers and adjusted his fleet accordingly. Then in the mid- to late-1980s he saw a need for these services outside of Manitoba and began working in adjacent provinces.
“We service municipal clients about 65 percent of the time with sewer cleaning and inspection and our hydro excavation services. About 35 percent of our work is for industrial clients,” Cooper says. “Locally, we’ll clean and inspect big and small pipe, but generally we only travel out of Winnipeg for larger diameter projects where there isn’t a local contractor that can do that work, or team with a local contractor to provide support for the difficult segments of the work.”
The industry has certainly grown in the 40 years since Uni-Jet started and Cooper happily reports that in its core service area there is a lot of work to be had. The bulk of Uni-Jet’s cleaning in the Winnipeg area is tied to asset management programs, as well as cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) and other pipe rehabilitation work.
Outside of its work in Manitoba, since the 1990s Uni-Jet has worked in Ontario and the Prairie Provinces on sewer trunk cleaning projects; however, one of its most challenging projects happened on the east coast of Canada for Halifax Water.
In 2017, Uni-Jet was awarded the cleaning portion of the Northwest Arm Trunk Sewer (NATS) rehabilitation project in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The project is the 2018 Trenchless Technology Project of the Year Rehabilitation Runner Up. Uni-Jet, along with its project partners, Liquiforce, Insituform, Robinson Consultants, CBCL and Empipe, had various obstacles to plan around to make this project even possible, never mind a success.
On the Road
Cooper notes that the NATS project was one of the more difficult projects in his time at Uni-Jet and it really allowed the company’s deep knowledge base to shine.
The project involved the rehabilitation of 4,000 m of 1,200-mm round and 1,200-mm by 1,500-mm arch-shaped sewer that runs parallel to the Northwest Arm, an inlet off the Atlantic Ocean and a popular recreational area for both aquatic and land-based activities.
The sewer is about 10 to 15 m from shore and runs mostly through the backyards of multi-million-dollar residential properties. Access to the sewer was difficult, and that is not including stringent bridge weight restrictions over the CN Railway.
“Our longest cleaning shot on that project was more than 900 m long between manhole accesses. We used the biggest equipment we had — a flusher unit putting out 235 gpm at about 2,800 psi,” Cooper says. “We had to use our entire roll of double 1.25-in. hose on that truck, built specifically with a large reel to accommodate 600 m of hose. We then had to back flush another 300 m from the upstream manhole using the same method to get the rest of the 900 m run clean.”
Cooper notes, that while not a typical scenario for Uni-Jet and its crews, they were able to pull off that cleaning run with minimal impact to the surrounding residences. That was due in part to the experience of the crew. That institutional knowledge also came in to play on another run of the project where there was a section of flat bottom pipe.
According to Cooper, flat-bottomed pipe is notoriously difficult to clean, requiring the design of a new nozzle on the fly. This was made possible thanks to experience Uni-Jet has with its sister company Flushquip Inc., which engineers and manufactures nozzles and other equipment for the sewer cleaning and industrial waste management industry.
“We designed a brand-new nozzle on the fly, on a piece of paper and sent that to a local weld shop to get built. We had flusher nozzle tips sent in from Winnipeg to insert into the new nozzle to be able to carry on with the cleaning with a nozzle suitable for flat bottomed pipe,” Cooper says. “That only comes with 40 years of knowledge of the situation and how to adapt to it.”
Having clean pipes usually equates to having full trucks, which, on most jobsites, means driving straight away to a dump site. This was not a viable option in Halifax due to the CN Railway weight restrictions. Uni-Jet sent its largest vac trucks for the majority of the project in Halifax, but even empty these trucks weigh more than the weight restriction would allow. To get to these weight-restricted areas, Uni-Jet used its smaller vac truck, and had to fill them about a quarter-full to get over the bridges legally.
Equipping its Fleet
Because a lot of its work is on the large diameter side, Uni-Jet opts to run individual jetting and vacuum trucks as opposed to combination units. Since the 1990s, it has also manufactured its trucks in-house rather than purchasing from a dealer.
“In the early to mid 1990s, it was decided that the equipment readily available for purchase was not suited for our cold climates and sewer conditions,” says Cooper. “Morris’ extensive knowledge of pumps and vacuums, and excitement about innovation, made him realize there were better ways to build trucks to suit Uni-Jet’s needs. It was through this process that he started designing and building his own equipment.”
The largest Uni-Jet flusher trucks are able to pump out 256 gpm at 2,500 psi, which Cooper says is double what standard trucks readily available on the market can produce. And the vacuum trucks feature 10-in. hoses and larger blowers allowing them to pull a lot more debris out of the pipe than standard vacuum trucks.
This ability to build their own equipment allows Uni-Jet to maintain a young and modern fleet of trucks — adding two or three new trucks each year. The old trucks are then sold or, more often than not, refabricated into another vehicle in the Uni-Jet fleet. For instance, it is not uncommon for a Uni-Jet truck to begin life as a vac truck and retire from service as a water hauler.
“Every time we build a truck, we talk with our operators and mechanics to improve the design each time,” Cooper says. “We can customize our trucks to best fit our operators and the jobs they perform. Morris comes up with the majority of the deigns for our trucks and nozzles.”
Looking at the future of Uni-Jet, Cooper doesn’t see the work slowing down, rather he sees continued growth as technologies evolve and trenchless technology becomes more widely accepted.
“As I look at the industry, there is a lot more attention being paid to underground infrastructure in terms of being the root causes of street collapses and flooding,” Cooper says. “There is a lot more attention is being paid by the system owners to get a good inventory of what is below ground. We see the industry has a lot of room for growth and it will continue to do so in the face of limited funding to fix the underground infrastructure.”