“The best defense is a good offense” is a saying that has been applied to many undertakings, including sports and military operations. It is also one of the strategic principles of Vector Force Development (Vector), a business deeply rooted in military service and hydro excavation services.

As a diversified ancillary construction services contractor operating in 20 states across North America, Vector has developed a large fleet of 36 vacuum excavators and more than 200 crews with more than 400 employees.

This “offensive” hydro excavation team has allowed their business to use cutting-edge vacuum equipment with high-pressure water or air, to non-destructively excavate in a variety of jobsite applications. Vector is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (SDVOB) offering a variety of additional construction support services, and actively recruiting and proudly employing military veterans across nearly 20 percent of its workforce.

Offensive Utility Locating Strategies

In the field, utility locating has many rules, regulations, and safety precautions in place. Accuracy is key. The field experience of Vector’s superintendent, Adam Spence has been that often the accuracy of field utility locates from 811 markings is only 60 percent correct on average.

“Often, the marks are 3 to 4 ft off. Recently, we excavated to a depth of 14 ft and never located what was supposed to be a 4-in. gas main. Today, we located a utility more than 7 ft away from the flag,” he adds.

The unpredictability of underground infrastructure locations can be frustrating, but the consequences of a utility strike motivate the Vector crews to continue excavating to expose marked utilities on a jobsite. They believe making every effort to find a marked utility is part of their company mission, “to serve with purpose and deliver in all that they do.” That mission is fundamental to Vector’s deep roots in military service and is part of the company’s culture and core values.

One of the most memorable strikes shared by Spence occurred five years ago while seeking to expose and verify a gas main. After hydro excavating to a depth of 13 ft without locating the line, the general contractor decided to proceed with drilling despite the recommendation to continue with the hydro excavation. When the contractor drilled, the line was struck, causing an area-wide evacuation and job delay. This recollection, says Spence, inspires him “to give 110 percent on the job” and never stop “just because it’s not easy.”

RELATED: Lateral Rehab Contractor Increases Efficiencies Using Hydrovac to Locate Lines

Tactical Tips for Tackling Tough Soils

Recently, a large-scale job involving Georgia’s power grid provided some challenges, with a mix of red clay, lots of rock, and sand. Spence advises the best method for dealing with red clay is to turn the boilers on and heat the water to 115 F. The hot water aids in breaking up the compacted clay. To prevent clogging in the tube, my crews use 6-in. dig tubes rather than 8-in. The tactical tip for clay that saves us more time is throwing in four to five laundry detergent pods while vacuuming up the slurry. When we do that, dumping is no effort, and the spoils slide out of the debris body and hose down quickly with less water.

Sandy soils accompany areas with high water tables. For utility locating in sandy areas, we dig wider holes further from the mark. This helps in diverting water from the actual utility location and makes the sand less likely to collapse as the groundwater returns.

Choosing the right nozzle for the job is the other important offensive move. For red clay, Spence prefers a turbo nozzle because it has more swirl and turns the soil into a slushy consistency that is easy to excavate. For rocky soils, his go-to is a 5.0 or 8.0 Ripsaw nozzle from Hydra-Flex.

Vector hydro excavator

Offensive Tackle Tips – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Ask

Before a vacuum excavator in Vector’s fleet heads to a worksite, the operator goes through a three-page checklist to ensure safe travel and field operation. Even with on-the-job experience, Vector recognizes that operators “don’t know what they don’t know” so they encourage their team members to ask questions offensively and share what they know. Superintendents visit trucks on their job sites daily to be available for troubleshooting and problem solving.

RELATED: Vacuum Excavation Safety Tips to Keep Crews Safe

Building the Best Defense

Vector’s commitment to safety is a core company value and resulted in the creation of a company designed mentorship program partnering new employees with experienced operators. New hires spend time riding with and learning from the trained operators. This training is provided for each piece of equipment they operate. The safety minded culture is supported by their team members and contributes to a low turnover rate.

Why Vector Is Winning

Vector has been recognized as one of the Inc. 5000 America’s Fastest-Growing Privately Held Corporations in 2021 and 2022 and is pleased to be a part of the future of non-destructive digging. While its construction division originated in the utility locating market, company officials report seeing the wider construction industry moving toward a preference for soft digging.

“We see new construction, infrastructure rehabilitation and new infrastructure installation all with a preference for knowing what is in the ground, rather than risking damages,” says Matthew Wilkin, vice president of Vector operations. “Hiring Vector’s Hydro Excavation Services Division offers a precise and clean method of excavation for construction, landscaping, or even plumbing, to remove soil for a multitude of purposes.”

The Vector team is proud of a winning offense while executing and achieving quality work daily. The company’s unique model of success, to serve with honor and pride, speaks to its veteran founder, Josh Bieler and embraces the veteran advantage of specialized skills, integrity, determination and grit.

Vector Force Development Receives National Recognition

Vector has been recognized with the following awards:

  • Inc. 5000: America’s Fastest-Growing Privately Held Corporations
    2021 – No. 157
    2022 – No. 693
  • Vet 100: America’s Fastest-Growing Veteran Owned Companies
    2022 – No. 7
  • U.S. Department of Labor HIREVets Platinum Medallion Award: Recognizes corporate excellence for the recruitment, placement and retention of veterans in the workplace
    2021

Suzanne Penn is with Truvac.