C.P. Systems Quick to See the Benefits of Vacuum Excavation

When Pat Mountain started C.P. Systems in 1982, he was one of the early cathodic protection companies in Canada, so it is no surprise he was also one of the first to embrace the safe digging benefits of vacuum excavation.

The company’s early projects were on underground fuel tanks and piping and progressed to cathodic protection and corrosion control of water infrastructure in 1985. In those early years, all the locating and unearthing of the underground infrastructure was done mechanically with a 12-in. diameter auger.

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“We would auger down to the watermain to expose it. We continued that, and we did have some contacts and hits on other utilities over the years. In 1997 and 1998 we were extremely busy, and the utilities could not keep up with our requests for locates,” says Pat Mountain. “That really motivated us to try a vacuum excavation truck. We bought a used vac truck made for the Alberta oil patch. Mind you it was slower than mechanical excavation, but it was safe, and we could continue to work. It went from there and worked out so well that within a few years we completely stopped our mechanical excavation, and everything was done with vacuum trucks.”

That transition to strictly vacuum excavation of underground piping was in 2001. In the interim, C.P. Systems tried trucks from several manufacturers – always buying used equipment. In 2012, the company made the decision to start buying new trucks. Today, C.P. Systems operates a fleet of 10 RAMVAC hydrovac trucks. Most of the work is for its cathodic protection and valve retrofit projects, but the company also offers full vacuum excavation services across Canada.

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C.P. Systems

Custom Fleet

According to Dave Mountain, Pat’s son and vice president of C.P. Systems – who spearheaded the switch to a single manufacturer fleet – while circulating through equipment from other manufacturers, attending the WWETT Show and talking to others across Canada, the determination to work with RAMVAC came down to customization.

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“We specialize in keyhole technology, so our trucks are designed for that. We have a good relationship with RAMVAC in which they customize our trucks for that process,” Dave Mountain says. “What really sold us on their equipment is our climate. All the components [on the truck] are in a controlled environment. We don’t necessarily have to recirculate our water because our water tanks, our pumps, everything is heated in a controlled climate in the shroud component of the truck. We really liked that. And another thing is the ease of operation. It is user friendly for the operators. When you are running five to 10 trucks a day, you want to make sure the operation is very straightforward for them.”

Additionally, C.P. Systems custom orders its blowers and water pumps so it can work efficiently in all soil conditions it encounters. In the last couple of years, a big concern, especially in the Ontario market was compliance with the Ministry of Transportation’s Safe, Productive, and Infrastructure-Friendly (SPIF) vehicles mandate. This mandate closely regulates the amount of weight the truck can carry.

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“All of our trucks are SPIF compliant. We have a system that can automatically distribute weight over all the axles to maximize weight distribution,” Dave Mountain says. “Manufacturers are building their trucks a lot lighter and smaller. That means reducing the amount of water on a truck or smaller debris tank sizes. Our water tank is 1,200 gallons and the debris tank is 12 yards on the SPIF trucks. We can operate our trucks close to full capacity with having only washout water left at the end of the day.”

Reliability of equipment, especially when working across the country, is paramount. Things will wear and break, so maintenance is key. C.P. Systems has its own equipment maintenance crew and RAMVAC has a program where the company’s mechanics can get trained on maintaining the equipment. When the company made the decision to have strictly a RAMVAC fleet, it worked out a deal to stock all the critical wear parts ensuring the company has little to no downtime.

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C.P. Systems was one of the first to jump in on safe excavation of utilities outside of the oil patch and has witnessed first-hand the growth of the industry, especially in Ontario. This growth also led to the expansion of its offerings.

“I think Ontario has more vac trucks than anywhere else in Canada. The province has just exploded with vacuum trucks,” Pat Mountain says. According to Dave Mountain, the increase in the last decade has been thanks in part to the telecommunications industry’s growth and brining fibre optics to homes and businesses, especially in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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CP Systems Hydrosoils FacilitySpoils Disposal

Concurrent with that growth, however, was a decrease in places where hydrovac operators could spread their wet spoils. Not one to shy away from new technologies, C.P. Systems tried the dry suction – as they could backfill their holes with the same materials – but found it did not work as well or as efficiently as water. The downfall is the disposal aspect, which led C.P. Systems to form Hydrosoils Inc., a hydrovac recycling facility in Ontario.

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“Disposal has been a real problem for a long time. With the growth of the hydrovac industry and the Ministry of Environment closing the small farmers’ fields that would allow trucks to dump, it is one of the reasons we built our own hydrovac dumping facility,” says Pat Mountain. “At one time, there were 15 potential dump sites. We are down to three that are regulated and monitored by the Ministry of the Environment.”

The process to open the facility began in 2017 and the bulk of the work was finding the right location. That included finding the right-sized building to store the slurry separation equipment, was properly zoned and on a roadway without weight restrictions.Using a series of shakers and screens and finishing off the recycling process with a centrifuge, Hydrosoils Inc. can recycle all the material and reuse it, including the water. “We are able to extract all of the sand and aggregate for use on our job sites, as well as recycling 100 per cent of the water to fill our trucks,” Dave Mountain says.

An additional bonus, Hydrosoils Inc. has trusted customers – C.P. Systems’ competitors – that use the facility as well. The Mountains vet those customers to ensure that they are only bringing clean fill from utility work to the facility.

Mike Kezdi is managing editor of Trenchless Technology Canada, a sister publication to Utility Contractor.