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Posted on 15 March, 2019

The History of Vacuum Excavation


Vacuum Excavation has come a long way in the past century.

Vacuum Excavation has come a long way since its birth in the 1800s, where it has since become a critical service for a variety of modern-day critical infrastructure, utility, and waste management related projects.

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What is Vacuum Excavation?

Before we go over the origins and evolution of vacuum excavation, it’s important to understand what vacuum excavation actually is. Vacuum excavation, non-destructive digging, hydro excavation and air excavation, are critical services that involve the use of a classic sucker truck or an advanced sucker truck variant (like the Vac-U-Digga range) to undertake excavation works as well as waste management and disposal.

Sucker trucks have a suite of capabilities and uses but are largely focused around the safe excavation of utility lines and management of waste. For non-destructive digging, generally to expose subsurface utilities, these vacuum excavation machines utilise either pressurised water or air to break apart soil and excavate earth while simultaneously using a suction mechanism and integrated tank to suck up and store the excavated soil or slurry.


Hydraulic mining is the original vacuum excavation. 

In the beginning:

In the 19th century, it is believed that miners in the United States utilised steam pump-pressurised water (high-pressure jets of water) to dislodge rock material or move sediment. At the time the method was known as hydraulic mining. As a result, hydraulic mining is largely thought of as the mother of hydro excavation and vacuum excavation in general.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1969 that the first purpose-built ‘hydro excavation truck’ emerged. Through the 70s and 80s, hydro excavation trucks and sewer cleaners were further adapted and began seeing increased, although slow, commercial adoption in a collection of first-world nations. By the 1990’s, developed countries like the United States and Canada saw extensive adoption and use of vacuum excavation trucks and services. Supported by the emergence of increasingly accurate underground radar technologies, vacuum excavation technology proved to be highly effective in reducing the risk of line strikes during an excavation.

At turn of the century:

In the early 2000’s, technological innovations resulted in vacuum excavation trucks fitted with nozzle technology, larger tanks, better engines, and improved safety features. These advancements enabled greater hauling capacity, increased productivity, and increased safety for operators, which in turn improved activity time and cost for a variety of projects. Furthermore, sucker trucks became more diverse in their builds, with smaller and larger variants become more readily available. It was around this time that our founder identified a critical need for dedicated vacuum excavation services in Australia, thus VAC Group was born soon after.

Modern vacuum excavation:

Over the last two decades, vacuum excavation has become a highly demanded service for an increasing volume of utility, infrastructure, trenching, waste management, construction, civil, and even mining projects across the world. It continues to be relied upon heavily by a variety of Australian mass public transport, public utility, roadworks, and construction projects.

Technological innovations by businesses like us have seen vacuum excavation services become more efficient, safe, cost-effective, and reliable than ever before. Critical innovations in radar and utility locating technology by teams like Earth Radar, have enabled underground scanning to be conducted in a faster and easier manner while delivering more accurate, diverse and informative data sets. Alongside this, the classic sucker truck has seen further evolution, where it now has a variety of advanced and technologically superior variants, like the Vac-U-Digga.

Thanks to these innovations and improved training practices, modern vacuum excavation operators are gifted with more accurate data, greater site knowledge, increased vehicle reliability, expanded service capabilities, and more advanced integrated-technology on vacuum excavation machines like those in the Vac-U-Digga range.


Contact VAC Group today!

If you are looking for reliable vacuum excavation, utility location and non-destructive digging services in Australia, give us a call on 1300 822 834.

For more information on our asset detection services, click here

Contact VAC Group today to arrange a personalised obligation-free quote.

82 Union Cct, Yatala QLD 4207

VAC Group is Australia’s leaders in non-destructive digging, vacuum excavation, utility locating and underground services protection.




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