by Jon M Casey
In mid-November 2018, I had the privilege of touring the Vac-Con, Inc. manufacturing facility in Green Cove Springs, FL, as a guest of Todd Coleman, Purchasing Supervisor. There, we were able to see how Vac-Con custom-builds more than 300 vacuum trucks per year. What proved to be most fascinating during our visit was the tremendous parts inventory Vac-Con maintains in order to build and service the multitude of equipment shipped to customers around the world.
The tour began in the office of company founder and president Darrell LeSage. “We started with five employees and a dream in 1986,” he said. “Since then, we have shipped more than 8,000 units — all of which are still in operation today! Currently, we employ approximately 340 people at our 17-acre facility. We also have two subsidiaries as well. More importantly, the company continues to grow to meet customer demand. We have come a long way.”
LeSage said that Vac-Con has an impressive export market through an international subsidiary, E.L. Industries. “We have strong market shares in Mexico, Canada, China and parts of South America. We do well in China because our equipment is so specialized. Their manufacturing models are scaled for large, mass production because of their population. By their standards, manufacturing a product on the small scale of demand for our vacuum trucks does not merit consideration. So they are happy to buy our equipment because of the quality and reliability that we can offer; because of our custom-built process.”
“One of our largest and most memorable exports was in 2013 when we shipped an order for 18 machines to Peru,” he added. “That transaction went through our local port, JaxPort. Financially, that was quite a windfall for both Vac-Con and the local community.”
LeSage explained that Vac-Con is one of the employee-owned, Holden Industries companies. Holden Industries was established in 2003 and today includes Vac-Con, Inc., Nosco, Inc., Wildeck Inc., and Setco Inc.
Heading outside, Coleman and I examined several completed vacuum trucks that were staged and ready for shipment to customers across the globe. Moving on, we entered the manufacturing plant through the tidy, steel storage area outside the main facility. Coleman said the company makes many of the parts that go into producing each truck. Foremost among those is the vacuum fan that powers the suction system.
“The fans are made in-house because they need to be perfectly balanced since they run at 6,000 RPM,” said Coleman. “This component is extremely important, so we want to maintain the highest level of quality control on this part. We cannot risk a failure of the fan. The fans are the heart of the vacuum truck. They need to be perfectly balanced.”
Vac-Con’s fabrication shop makes a number of other in-house manufactured components that make up the more than 30,000 parts that they have in stock. These parts include the structural, specialized components that go into manufacturing a completed truck. On this visit, we did not tour the fabrication shop located across the street that separates this 17-acre complex.
Coleman said in 2015, in order to meet the increasing demand for their custom-built vacuum trucks, the company went through a facility expansion at the 160,000 sq. ft. plant that included a new 29,200 sq. ft. warehouse addition that is 45 feet high. This additional height was part of the new design as a way to accommodate the six new Kardex Remstar Shuttle XP vertical lift modules (VLM) that were installed. He noted the older warehousing was only 25 feet high, which would have limited the number and height of the new VLMs. Ultimately, they were able to double-stack the modules, doubling storage capacity on the allotted floor space.
“The VLMs have made parts inventory control much simpler,” said Coleman. “Orders for trucks come in and the work orders are created by the computer based Power Pick Global (PPG) inventory management software. This system manages the parts picking process, including the larger parts like pony engines and rack storage components that are moved by forklift. By moving the parts more efficiently, we are able to assemble more trucks per month. We currently have units in various stages of assembly in 10 manufacturing bays.”
“Each VLM module has 89 trays, with each tray capable of holding 2000 pounds of parts. When our parts come in or are needed for workers to build a truck, VLM operators like Meranda McCarty are able to enter the information into the PPG inventory management system and the VLM ‘delivers’ the part to the operator, at waist height. Not only that, when we restock the parts into inventory, the VLM finds the ideal open area for the tray to be stored, taking into consideration the height of the parts on each tray.”
Coleman said they hope to add more VLMs to their inventory control system as the company continues to grow, emphasizing the parts department ships an average of 12,000 parts per year. That is added to the multitude of components that make up the vacuum trucks they produce. By continuing to improve the parts management system, Vac-Con is able to increase the number of trucks they can build each month. Ultimately, their production target is 50 trucks per month.
Vac-Con’s product line is extensive due to the flexibility of their design features and options. The Titan™ Dual Engine Combination sewer cleaning machine is the top of the line unit — available in three sizes. Many of the standard features offered on Titan machines are listed as options on other manufacturer’s units.
Vac-Con’s standard dual engine combination machine is available in five sizes from five to 16-yard capacities. In this configuration, the chassis engine drives either the three-stage fan or positive displacement blower vacuum system. “Using a standard hydrostatic drive, this design can engage the industry’s most powerful vacuum.”
The single-engine models are also available in five sizes. Absent the pony engine on the dual powered models, the vehicle’s chassis engine powers a hydrostatic drive to power the vacuum and water systems.
Two lines of vacuum excavators offer customers a number of ways to do vacuum excavation on such jobs as trenching, exposing underground utilities and highway and street repairs. The X-Cavator™ is what might be called the “standard” model while the XX-Cavator™ is a larger version that includes special insulation and recirculation features that allow for operation in extreme climates and temperatures. Its engineering features low decibel noise levels and improved fuel efficiency.
Vac-Con industrial vacuum loaders are another of the company’s product line. These units can recover wet or dry material and are available with several options including automatic material return system and hi-dump.
Finally, Vac-Con offers their line of Hot Shot high-pressure water jet machines. According to Vac-Con specs, these pressure washers are designed to provide “superior high-pressure flushing action that gives the added power needed to clear stones, bottles, cans, grease, sludge and other stagnant debris from sanitary sewer and/or storm drain lines.”
Additionally, as previously mentioned, trailer-mounted units are also available through the company’s Vector Industries subsidiary. These products are briefly covered in the attached sidebar.
For more information on Vac-Con, visit vac-con.com or call 1•904•493•4969.