Whisper Quiet

Ground-breaking local ingenuity is giving Smart Dig the advantage when it comes to quieter hydro excavation.

Rob Southey set up in business back in 1997 with a single truck cleaning effluent ponds for farmers. From there, his company has grown quickly to the point where Southeys Group has now cornered the market in not only the removal of liquid waste but also hydro excavation services.

In this capacity, Southeys is at the cutting edge of technology, with its latest hydro excavator, developed in house, operating at half the noise of its counterparts.

Rob imported his first hydro excavator from the States years ago – one of the first companies to invest in this type of machine here – and says that in that first year it sat in the shed more than it worked as clients weren’t fully aware of its capabilities and advantages.

But then, with the rollout of broadband internet services around the country requiring a lot of excavation work, and the resulting damage to services when they were hit by diggers, Rob’s hydro excavator came into its own.

Hydro excavation works by pumping water in at low pressure and then sucking it back out again along with the debris. This gentle excavation negates the chance of accidentally damaging the underground services, as well as eliminating the risk of injury to a digger operator who may hit an electrical cable or gas pipe.

Rob’s passion for hydro excavation saw him set up Smart Dig in partnership with Hugh Harvey of MS Engineering with the aim of producing an efficient machine that was more reliable, safer and economical than the rest.

Part of the success of Smart Dig’s machines can be attributed to them being designed by an operator, one who knows exactly what the machine needs to be able to do.

Smart Dig manufactures hydro excavators, offering considerable performance improvements on that early machine which was prone to breaking down. The company is continuously looking at every aspect of the technology. They developed an innovative drop-box to maximise airflow and improve suction, and engineered a hybrid waste water tank to reduce weight and the number of trips to the tip. The aim is to build machines that dig longer, combining speed, safety, and reliability.

“I was invited to join a leadership group of hydro excavator manufactures in the United States,” says Rob, “where we were discussing health and safety issues. One of the main topics was noise – for the operators and the public. This triggered me to start thinking about ways we could reduce the noise of our machines, as not only is it better for the operators, but it means we could work at night without disturbing the neighbours.”

Smart Dig machines are already ahead of the game compared to a number of rivals as they use an auxiliary engine to power the excavator. This small but powerful secondary engine means smaller fuel bills and less wear and tear on the truck engine.

Rob also says the noise of the truck engine is particularly problematic with the latest Tier 4 and Tier 5 engines which, as a side effect of their emissions reductions, have noisier radiators than older trucks.

In order to reduce the noise of an engine, the simple solution is to enclose it. However, this then creates a problem with overheating, so some engineering ingenuity was required.

“I sat down with Hugh at MS Engineering to talk through my ideas and get him to apply his engineering expertise to the problem. That lead to the involvement of Goughs in the project, as we use Caterpillar engines in some models of the Smart Dig hydro excavators.

“My input stopped after a while and I left it to MS Engineering and Goughs. They managed to figure it out and we now enclose not only the engine but the other components that make noise, such as the blower, while still allowing sufficient airflow to keep things cool.

“As a result, Southeys Group is now proud owners of the very first Smart-Dig HX 8000 Whisper Pack Hydro Excavator, which operates at a fraction the noise of its counterparts.

“In fact, we just got the results back from our independent testers which show a 50 percent reduction in noise. That’s absolutely colossal”.

“We’ve shown the machine to a couple of different clients and they can’t believe how quiet it is. We’re pretty chuffed.”

The next step is to retrofit the quieting solution to the Southeys Group fleet. They have 16 hydro excavators in total, based at their three locations in Auckland, Northland, and Wellington.

The new quieter Smart Dig hydro excavators will be exported to Australia, and the components, but not the whole machine, will also head to the USA.

“Initially, we developed the first hydro excavators for Southey’s Group exclusively, but then demand from within New Zealand and from overseas has seen sell nationally and export the technology.

“Southeys will be the only company with these quiet machines here in New Zealand,” says Rob. “We have probably sold 20 to 25 hydro excavators locally over the years, but with the quiet models, we want to be the only ones offering this superior solution to maintain our competitive advantage.”

Southeys works with all the major contracting firms in the country on a wide variety of projects. Currently, the big project is the motorway widening of the Southern Corridor in Auckland for CPB

“We have a large client base and are proud to have worked on most of the major infrastructure projects in Auckland and Wellington over the years,” says Rob. “Our expertise is particularly valued where they have required underground services exposed with non-destructive excavation.”  

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