A wise man once said that difficulties exist to be overcome.
Brubacher Excavating Inc., based in Bowmansville, Pa., is a textbook example of doing just that when dealing with some of the major problems facing construction companies at present: the need to adapt to a changing work environment and shifting market demands while at the same time coping with the current recession and subsequent lack of confidence within the industry.
The company is successfully overcoming the challenges of today’s difficult economic climate by expanding its services.
“We came to realize we cannot wait for commercial and residential construction funding to return. In addition, some current clients’ status is less active,” said President Keith A. Brubacher, co-owner of the company with his brother Myron. “So we had to seek additional opportunities. The new ventures are complementary to the work we already do. We considered them for several months, so it was about half a year from concept to execution.”
The new ventures include expansion of vacuum excavation and the addition of directional drilling and pipe fusion services.
The company did not offer vacuum excavation until about two years ago, and its fleet of equipment now includes two vacuum excavation trucks, the second added in 2009. The Vacmaster 1000 and 4000 are self-contained two-man trucks, where one person loosens and another holds the hose to extract the material.
In addition, because of its ability to locate utilities and other underground obstructions, vacuum excavation reduces the likelihood of interference with, or accidents involving, these types of obstructions.
“We are therefore able to assist during the planning process, avoiding costly delays, broken lines, unnecessary redesign and so on,” Brubacher said. “As a result of this service, we can help to bring to light challenges and constraints for project design, including alternative designs.
“We also look for new types of applications coming in the door, growing markets where we can positively impact safety and schedules rather than subcontracting the work,” he added.
One such opportunity for an excavation company would seem to be the huge amount of gas exploration currently under way in the Commonwealth’s Marcellus Shale. However, such work is carried out by vertical drill rigs rather than by directional drilling. Even so, as Brubacher pointed out, the Marcellus Shale offers diverse opportunities for support work such as road and pad construction, environmental compliance, utility lines and so on.
Elsewhere, the company is employing its Vermeer 24 x 40 directional drill with great success. Directional drilling provides for installation of underground utilities or telecommunication cables without disruption to the work location. It is therefore particularly useful for, but not limited to, city jobs and areas difficult to reach with conventional drills.
As Dave Olson, company specialty department manager, put it, directional drilling can allow them to drill under a parking lot and emerge a hundred yards away without disturbing the lot. Thus for many applications it is more economical and less intrusive.
“As an example, we utilized it on the Overbrook Golf Course in Bryn Mawr, Pa., where we installed underground utilities without disturbing the course,” he said.
The company’s HDPE (High Density Poly-Ethylene) pipe fusion capabilities have been growing over the past several years, with what Brubacher termed “a major leap” when the company became certified to fuse pipes up to 36-in. (91.4 cm) diameter and installed a 9-mi. (14.4 km) methane line in eastern Lancaster County. This service is often coupled with directional drilling, which the company added in the spring of 2010.
Brubacher Excavating Inc. uses McElroy fusion equipment for this type of job. Fused pipes are particularly favored by sanitary sewer and utility companies because with fewer joints the possibility of leaks is reduced. In addition, fused areas have increased strength.
With regard to safety, while key training and federal and background checks are required for blasters, there is no required certification for rock drillers. However, through Brubacher’s operator certification curriculum the company ensures that all of its operators are familiar with the safety and maintenance requirements of the equipment they operate.
“We have begun to offer many of our safety and training classes to our vendors, subcontractors and many other companies, which not only assists them but also generates additional revenue,” Brubacher said. “Often a class will include someone from a vendor or sub. In addition, broadening classes beyond our own use strengthens our relationships with our business partners.”
“We also carry out equipment and truck repairs for clients, and we’ve added a Wirtgen W120 asphalt milling machine to enhance our paving and utility main replacement capabilities, while also giving us greater control of quality, safety and schedules,” he added.
The response of the company’s clients to its new services has been overwhelming, according to Olson.
“A big percentage of customers are excited by the safe way to locate utilities in advance of excavation. The directional drilling work has met with success as well, including one project in Easton, Md., where our team successfully placed 16-inch HDPE sewer main in several 500-foot pulls. Our pipe fusion crew performed the splices. Clients value the alternatives our team has to offer, along with the minimized impact to natural habitats, traffic, and restoration costs,” he said.
And what of the years ahead for construction?
Brubacher sees a gradual stabilization and recovery in the next two to three years, and then five to 10 for it to return to a prior level of investment, with the ongoing results of years of infrastructure neglect having become noticeable to the public leading to more investment in infrastructure.
Needless to say, the company has plans in hand to cover all eventualities.
“Company growth is a byproduct of the work we do and we will continue to ask clients how to meet their emerging and future needs,” Brubacher said, “and we will then adjust training to meet those needs.”
About the Company
Jesse Brubacher operated JB Excavating during the 1950s. The company was purchased in the mid-1980s by Benjamin S. Brubacher (father of Keith A. and Myron) and absorbed into Brubacher Excavating Inc., founded by Benjamin in 1971 with one backhoe and a pickup truck. Currently employing 275 people, in May this year the company was ranked as central Pennsylvania’s Number 1 Excavating Contractor by Central Penn Business Journal.
Working in central and eastern Pennsylvania, northern Maryland and Delaware, the company reported a 2009 revenue $4 million higher than the second placed contractor.
Brubacher Excavating Inc. provides a full range of site development services including excavating and general earthwork, asphalt paving and milling, pipe and utility installation, surveying, safety consultations and training services, in addition to land clearing, demolition and disposal work and road construction. CEG
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