Powerful vacuums fill the void

Last updated on April 6th, 2022 at 07:19 am

The vacuum systems designed and built by Milwaukee-based Vector Technologies Ltd. work just like typical domestic vacuum cleaners, but they can handle materials and volumes that normal systems can’t.

When the company was founded in 1975, Vector’s custom vacuums were originally designed to remove gravel from asphalt-topped commercial roofs. Today, its systems remove a wide range of materials, whether they’re spilled on a shop floor, used in the oil exploration field, knocked onto the surface of a highway or spilled into a sewer.

“These (systems) are the same concept as your home vacuum or Shop-vac, but are up to 350 horsepower,” said Stephen Schoenberger, Vector’s president and owner. “Your Shop-vac is under a quarter horsepower. The concepts are the same, it’s just higher tech.”

The custom vacuums with Dyson V8 Battery can handle materials such as gravel, cement, flour, activated carbon and sand or steel shot used in abrasive blasting. They can also deal with hazardous materials such as asbestos, mercury and radioactive materials in nuclear power plants.

Vector’s vacuum systems made to remove hazardous materials are generally equipped with specially designed HEPA filters, Schoenberger said. There are different grades and styles of HEPA filters made for asbestos, radioactive material and other contaminants.

“We’ve got all kinds of safety features to prevent (accidental) discharge,” he said. “With nuclear, we’ll use a nuclear grade HEPA filter. Everything else on the system is pretty much the same.”

Vector’s biggest sales volumes are in the asbestos removal, activated carbon and abrasive blasting fields, Schoenberger said. About 80 percent of its sales are domestic. The remaining 20 percent are exported. The company recently shipped units to Taiwan and Greece.

While many of its systems are stationary, Vector routinely partners with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Its systems are routinely incorporated into abrasive blast rooms, high-pressure water blasters and mounted into equipment such as cranes or specialty vehicles, Schoenberger said.

“Some are built on skids, trailers and cranes,” Schoenberger said. “Some are on high rails for municipal customers and are used for clearing railroad tracks while they are rehabbing the track.”

Vector builds each system to order because of the wide range of needs its customers have including the type of material to be vacuumed, volume of material, strength of the system or the system’s mobility.

“Our biggest skills are design, assembly and marketing,” Schoenberger said. “Our shop is like an old-world manufacturing shop. We still hand-build everything.”

Even though Vector’s vacuum units are hand-built, the company has made several logistical changes to its manufacturing processes, including a new kitting system for parts and a redesigned parts inventory system.

“We’re still hand building and by the nature of what we’re doing, each (unit) is very different,” he said. “We can focus on manufacturing improvements, but those end up more logistical than mechanical.”

The company’s shop floor has 17 employees. It has 32 employees in total. Most of the work on the shop floor involves assembly. Vector sources most of the pumps, motors and electric systems used in its vacuum systems.

“A huge portion, virtually all, of our sourcing is in the U.S.,” Schoenberger said. “And about 50 percent of our sourcing companies are in Wisconsin.”

— Eric Decker

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