PlumbingNew Depths

Jan. 1, 2000
If you think of video pipe-location and -inspection equipment as cumbersome big-ticket items with specialized appeal, look a little deeper. The latest

If you think of video pipe-location and -inspection equipment as cumbersome big-ticket items with specialized appeal, look a little deeper. The latest models offer considerable performance, durability, reliability and operating enhancements.

These technological improvements have broadened the range of potential markets beyond plumbing professionals. This also heightens chances for savvy rental centers to forge new profit centers and garner additional equipment rentals.

Plumbers and drain-cleaning specialists are not the only ones boosting profits and productivity by renting the latest video inspection systems. Increasingly, customers in the rental industry are reporting that property managers, well inspectors, chimney sweeps, local municipalities, hospitals and schools are also excellent marketing prospects. Like smaller plumbing and drain-cleaning specialists, they have staff who recognize the value of camera systems, but can't justify the purchase.

Municipalities, for instance, employ color video inspection equipment for dye tests in sewer lines. The infrequency of such work, coupled with potentially high costs of outside contractor services, makes camera system rentals appealing to budget-conscious authorities.

Likewise, facilities managers and custodial staff at rental properties, hospitals and schools handle heating/ventilation/air conditioning and plumbing chores themselves.

Relatively high investment costs can place such equipment beyond the reach of smaller companies. That's why renting state-of-the-art video inspection systems makes sense for companies with limited resources: They pay for equipment when they need it, preserving scarce capital. Renting helps them determine whether a system worth several thousand dollars actually warrants future purchase.

Renting video inspection equipment for use by skilled in-house employees makes fiscal sense, as one suburban Memphis facility found out. For months, regular backups plagued one second-floor toilet and bath in this facility. Drain-cleaning specialists snaked the line clear, but the problem returned a few days later. No one could solve the maddening mystery until a pipe-inspection system revealed an oversized screw in a first floor clean-out protruding halfway into the line. Over time, the slender unseen obstruction had snagged toilet paper and debris, eventually blocking the conduit. Periodic snakings had simply punched temporary holes in the stoppage, which quickly clogged again.

Using the inspection system's on-screen distance counter and digital locator, the facility swiftly pinpointed the problem clean-out, removed the screw and replaced it with a proper one. Problem solved.

Camera-Friendly Few dispute that video technology can effectively eliminate the guesswork of inspecting concealed areas. So whether the problem's beneath a concrete driveway or in a wall, camera systems spare operators the cost of breaking up an area, only to discover the problem elsewhere.

That's the theory.

Low light levels, signal interference and use restrictions among other problems have plagued initial designs. They also earned well-deserved reputations for serious operating complexities. Mechanisms to locate camera heads with crude, inaccurate analog detectors and cumbersome triangulation methods, for example, proved the most troublesome and annoying concerns.

Today's user-friendly systems have effectively eliminated these initial problems by offering packages that include everything rental center customers need to trouble-shoot 1 1/2-inch and larger lines. They should also offer easy-to-follow supplemental instructional and promotional materials such as customer "how-to" videos.

But before a camera spots the problem, customers must spot the camera - easily! So make sure your package includes a handheld digital locator. The best models sport push-button, instant depth-finding capability down to the inch. A digital locator should also feature a clear, easy-to-read LCD display and locate cast-iron pipe to a depth of 10 feet and clay conduits to 20 feet.

Digital locators are inherently more versatile than earlier analog devices. With the availability of "how-to" videos from manufacturers, they're also easier for rental customers to use. Models with multimode signal finders can detect almost anything underground: camera signal transmissions, high-resistance conductors, larger diameter pipes, live power lines, fiber-optic runs and CATV cables. Capabilities such as these heighten your chances for renting systems to many different types of users.

Successful rental centers know that video inspection systems not only locate a problem, but can lead to additional rentals of equipment like these:

* Cable Drain-Cleaning Machines. A good selection of reliable easy-to-operate, easy-to-clean devices for removal of clogs in various diameter lines.

* Gas or Electric Water Jets. To cut through grease, sludge, sand and ice stoppages. (Jets are also useful for helping propel the camera head through difficult-to-negotiate lines.)

* Excavation Equipment. Such as earthmovers, back hoes and jackhammers to unearth the problem for repair. Don't forget such hand tools as post-diggers, either.