Video inspection and locating systems can require significant investment for many small businesses. But their unique diagnostic and marketing potential offers major income and productivity promise.
So to accelerate return-on-investment and to avoid costly mistakes, consider four key questions when choosing the right system for your needs:
What size pipe, drains and sewers will you likely be inspecting?
First, determine what size lines you need to inspect. You have a variety of options.
Push-rod style systems are perfect for inspecting outside laterals and inside pipes. And as the name implies, they’re literally pushed down lines by operators.
The four types of inspection systems reflect those work-place realities:
• Micro-Systems: Designed for optimal flexibility maneuvering through small 1-1/2- to 3-inch lines, push-rods for micro-systems are often thin and weak. And their use in larger pipes and conduits can increase the likelihood of damage. Additionally, micro-systems seldom sport built-in locator beacons – and might not include associated recording devices. Push-rod lengths range up to 100 feet, but it’s hard to push it beyond 40 feet in a small line with lots of twists and turns.
• Mini-Systems: Optimized for 2- and 3-inch indoor lines, mini-systems are often used for inspecting the small- and medium-sized pipe connecting building restroom facilities, sinks, and toilets. Mini-system push-rods are usually stronger and less flexible than those on micro-systems, but emphasis still remains on flexibility, not strength. And if used in larger pipes, they risk kinking and damage. However, they usually include built-in locator beacons and recording systems. It’s usually available in up to 200-foot lengths, but you won’t need more that 100 feet as a 2-inch line will drop into a larger line within that distance.
• Main Line Systems: Designed for larger 3- to 10-inch outdoor lines, main lines to street or septic systems feature push-rod flexible enough to negotiate a house trap, and the emphasis is on strength – not flexibility. These systems generally have the same features as mini-systems. Although units with push-rods as long as 400 feet are available, it’s hard to push these types of cameras farther than 200 feet down the line.
• Tractor Pull Systems: Tractor pull devices are generally designed for large, municipal-type drain lines (10 inches and larger) – and, as the name suggests, actually pull themselves down lines. Prices start in the high $30,000 range and increase from there. And public works departments and larger companies remain typical users of tractor pull options.
So here’s your rule-of-thumb: When purchasing a push-rod system, choose the largest, strongest push-rod that fits into the pipe.
This will mitigate issues of wear and tear – and allow you to push the camera head further down the line.
Remember: The stronger the push-rod, the longer its reach. When in doubt about purchasing smaller or larger push-rod, buy the larger size.
Do you need a built-in recording device?
The short answer: Yes.
To track problems and convey information, a built-in recording device can save time and money.
Moreover, recording capability markedly broadens your video inspection system’s flexibility, making it a powerful diagnostic, marketing and money-making tool.
Even if you only need a quick “look-see,” a recording device literally lets anyone not present during actual inspections – customers and co-workers – grasp the nature of hidden problems.
Sure, after-market recording devices are available from some electronic retailers. But to ensure complete compatibility, get recording equipment specifically tailored for your particular inspection system. That guarantees reliability, performance and manufacturer warranty compliance.
As for recording media, follow this rule-of-thumb: The less moving parts, the fewer repair issues.
Formerly popular physical recording media stalwarts such as DVDs, SD cards and hard drives are giving way to newer USB flash drives. Contractors like using flash drives because they can easily get their business name printed on it and give it to their customers for greater brand identification.
Now Wi-Fi-equipped units are becoming popular. That’s because wireless capability lets operators conveniently use tablets and smartphones to display “real time” video output from inspection systems.
With Wi-Fi-equipped systems, contractors can also save and upload video files to decision-makers, YouTube, and social media – streamlining information-sharing with customers and prospects.
Do you need the ability to locate the camera position?
Most “mini” and “standard” sized units sport built-in sondes to trace the location and depth of cameras in lines – and, by extension, any concealed problems they find.
So here’s your rule-of-thumb: Never underestimate the importance of an easy-to-use, accurate, and reliable locator in pinpointing hidden problems.
It’s dangerous to rely on just the footage counter to know where the problem in the pipe is. With so many twists and turns in the line, you may know how much push-rod is in the line, but you won’t know where the trouble spot is.
Fortunately, the latest digital devices make locating easier than ever. A locator with a total field antenna array and intuitive, on-screen icons can quickly target hidden problems – without a long learning curve.
Make sure they’re versatile, too. Latest models can easily and precisely pinpoint inspection cameras, as well as sondes, active buried power lines and utilities.
Just make sure you can quickly track camera position. Look for a model with an easy-to-see, auto-backlit display that offers clarity in diverse conditions. The best devices sport arrow and icons that literally point you in the right direction.
Accidents can happen. So choose a rugged locator with an IP65 rating – the industry’s highest for equipment performing in dusty, dirty or wet jobsite conditions. That means the device passed a rigorous drop test and its screen proved to be strongly impact-resistant.
Go for accuracy and productivity – and augment your inspection arsenal with a digital locator. Just remember: Some are easier than others to use. Try some and see.
How available is service after the sale?
Video inspection and location systems sport cameras you shove down sewers. What could possibly go wrong with that?
Plenty! And that means system repairs could prove costly and lengthy.
But proper training can significantly reduce repair bills. Manufacturers have long noted direct correlation between inexperienced user technique and camera damage frequency – across all sizes and makes of inspection systems.
That’s why you should purchase a video inspection and location system from a factory representative who trains operators in proper product use. That will help spell the difference between equipment dependability and unreliability – and company profit and loss.
But what of after-sale support? Is prompt repair available?
When seeking a factory-trained repair center, convenience counts. If you don’t have a repair center in your city, at least look for one in your time zone. If your unit must be shipped to China for repair, you might rethink your buying strategy.
These four questions will help guide your search for video inspection and location equipment.
Familiarity and comfort with certain brands, dealers and representatives will also play key roles in your decision. So get different points of view. Talk to experienced users. And seek hands-on product demonstrations to gauge how units really work.
Purchasing a system is a large investment that could impact business for years. So take time. Consider the facts. And make the right call.
After all, your bottom line is at stake!