BlueWorks Finds Big Success Lining Small Pipes

Focusing on smaller pipelines in large facilities gives Florida contractor a strong foothold in an overlooked sector of the industry.
BlueWorks Finds Big Success Lining Small Pipes
The staff at BlueWorks includes (back, from left) Project Manager Anna Peterson, General Manager Erin Dunham, Managing Director Jeremy Schultz, Project Manager Chris Barsel, and pipe restoration specialists Brendyn Marsee and Eric Pinto. Front: Pipe restoration specialists Lovell Thomas and Joel Galindo. Photography by Armando Solares/SolaresPhotography.com

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Some contractors focus on residential work. Others target larger jobs in the municipal market. BlueWorks Inc., based in Clearwater, Florida, has combined elements of both in carving out a specific niche in the pipeline rehabilitation market.

The company’s bread and butter is the labyrinth of small-diameter pipe hiding in the floors and walls of high-rise residential complexes. The majority of BlueWorks’ contracts last about 30 days and involve large structures that are more than 25 years old. In a space of 5,000 square feet there can be 150 different pipes of various sizes that need to be televised, cleaned and sometimes replaced or relined.

Jeremy Schultz, managing director of BlueWorks, says the company specializes in these 8-inch and smaller lines. In 2013, they grossed $3 million in small-diameter work and completed a seven-month cleaning and relining project involving the 18-story Monaco Beach Club in Naples, Florida. They cleaned and relined 10,000 linear feet of pipe in the high-rise complex.

“We consider ourselves a sewer restoration company, and we want to see the various systems where we work restored to 100 percent operation,” Schultz says. “To accomplish this we use a myriad of techniques to get a system up and running properly. We do a lot of investigative work before executing a contract. We want to take care of our customers. We use diagnostics to identify the proper scope of work, and this takes a lot more legwork than other aspects of the business.

“In an 18-story, 130-unit, high-rise condominium there is more piping than there is in the road in front of the building,” he says. “Smaller pipes have more bends and more utilities attached. It requires diagnostics to identify the proper scope of work in such a building. With larger pipes, you can get bigger equipment in there. With smaller pipes, you cannot. This is a bigger challenge.”


Opportunity knocks

Schultz, who is a master plumber with a long history in the industry, believes this market is overlooked by many, but it has provided opportunity for his company. While they focus on large complexes and smaller pipes, they also respond to residential requests and handle lateral lines, manhole rehabilitation, and storm and sewer systems.

“In our work with high-rise buildings, in cleaning the vertical stacks we don’t use jetting equipment,” he says. “We use mechanical cleaning and our Vermeer vacuum equipment. Underneath the building and with roads, we use traditional jetting. Our technicians, on a job, will need three or four cameras because we will be televising those 2-inch lines as well as the larger pipes on a property.”

Crews tackle mechanical cleaning with a Picote Oy Ltd. machine, which gently scrubs the inside of the pipe, rather than more traditional jetting, which might damage fragile pipes. They primarily see cast iron, but also work with PVC, vitrified clay and corrugated metal pipe, all of which can be relined. They are often deteriorated, cracked or choked with buildups that cause leaks.

“The most important part of lining is the cleaning,” he says. “If the line is not cleaned properly, you cannot line it. We will often televise a line four times to make sure it is ready for relining. We can reline even those 2-inch lines; however, we do not always reline. There is still a place for conventional replacement, as long as it takes care of the customer properly.”

He says that in a high-rise building they could be lining as much as 10,000 feet, which can be very challenging. “You have to get it right,” he says.

Schultz has no qualms about noting the most important piece of equipment: “The cameras. You have to have a camera. If you don’t have a camera you are lost,” he says. “For us, we have to have a variety in order to perform. And the camera must be available when needed.”

Liners are prepared outside the building and brought in for installation. Cameras are easily moved about within a building. They have a variety of cameras, reels and cable capable of reaching as far as 300 feet down a line.

There are no typical lengths of pipe to be relined. It can be 300 feet or less than 10. A lateral branch line can be from 2 to 200 feet.

They have the capability to reline through pipe transitions by doing one length and then overlapping the next size going in the direction of the flow, then going back with the Picote machine to smooth out the transition.

“BlueWorks is certified for the Perma-Liner Industries inversion, pull-in-place, continuous inversion spot repair and lateral lining technologies,” Schultz says. “We have completed lining 2 miles of 6-inch to 3-inch vertical piping in the Monaco Beach Club building utilizing Perma-Liner technologies.

“Most of our smaller-diameter equipment is from Perma-Liner, and includes a continuous inverter, mini inverter steam unit and PIP spot repair gear. Also their mini reinstatement cutter, and we have an 18-foot Perma-Liner lateral lining trailer.”

When they have a call for larger-diameter pipe, they use Masterliner equipment and materials. These liners are typically installed with a platform truck or scaffolding using water inversion.

“We utilize a boiler for this, either the one on the platform truck or we rent one,” Schultz says. “Our group has a 10-year-old International, 10 million Btu platform rig.”

For smaller-diameter pipes they have Vermeer vacuums. They have a Vac-Tron Hydro Excavator and the Vermeer Mighty Mole Hydrovac.

They have two US Jetting trailer jetters that supply 18 gallons per minute with both 3/8- and 1/2-inch hoses. There is also a Honda jetter with 3/8-inch hose, and they lease a drop-axle Vac-Tron with a 3/4-inch hose.

Their CCTV truck is a 2009 Ford outfitted with CUES equipment, including two crawler cameras.
 

Early diagnosis

BlueWorks covers the entire state, and when they get a request for a proposal, there are a lot of questions to be answered. They want a good overview of what the customer is experiencing, whether it’s a percolating problem, burping, back pressure or backflow issues. The office staff, under the guidance of General Manager Erin Dunham, handles the initial fact finding.

“We try to understand the problems, get an assessment before sending out a technician,” Schultz says. “We also like to identify the customer needs. Is it a budget issue as well? We usually work with a board of directors. We like to make recommendations before we start any work.

“Often when they first call they will tell us it is in the stacks, but usually it is something in the ground causing the stack to back up.

“Water losses are extremely expensive,” he adds. “With sludge, mold, if you are in a three-story building and water is dripping from the third floor into the second floor, it has to be taken care of. We work to find the right solution for our client.”

When they complete a large project, they have an engineering firm verify their work. 
 

The right people

BlueWorks has a couple dozen people on staff and has specific hiring requirements.

“We are a unique boutique operation,” Schultz says. “Recent use of drugs or alcohol abuse is not acceptable. We can’t have that going on. We want willingness to work and someone who wants a long career with the company. We do our own training because we are not like a NASSCO seminar where you can pull out a spec book.

“We will interview up to 15 people, select one applicant and work with him for two weeks. Our staff has a lot of experience; I have a lot of experience. In two weeks we can pick up the traits that will or will not work for us. If this is not our candidate, we will pay generously, thank him for his time and move on.

“Attitude is important,” he adds. “That is more important than knowing how to run a jetter. An inexperienced guy with a phenomenal attitude and a desire to better himself and his life has it over the guy with a bad attitude who knows how to run equipment. An old joke is that every new employee’s baggage is only a week behind him, so usually by the end of two weeks, and after looking at references and behavior, we can tell if this is our candidate.”

He adds that they like to hire those who have served in the military whenever possible.

Chris Barsel, project manager and a former Marine, heads a very qualified staff, from the office through technicians and others. Schultz and Barsel, who are both actively involved in the contracts and proposals, meet with customers before a contract is signed and continue to do so throughout the project.

BlueWorks typically has three to four large contracts in progress throughout the state and into the Florida Keys, with crews of three to five technicians on site. The company will often rent a home for the workers, who spend five days on the project each week until completion. At the Clearwater base, technicians are available to take care of the shorter-term local calls.

In Clearwater, they operate out of an office and warehouse facility, and there is also an office in Naples. Additionally, they have a “laydown” lot in Jacksonville where they can park equipment. Because of the weather concerns during hurricane season, their equipment is extremely mobile, mostly housed in box trucks or trailers for easy removal, even when on a work site.

Schultz says equipment is never parked for long because their guys are always using their gear. “That is what you want. No tools on the shelf. Tools out on a job.”



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