Miles and Miles of Pipe

Illinois contractor zeroes in on CCTV opportunities and finds a winning strategy
Miles and Miles of Pipe

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Brooke Nemeth had been in the industry for 10 years and had already served as president of one company when he decided it was time to put his experience and ideas to work in his own enterprise. He teamed up with John Smyth, who had a strong business background, to form Tunnel Vision Inc. in Carol Stream, Ill.

That was in 2003 with the economy roaring ahead. The partners were getting off the ground providing CCTV for major homebuilders in the state. When the engine of construction came off the rails and banks began foreclosing on large developments, Tunnel Vision kept busy inspecting lines on properties going up for sale.

“In order to get new loans for the foreclosures, we were hired to go in and clean and televise the lines,” Nemeth says. “When that revenue stream dried up, it was time to find another direction.”

They turned to the many municipalities around Chicago.

Contractors they had dealt with in new construction also segued into city/government and contractor work, and Tunnel Vision continued those associations as they sought to offer maintenance services to that viable market.

 

Off on the right foot

Nemeth says that from the beginning, having the right equipment – whether working in new construction, or in maintenance and inspection for towns and villages – has been both the salvation and backbone of their operation. They televised just over 100 miles of pipe per year during their first eight years in business.

“The most important thing is keeping equipment up to date, particularly when it comes to today’s television systems, and keeping up with all advances in software,” Nemeth says.

“When we started, we purchased a 2003 CCTV demo from UEMSI, and we have a 1992 Ford F800 jetter truck with an FMC F700 R pump 2,000 psi/60 gpm, 1,000-gallon water tank. We now have a 2011 GMC high cube CCTV van built by UEMSI. Our two cameras are the standard Explorer Pan & Tilt cameras with built-in lighthead.

“Additionally, we have UEMSI’s Low Profile lighthead, and the High Performance lighthead. We also have three of their TRAX Jr. crawlers. We use UEMSI’s Visual Pipes software. Our inventory list includes confined-space entry equipment from MSA North America. We are all trained for this procedure. John works in the office and in the field as well when we need a third man. Our employee, Jason Wrobleski, has been with us eight years, and he runs all the equipment just as well as I do. It’s so nice to have him with us.”

Nemeth says they like the high cube van because it provides a lot more room in the studio and allows the operators to sit and watch the video during inspections. When they go out on a job, the F800 and the 2011 GMC always go together.

He notes the differences in inspecting older systems and conditions they find as opposed to those in new construction. New pipe is primarily PVC, but now they’re inspecting older pipe, including clay, tile, iron, concrete and some PVC. Mainly it is clay. They inspect lines from 8 inches up to 108 inches and televise and clean both storm and sanitary sewer lines, where they are seeing breaks, cracks and lots of roots as well as grease in locations where there are restaurants.

Sometimes they find an offset, and with the larger pipe the crawler can sometimes get over and continue. If it’s a smaller pipe and the crawler can’t get through the offset, they will inspect from one manhole up to the trouble spot, and then go back in from a manhole on the other side. After inspection, they provide the municipality (or other) engineers with the photos so they know the issue. Final reports include the digital file along with still photos.

 

Cleaning before televising

Nemeth likes the Skid Style Root & Grease Cutter by Sewer Equipment Co. of America for clearing lines clogged by roots. With grease, he uses the aforementioned equipment in addition to a UEMSI Penetrator Nozzle.

“This is a smaller nozzle that has a port on the front and is designed to shoot 2,000 psi from that port,” he says. “It will chew up whatever is causing a blockage – for example, clumps of toilet paper, grease, roots, and other obstructions. We may need to go in more than once to clean the line before putting the camera in.”

In addition to the root cutter, there are three nozzles Nemeth likes to have available: UEMSI’s Sand Nozzle for loose debris, their Penetrator Nozzle, and an Enz 50.100 Bulldozer Nozzle by Enz USA Inc.

“The Sand Nozzle has a lot of ports and does a good job of cleaning the whole circumference. The Bulldozer has some weight on it so it will stay on the bottom of the pipe and is designed to really jet what has been sitting there for a while.”

For larger pipes where water might be flowing, Nemeth developed a boat using PVC to carry the camera. The camera is mounted on the crawler, and the crawler is secured to the boat using boat hose clamps. A flexible armored wire is hooked securely to the crawler. Nemeth says he is always able to retrieve the boat and camera by reeling it in with power from the truck in the event of a problem.

This procedure requires three technicians. The TV operator, the jetter operator and the third in confined-space entry equipment to go into the manhole to disconnect or hook up the camera. They use Motorola two-way radios to communicate during the inspection.

“During the inspection with the camera facing straight, we can turn the head and invert it up and that gives us a better view of the pipe. We can invert the camera head down if something is suspect on the bottom of the pipe. You would want to check out the circumference of the pipe if you see some debris or cracks at the top of the pipe. You will check to see if a crack is a circular crack.”

Having the auxiliary lights is also helpful in inspecting these larger pipes.

“When the auxiliary lights are plugged in, the lights on the camera will automatically turn off. If you want a closer inspection, you turn off the auxiliary lights and the camera lights will come on. The Low Profile lighthead uses two 35-watt 791 bulbs. The Hi Performance lighthead uses either two 82-volt/85-watt bulbs or two 82-volt/150-watt bulbs. Both of these clamp onto the Explorer camera behind the rotating head.”

In catch basin inspection, Nemeth says they utilize the confined-space entry equipment because of the debris that collects at the bottom of the system during heavy rains, and where there could be exposure to unhealthy elements.

“We will use the tripod, harness and winch, and wear rubber waders as well,” he says.

 

Lines of defense

Nemeth and Smyth believe in doing their own training, and when it comes to operating the CCTV equipment there are some basic but important steps to follow.

“We want whoever is operating the camera to be cautious about what is going on,” Nemeth says. “With today’s technology, if there is a question and I’m not on the job, Jason will email a picture of a bad area. This is a top priority. If there is a question or a problem to get around, we want to take the time to email me a picture. I can get on the phone and have an answer as to how to proceed.”

He says they keep in mind that the equipment is expensive, and they want to keep current on software updates, and to be able to turn to suppliers when they have the need for repair or parts as they want to be fully prepared to respond to business opportunities.

“The municipalities go out for contract each year for cleaning and inspection,” Nemeth says. “For emergency work, they usually have their own jetter, but we get some of those calls as well. If the town clears the line, they frequently have us back to televise to see what caused the problem in the first place.”

Nemeth notes that another revenue stream has emerged as they work for contractors who install sewer lines.

“If they are going to replace a street or road, they will have us come in and televise all existing sewers as they replace the road,” he says.

They will also return to inspect at conclusion of the work. Once again, Tunnel Vision is frequently working with the same companies who were putting in pipes for the subdivisions.

Nemeth says the thing they really like is being able to help municipalities when they have problems, being able to explain what is going on.

He described an incident in Carol Stream where they had a blockage, and the village brought in their jetter and then had Tunnel Vision inspect the line. They found that a hole had been punched in the sewer line by a company doing directional boring. As a result, Tunnel Vision began an extensive inspection of other lines that were in close proximity to the project that caused the problem.

“We recorded the incident on a DVD and supplied the village with two copies. One for them and one for the other company.”

 

Selective channeling

Nemeth says that the best piece of advice he ever got came from a former boss, who admonished him to always stay focused on one area and not try to be and do everything. He believes that their business plan, with a strict focus on cleaning and televising, was the right way to go.

“When we first started, we did try to grow a little too fast in that we hired too many service people,” Nemeth says. “We had three besides ourselves, and now we have just the one technician. For now, that works.”

The company operates out of a 2,000-square-foot facility in an industrial park where they have an office and room to park all three of their trucks.

Tunnel Vision has remained focused on their strategy to concentrate and perform professionally those services that have built their base.

“We keep getting calls,” Nemeth says. “We put up our website and that is bringing us jobs. But mainly it is word of mouth for us. We don’t have a big budget for advertising or other promotions. A lot of it has to do with lots of prayers, and just plain dumb luck.”



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