Small Cutter Speeds Up Reinstatement Time on Pipe Lining Jobs

Compact robotic cutter reinstates laterals faster and reduces odds of jobs going sideways

Small Cutter Speeds Up Reinstatement Time on Pipe Lining Jobs

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Reinstating branch lines after installing liners in residential and commercial sewer laterals used to be a time-consuming job for Norman Hostetler, a trenchless specialist at TCI Plumbing in Goodfield, Illinois.

But after investing in a Micro S light plus robotic cutter from IMS Robotics GmbH, Hostetler can reinstate lines in half the time — and with considerably less risk of creating other problems that could crimp productivity, he says.

“The Micro S speeds up reinstatements because it’s small enough to fit inside a 3-inch clean-out,” Hostetler says. “That allows us to reinstate branch lines from inside the liner instead of coming down the ‘back side’ by pulling toilets or going down other drains to gain access.

“Reinstatements go a lot faster when you can reinstate all lines from one access point. I’d say that on average, we can reinstate a service in about 15 minutes, compared to 30 to 40 minutes if we come in through the back side. So it cuts reinstatement time roughly in half.”

While the compact unit allows entry into smaller-diameter pipes, it doesn’t sacrifice power for size. It has the same size motor as larger cutters, Hostetler says, so there’s no loss in cutting power.

Using multiple access points to reinstate lines also raises the risk of encountering problems in branch lines. The lines might be deteriorating or need descaling prior to reinstatement, which adds time and risk to lining jobs, says Jake Bridges, a licensed plumber at TCI Plumbing, which is a division of TCI Companies.

“The Micro S helps us keep costs in line because you’re less likely to run into a bunch of unexpected issues,” he says. “If a reinstatement turns into a much bigger job and you already quoted the customer a price, you’re stuck. So this machine essentially helps protect our bids.”

The company purchased the Micro S from Pipeline Renewal Technologies, the North American distributor for IMS Robotics products.

Designed to accommodate 3- to 9-inch lines, the Micro S — which includes a color camera head and LED lights for brighter illumination — is pushed into place via a 1-inch-diameter plastic hose with a pushrod inside. The unit comes with either 98 or 164 feet of hose.

The cutter heads are pneumatically powered. To lock the unit into place during reinstatements, the operator inflates a rubber bladder, located behind the cutting-head module, until it’s firmly lodged.

Controlled with a joystick, the cutting-head module swivels up to 90 degrees and rotates 360 degrees. It also offers a time-saving bonus: The cutting head rotates continuously in either direction, so operators don’t have to go all the way around the “clock” to reach different reinstatement positions — a big advantage on jobs with many reinstatements.

The system includes a two-wheel handcart that holds a hose reel and a control box featuring a 10-inch LCD color monitor. The cart/monitor ensemble weighs between 136 and 154 pounds (depending on the hose length) and measures roughly 33 inches long by 20 inches wide by 47 inches tall.

The cutter can work horizontally or vertically and can negotiate elbows in lined pipes. It comes with one cutting head but a variety of cutters designed to handle different materials are available.

The Micro S, which the company purchased in September 2020 for about $78,000, checks off other boxes, too. It’s also used to grind down protruding taps and off-set joints, which increases its value and versatility.

The machine also boosts employee safety because operators rarely have to go up on rooftops to gain access through stack pipes for reinstatements, Hostetler adds.

Furthermore, the Micro S has proven to be both durable and reliable. “We haven’t had a breakdown yet,” he says, noting that the machine gets used a few times a week. “IMS products are known for their reliability.”

As for improving customer service, most clients don’t know how the machine saves time on a job. But Hostetler says the better productivity it provides translates into something they do understand: lower costs and a competitive bid from TCI Plumbing.

“When customers see a machine like this, it puts us in a different category,” Bridges says. “They’re impressed when they see this kind of technology.”

“I wouldn’t want to line pipes without it,” Hostetler adds. “It just makes the whole reinstatement process so much easier and faster.” 



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