Massive Cross-Bore Inspection Project Helps Phoenix Contractor Grow

Phoenix contractor taking on big cleaning and cross-bore projects across the West.
Massive Cross-Bore Inspection Project Helps Phoenix Contractor Grow
The AIMS/PVIC team includes (from left) Buck Taylor, Giovanna Calleros, Yusuf Munir, Chris Mihaletos, Wayne Lovelace, Maria Mihaletos, Tom Verbridge, Steven Hudson, Trish Tafoya and Stephen Walker.

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Camera trucks from Pipeline Video Inspection & Cleaning (PVIC) LLC will remain a familiar sight for residents of the San Francisco Bay Area as the company performs one of the country’s largest cross-bore inspection projects over the next 15 years.

By the time the project concludes around 2030, PVIC camera trucks will have inspected countless miles of mainline sewers and lateral lines at tens of thousands of properties to determine if they’ve been pierced by natural gas service lines installed over the years via trenchless installation techniques like horizontal directional drilling, says Steven Hudson, vice president of AIMS/PVIC LLC, the corporate parent of PVIC, AIMS LLC and AIMS Coatings LLC.

Headquartered in Phoenix, PVIC also operates offices in Houston and San Antonio, Oregon, Arizona and northern California. The company, which also performs general pipeline inspections and does hydroexcavating work, is a subcontractor on the Bay Area cross-bore project, initiated by a California gas utility, Hudson says.

“This is the biggest inspection project we’ve ever been involved with in terms of manpower, equipment and revenue,” Hudson says. “We’re in the third year of the project, which is projected to last another 10 years plus. We already performed approximately 2,000 property inspections in 2012 and 6,000 in 2013.”

The project’s genesis primarily stems from two factors: the increasing popularity of trenchless pipeline installations and the sometimes inaccurate (or even nonexistent) maps that show the location of congested underground lines, which results in dangerous cross bores. This year, Hudson projects that 10 PVIC camera trucks, manned by 25 to 30 employees hired locally just for the project, will perform 12,000 cross-bore inspections. In 2015, he anticipates that 15 camera truck crews will do another 20,000 property inspections.

RapidView LLC outfitted five of the camera trucks with IBAK LISY lateral-launch inspection camera systems that can launch from 6- to 48-inch-diameter mainline sewers and into lateral lines 4 inches or more in diameter. Five support crews are equipped with various push camera systems and jetting and locating equipment.

“We’ve already invested more than $2 million in new equipment, employee training and offices for this project,” Hudson says. “And we are prepared to continue investing as the project grows.”

Challenging line of work

The push cameras are necessary because in the San Francisco area, lateral lines often include P-traps or double P-traps that can prevent the lateral-launch camera from completing the required mainline-to-foundation inspection. In other cases, the lateral is broken so badly that it blocks lateral-launch camera entry. In either case, the small-diameter push camera can finish an inspection, Hudson explains.

“On any given day, one crew of four guys will do 10 to 12 inspections with a lateral-launch and a push camera truck [two men on each truck],” Hudson says. “It requires outreach efforts to property owners a week ahead of time.”

While admitting that investing millions of dollars in equipment and staff represents a calculated risk, Hudson says he does not expect the camera trucks and employees to remain idle after the project concludes.

“That equipment can be used for a number of different jobs, including routine pipeline maintenance,” he notes. “As long as there’s demand for building homes and building infrastructure that requires gas lines, there’ll be demand for [cross-bore] inspections. And that’s just for gas lines.

“Sewer lines also have to be inspected,” he continues. “When we work for gas companies, we’re looking for instances where the gas line conflicts with sewer lines. But on the sewer side, we inspect new pipeline installations for quality control. And it’s getting to the point where gas companies aren’t the only companies doing horizontal drilling – it’s being used to install everything from fiber optic to water to cable television lines, too.”

Expansion through acquisition

AIMS/PVIC was established in 2005 when Chris and Maria Mihaletos bought PVIC. In 2007, they acquired AIMS, which primarily provides hydroblasting, industrial vacuuming/cleaning and steel-and-concrete cutting services. About six months later, the Mihaletoses purchased a related industrial-coatings company, AIMS Coatings.

AIMS/PVIC is now a certified Women’s Business Enterprise; the majority owner and chief executive officer is Maria Mihaletos; husband Chris, a minority owner, also serves as the company’s president.

“After those three acquisitions, we decided that due to the volatile [economic] climate, we would hold off on further acquisitions and grow organically,” says Chris Mihaletos. “From 2008 to 2014, we’ve grown into a multimillion-dollar-a-year company [in terms of gross revenues].”

As the company grew, so did its fleet of equipment. Mihaletos says the company has invested more than $15 million in machines and vehicles, including nine vacuum trucks (made by Guzzler Manufacturing and Super Products), five hydroblasters made by Jetstream of Houston, seven CUES camera trucks, the aforementioned IBAK camera trucks made by RapidView and six more vacuum trucks from Vactor Manufacturing.

“We’re always upgrading and updating our equipment,” Mihaletos notes. “Our goal is to be the leader in our industries … and advanced, more productive equipment is key.”

As an example, he points to the Jetstream hydroblasters, which are capable of generating up to 40,000 psi, a level of pressure that some companies shy away from using because of the associated risk factors.

Mihaletos also points out that to increase efficiency and productivity, AIMS/PVIC cross-trains employees on all equipment so they’re capable of operating virtually everything the company owns.

Mines and utilities

On the AIMS side of the business, the company offers hydroexcavating and industrial vacuuming services to a number of markets, ranging from mines to factories to utility plants, Mihaletos says.

Rising copper prices have recently spurred the reopening of southwest copper mines, which has created demand for services such as hydroexcavating and tank cleaning.

Sometimes preparing a mine for reopening provides a year or more of work for AIMS at just that one mine, he notes.

“We do hydroexcavating to safely determine the location of underground lines in mines,” he says. “Often there’s no good record of where things like electrical, water and transfer lines are located.

“We also hydroblast steel thickener tanks to clean them for inspections … and ensure they meet environmental protocols for asbestos and lead abatement,” he continues. “Our crews perform confined-space cleaning in tanks with up to 1-million-gallon capacities. A large mine might have 10 to 15 of these tanks, while smaller mines might have three to five.”          

After the tanks are hydroblasted, crews use vacuum trucks to suck up the resulting debris. Depending on the post-cleaning condition of a tank, mine engineers might ask AIMS to sandblast the interior down to white metal, which provides a surface that’s amenable to recoating.

In other instances, AIMS gets called in to clean up spills such as acids, for example, which are used to separate copper from raw ore. “Sometimes a pipe breaks or leaks, and we come in with protective suits and use our Guzzler vacuum trucks, which have stainless steel tanks,” Mihaletos points out.

“This is where proper training comes in … we get things up and running again quickly,” he continues. “That’s important because if a mine goes down, it can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost production. As such, we focus hard on maintaining equipment in order to minimize breakdowns, which goes hand in hand with developing good relationships with customers.”

More growth expected

Mihaletos believes that AIMS/PVIC is well-positioned for future growth, either organically or via more acquisitions. He says that with the improved economic climate, the company’s management team is always on the lookout for profitable, stable businesses that have developed good relationships with customers.

“We are fortunate to have good banking and capital behind us to aggressively pursue acquisitions,” Mihaletos says. “We’re looking at good companies that fit our portfolio of service or that can complement our core business. We want to focus on what we do best … stick with what we know. We also want to expand geographically.

“Our plan is to eventually have a presence throughout the United States and Canada, and grow AIMS/PVIC into a multimillion-dollar-a-year company. It’s a very, very exciting time for our company.”

More Information

CUES - 800/327-7791 - www.cuesinc.com

Guzzler Manufacturing - 800/627-3171 - www.guzzler.com

Jetstream of Houston - 800/231-8192 - www.waterblast.com

RapidView IBAK North America - 800/656-4225 - www.rapidview.com

Super Products LLC - 800/837-9711 - www.superproductsllc.com

Vactor Manufacturing - 800/627-3171 - www.vactor.com



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