The Complete Package

Suncoast Infrastructure combines CCTV inspection, pipe lining and manhole rehabilitation in an integrated package that helps meet client needs efficiently
The Complete Package

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In the late 1990s, Richard Rula took one look at the emerging trenchless technology market and saw an opportunity to expand his business in a complementary sector.

Rula, president and owner of Hemphill Construction Co., a utility construction company near Jackson, Miss., saw a need for trenchless services, yet few companies offering them. In 1998, he founded Suncoast Infrastructure Inc., now a full-service company focused on CCTV sewer inspection, pipe lining and manhole rehabilitation.

He started with a large geographic footprint, taking advantage of a mid-state location at a main highway intersection and targeting a market within a radius of 200 to 300 miles. Today, Suncoast reaches out even farther, serving clients from Dallas to Atlanta and from Memphis to New Orleans.

“Every Monday morning, our CCTV vans along with our other equipment head out to their work locations, and often they are not back in our yard until the end of the week,” says John Causey, vice president. The company’s offerings include SUNCOAST LINER, its own pipe lining technology, trademarked in 2001.

Working with the finest

Suncoast Infrastructure started out in the lining and manhole repair business, but soon added CCTV inspection because customers wanted that capability as an integral part of rehabilitation service. The company has inspected more than 3 million feet of pipeline.

“Our philosophy on equipment, including inspection equipment, is always to buy the best and to replace it every three to six years,” says Causey. “For our inspection vans, we prefer a Ford F-550 with a high-cube box on the back. Our vans are built by RS Technical Services. We want our CCTV operators to perform their jobs at the peak of their ability, and we provide the most comfortable work environment we can. We tend to build them larger than most, with a studio, plus seating for up to three people to observe the same monitor the operator is watching.”

The company has five CCTV vans on Ford vehicle chassis, plus an off-road inspection unit built on a 2001 Kubota M900 four-wheel-drive vehicle. The Kubota carries a slide-in box that carries a cable reel and inspection console. A garden-tractor-sized Prowler easement machine from 3T Equipment can be used for manhole cleanup.

Crews deploy crawler-mounted NovaSTAR, OmniEYE II and OmniEYE III cameras and a Mini Model 1545 push camera, all from RS Technical. Cameras can be launched on a float vehicle of the company’s own design for inspecting lines with high flow.

For data collection, the company uses Cobra Information Management Software (CIMS), and the CobraTouch CDL 9000 data logger, all from Cobra Technologies. “The software takes a signal from the camera and processes it, and then we download that to our office, where we run CIMS,” Causey says.

For pipe cleaning, Suncoast operates a 2009 Vactor 2100 combination truck on a Sterling chassis with a 10-cubic-yard debris body, two 2009 Vactor waterjet trucks on Sterling chassis, and a 2002 Vac-Con combination truck on an International chassis with a 10-cubic-yard tank.

Cross-trained teams

Ten employees handle CCTV inspection, two crews typically do evaluation work, and two inspect in conjunction with CIPP liner installation. Technicians are cross-trained for flexibility to handle variations in workload.

“We are extremely focused on job site safety, and in our opinion as managers it takes three men on an inspection and cleaning crew to be as safe as we want to be,” says Causey. “One man operates a jetting or combination truck, another operates the camera from inside the van, and a third is basically there to manage the work and look out for the other two. This is especially important if we’re cleaning pipe or doing a confined-space entry – just for staying safe on the streets and roads. Sometimes, we have four men on a project.

“Generally, most CCTV customers are municipalities – cities, towns or utility districts – and we often work directly under their professional engineers.” For lining and manhole projects, the company may also work for refineries, chemical plants and paper mills.

Rehabilitation products in addition to SUNCOAST LINER include a two-component 100 percent solids epoxy lining from Warren Environmental Inc. that is sprayed into pipelines, and a cured-in-place manhole lining system of felt and fiberglass from Terre Hill Composites Inc.

The company uses smoke testing products from Hurco Technologies Inc.

Fostering ownership

Training is essential for technicians who handle high-value equipment, and the Suncoast philosophy is to instill the idea of ownership. Under a bonus system, every employee shares in the success of a job and so has an incentive to take care of the equipment.

“We have a budget for a project, and if the employees bring it in under budget, each person involved gets a piece of the savings,” says Causey. “It really works as a good motivation. The flip side is that if a television operator throws a camera out of the back of the truck and we get $500 worth of repairs, that hits in the pocketbook for all.

“I always tell our people that the only time Suncoast can make money is when those in the field do things right. We make them aware that they are a very important part of the whole scene. We want our upper-level managers to act and react whenever there are problems in the field.

“We try to stay relatively simple in the hierarchy. We have an owner who is a hands-on president. He is here every day, and he is involved in the decision-making and aware of what goes on. In upper management, we have project managers responsible for bidding and managing work. Then the superintendents are responsible for getting the work done by the foremen, operators and lead men.”

No surprises

Sewer inspections reveal a wide range of pipe conditions. “Generally, we find during our CCTV evaluations that sewer pipe installed before the 1970s is concrete, and the hydrogen sulfide gas produced over the years has degraded it,” says Causey. “We see a lot of damage as a result of that chemical process.

“Then we see vitrified clay pipe that was laid in short lengths, and we see problems where the joints may be misaligned, or the pipe has settled with cracks around the joints. Crews have seen some horrible conditions – even places where sections of pipe are missing. Nothing surprises us, Causey says. “We have seen a lot.”

The company works mainly with 6- to 15-inch lines, but occasionally lines up to 120 inches must be inspected. Runs from manhole to manhole are typically 600 to 700 feet, but crews have completed several 1,500-foot runs, and they can inspect runs of 1,800 to 2,000 feet.

“One challenge was to inspect 9,400 feet of 48- to 72-inch gravity sewer, where we had to float the camera down the line on a raft,” says Causey. “The line was inaccessible by road, and we used our off-road vehicle to go cross-country through a swampy area. The line was old and was in poor condition. We encountered a lot of grease. There were missing segments of pipe. That project led to a multi-million dollar rehabilitation project for our client.”

Suncoast is a licensed general contractor in many states but also functions as a subcontractor on some jobs. “We probably prefer to be the prime contractor because it gives you more control, but there is more work involved,” Causey says. “It really doesn’t matter to us because we focus on the job at hand. We make money either way.”

Most of the work is competitively bid. Before Suncoast bids on a job, a project manager or superintendent performs an on-site inspection. “We bid on what they tell us they want done,” says Causey. “In addition to CCTV, we do smoke testing and flow monitoring. We measure the flow in the sewer line both before and after a significant rain event. Each one of these processes gives information to help evaluate the condition of the system.

“We do a lot of projects where we evaluate a neighborhood, or a town, or a city block. We come back with the evaluation and make recommendations on what repairs need to be done.”

Keeping up

Suncoast has seen giant strides in CCTV technology and survey software. “We maintain regular contact with our suppliers,” Causey says. “The biggest change we’ve seen is the development of sonar and laser profiling. Technology now lets us record a lot of information. We can collect 100 times more data than a few years ago.”

When a job calls for sonar or laser profiling, Suncoast subcontracts those capabilities. “That makes more sense than having a large capital outlay in something that will be out of date in two years,” Causey says.

Suncoast is uniquely positioned with its three major services to offer clients a cost-effective program for dealing with infrastructure problems. “The fact that we do multiple things gives us a lot more flexibility and allows us to provide complete rehabilitation of a system,” Causey says. “The services complement each other. We have more flexibility than if we were just doing lining, or manhole rehabilitation. We have more opportunity to bid. We are doing what our initial intention was from day one.”


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