Mighty Midget

Up-to-date inspection and lining technology keeps a small California contractor on the cutting edge in a competitive urban marketplace
Mighty Midget

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When it comes to competing in a major market, few do it better than Jeff Cravens, owner of Morr-Is Tested, with offices in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Perched smack in the middle of the densest population in the state, the company provides water and sewer line services for Los Angeles and Orange counties, home to nearly 14 million people. And that doesn’t include the adjoining counties of Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego, where the firm also operates.

Cravens is a small operator, but that hasn’t stopped him from forging ahead, and making important decisions on adding equipment and offering a wider menu of services using the industry’s latest technologies.

The company has a specialty in video inspection with a substantial fleet that offers capability to support cured-in-place pipe lining and to inspect sewer laterals from the main.

Expanding the scope

The company started in 1984 testing new and old waterlines for leaks and doing small leak repairs, often six days a week. Cravens was initially a partner with his uncle Bill Morris.

Cravens bought out Morris in 1992, and five years later he expanded into CCTV inspection with a CUES camera system. Today, the company operates four CUES 16-foot box vans on Ford chassis, and at least three are out on jobs five days a week. Six employees along with Cravens work in the field. Their equipment yard is on an acre in Placentia.

Today, half the business is in CCTV, using CUES OZII pan-and-tilt cameras and Granite XP survey software. The balance of the work is in cleaning or repairing main waterlines and mainline sewers. Most customers are construction contractors doing new street and sewer installations and repairs. Cravens works mainly as a subcontractor on major projects in the region.

“We’re kind of in a neat location now, as there is some construction going on,” says Cravens. “We video to make sure storm drains and sewer lines are clean. This is the last time the city gets to tell the developer yes or no and then release the bond money they hold. The developers want to be sure the job is finished.

“We video lines before they do road work on residential streets, and then after work is completed. There is also a lot of utility work that has to go on. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, the sewer systems are getting older and are having to be inspected, repaired and in some cases upsized. That’s one reason we got into cured-in-place pipe lining in 2008.”

The MaxLiner USA lining system enables the company to do manhole-to-manhole lining as well as point repairs. To support lining operations, Cravens equipped one service van with the CUES Standard Kangaroo lateral reinstatement cutter along with CCTV. The van operates with 1,000 to 1,500 feet of video cable and can be used in 8- to 12-inch pipe.

Advanced inspections

In addition, one inspection van carries the LAMP lateral launcher from CUES, a system for inspecting sewer laterals from the main. The lateral camera travels up to 80 feet into the lateral. Cravens says the system is highly efficient. “I’m about the only one in the area with this equipment,” he says.

Cravens also operates one OZII camera strictly for inspecting potable water mains. Although it is used just once or twice per month, the capability sets Morr-Is Tested apart from the competition. The camera is used in cases such as where a water main that runs under a freeway has collapsed. It is also used for inspections in new construction.

Standard equipment on the inspection vans includes a color pan-and-tilt camera, 2,000 feet of video cable, the Granite XP software with PACP Coding, and hard copy and electronic data deliverable from the truck.

The company also owns two Vac-Con combination trucks carrying pumps from FMC Technologies that deliver 3,000 psi/40 gpm and 2,000 psi/65 gpm. “These pumps have a lower volume but do a good cleaning job, particularly on smaller pipe,” Cravens says. “We utilize water as best we can.” The cleaning nozzles are from StoneAge Inc. and ENZ USA.

Safe in traffic

The equipment is effective in cleaning clay pipe in the older sections of the many cities, as well as the PVC pipe that has been popular since the 1980s. “PVC pipe has held up well,” says Cravens. “We televised a big job four years ago, and everything looked really good. That might be because of the longer pipe sections and fewer joints for roots to intrude.”

For crews working in the streets, the Southern California traffic is always a concern.

“When you go down a busy street here to do a job, you have to be prepared,” says Cravens. “There is always a concern to stay in compliance with federal laws. We have to go by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. There must be stamped engineering plans for traffic control before a permit is granted.”

Sometimes the plans are provided by the prime contractor, but often Cravens is asked to get the approved plans. For that, he relies on any of several traffic-control companies. “Companies larger than mine will have an engineer on staff, but that would be too costly for a small operation,” Cravens says.

Because of the traffic concerns, Morr-Is Tested often works at night with some lanes closed off. Cravens makes sure his technicians take safety classes. “They have to do this,” he says. “They have to feel safe. That’s what it boils down to.”

Making the call

When Morr-Is Tested is called to work as a subcontractor, Cravens asks a variety of questions: What does the job involve? How deep are the lines to be cleaned? Where will the debris be taken? Who provides the water? What about traffic control? He has been known to turn jobs down. One recent caller wanted to do a price quote over the phone. “I said no,” Cravens recalls. “Not without looking at the job.”

Typically, the company is on a jobsite from one day to one week. One recent project was in a remote area of central California, 200 miles from home base. Morr-Is Tested was subcontracted to televise and provide an external condition assessment on a 24-inch cast-iron pipe within a 5- by 7-foot gunite utility tunnel.

This mile-long tunnel had been constructed through the base of a mountain. The only access was through a secured jail area, and service technicians and their equipment had to be inspected and inventoried by security each time they entered or exited. The pipe carried various utility services, and suspension supports for it were anchored to the tunnel floor.

“Our camera experienced much difficulty squeezing between the pipeline suspension anchors and the sides of the tunnel,” says Cravens. “The operator had to steer the camera coming back to keep it from lodging, turning over, or having the cable wrap up in the wheels of the crawler. Precision timing in winching the cable back and steering the camera was difficult.”

Because of the length of the tunnel, the camera had to enter from each end, each time covering 2,000 feet. Although the inspection did not achieve full overlap, it provided enough data to give a representative picture of the pipe’s condition. The crew completed the job in 14 hours spread over two days.

Along with superior equipment Cravens keeps his employees on their toes and on the job, and that’s a challenge. “The hardest thing right now is to convince the guys of the importance of the quality of our work, and that if they strive to do a fast and efficient job, we will get the call back,” says Cravens.

“They know we’re not making a lot of money right now, but I stress that time is money. That’s what you have to do. I go out of my way to keep my guys working, and in return they give me their best. The bottom line right now, it’s not about whether you turn a profit, as long as the customer is happy, because the profit will be there when times are better.”



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