Heart Care for CCTV

As marvelous as pipe inspection equipment can be, it won’t perform to its full potential without well-maintained computing power behind it
Heart Care for CCTV
Jake Zeigler, computer maintenance supervisor at Innerline Engineering, services a CCTV inspection computer system. (Photos courtesy of Jim Aanderud)

If cameras and transporters are the backbone of pipeline inspection, then certainly computers are heart.

When we look at ads for inspection equipment, we see state-of-the-art cameras and transporters, but rarely a mention of computers. Yet, without today’s computing technology, we could not do pipeline inspections to the standards we expect.

Computers have been used to conduct inspections since the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2001, when video recordings transitioned from VHS tapes to digital, that computers took on their current role. Today’s computers not only collect the inspection data but also record the video live, directly to the hard drive.

Computers are the true workhorses of the CCTV business – the amount of data they process each day is staggering. Recording video from four to six hours a day generates huge amounts of information. In fact, for every 1,000 feet of pipeline inspection, video files can take up two to three gigabytes of hard drive storage.

With so much information being pushed through these computers, we rarely stop to think about what those machines need. We continue to tax them day after day, until one day, at the most inopportune moment, they quit. We yell at the computer and call it names, but the fact is that human negligence most likely caused the breakdown.

Here are a few basic maintenance steps to follow to make sure your computers will withstand the rigors of the job and keep your crews going, day after day.


No home computer

Two things make CCTV inspection computers unique. First, they operate in unusual and diverse environments. Unlike desktop computers that are fixed to a home or office desk, CCTV computers mostly work on the road and are exposed to vibration, dirt and dust.

Second, CCTV computers work harder than most systems: They push more data in one day than most systems do in a month. As a result, hard drives fill to capacity very quickly.

These realities mean CCTV computers need a lot more attention.

Pipeline inspection computers require the newest technology possible. “You could run the current recording software with older machines, but the processing speed would be prohibitively slow,” notes Jeremy Wagner, CEO at PipeLogix. “I suggest that you have the fastest speed and the most memory possible and record to the largest hard drives available.”

You should upgrade these systems at least every three years to ensure that the recording software can operate at its maximum capacity. It is also important to make sure these computers are properly secured to the vehicle and do not move during travel. Because inspection vans sometimes traverse rough roads or terrain, problems can develop if the computers are loose.


Computer maintenance

Computers aren’t designed to function without care – they need regular attention to operate efficiently. For CCTV inspection computers, regular maintenance is even more critical.

The person performing the maintenance must thoroughly understand computers. Inspection operators with minimal computer knowledge can often compound problems. If the inspection operator lacks the skills to maintain the computer properly, bring in someone who has that knowledge to help.

You must regularly and thoroughly follow basic maintenance procedures. Jake Zeigler, computer maintenance supervisor at Innerline Engineering, states, “Neglecting scheduled maintenance of the most basic procedures is the most common cause of computer crashes.”

To begin with, update your software regularly. Microsoft Windows has periodic updates that ensure maximum performance. Java and Adobe Acrobat Reader also require regular updates, as do other programs, including recording software.

Because of the environments in which CCTV vehicles operate, dirt and dust can be a significant issue. Dust can be highly destructive when it attaches to internal electronics: It can create an insulation layer around the components and cause them to overheat. Overheated motherboards and processors will quickly fail, and the whole computer system will go down.

Dust can also cause problems when significant amounts accumulate on fan blades. When portions of dust fall off, they create a rotational imbalance that prematurely wears out the bushings and causes the fan to fail. Internal components then quickly overheat. Feeling and listening to a computer can help you detect unusual vibrations that indicate a coming fan failure.

To avoid these issues, remove the computer from the vehicle and clean it regularly. With the cover off, blow out the dirt and dust from the inside compartment, using canned air designed specifically for the purpose.

Hard drives require regular maintenance as well. Right-click on the drive and scroll down to Properties to open a tool menu. You can use these tools to make sure each hard drive runs as efficiently as possible.

The first visible tool is Disk Cleanup. This function removes accumulated clutter in a computer’s files that tends to slow the machine down. It will eliminate deleted files, temporary files and old compressed files.

Under Tools lie two other important maintenance procedures. Check Disk performs an analysis of the hard drive and makes the necessary corrections. It will ensure that the hard drive continues to operate optimally. Disk Defrag helps the hard drive operate more efficiently, and that means a faster computer. Files on the hard drive become scattered over time, and defragging helps reorganize them in a logical manner, so that they can be retrieved more quickly.


Backup, backup, backup

Hard drives are the primary storage medium for CCTV inspection computers. As you perform inspections, the data is collected on the default drive (usually the C drive). Because videos take up so much storage space, these hard drives fill up quickly. You must offload the videos and data periodically to make room for new inspections. This means transferring the contents of the hard drive to an external hard drive.

Allowing a hard drive to fill up completely is a recipe for disaster. The likelihood of the drive crashing is extremely high the closer the drive gets to 100 percent full. It is an excellent idea to limit the amount of data a hard drive can take. You can do this with a tool called Quota. Right-click on the drive and go to Properties to find the Quota tab. It allows you to set the amount of data the drive can record. A setting of 80 percent is generally a good idea.

As we all know, hard drives can crash for various reasons or for no apparent reason at all. Just last year, my company lost 80,000 feet of videos when one of our hard drives crashed. Was it just bad luck? No, the loss was due to human error.

Did someone cause the hard drive to fail? No – the loss was due to the lack of a backup. In this case, we did not follow proper protocol because a suitable backup was not generated in a timely manner. Backing up data is critical and will save a lot of headaches and money.

External hard drives are cheap insurance. One- and two-terabyte hard drives have become so inexpensive that there is no excuse for not backing up data. The loss of just one hard drive with weeks of video inspections on it can be catastrophic. You need a procedure through which you back up data redundantly. One hard drive backup may not be sufficient. Consider a system with at least two backup drives, where one is stored off site in case of a fire.


Making a difference

Computers have been a terrific addition to the inspection industry, but they can also be a point of frustration. Put procedures in place to ensure that they operate properly.

Remember that the most important part of the CCTV inspection computer is the inspection operator. This person is the first line of defense against problems. A little computer know-how can go a long way and can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. C



Jim Aanderud is owner of Innerline Engineering, a video pipeline inspection company based in Corona, Calif.


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