A Protected View

Operators need to take proper precautions to prevent unnecessary damage to CCTV equipment.
A Protected View
CCTV inspection equipment is most commonly damaged during insertion and removal through the manhole. Proper training and care is critical to keeping your operation up and running. (Photography by Jim Aanderud)

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One of the most challenging aspects of managing a pipeline inspection program is controlling repair costs. CCTV inspection cameras are very complicated electronic devices, and repairs can be very expensive. Your company’s bottom line will be adversely affected if frequent repairs are required.

The long-term cost of running the equipment is seldom considered when a pipeline inspection van is purchased. Manufacturers typically offer a one-year warranty on the equipment, but ongoing costs are a big part of ownership and should be taken into account when forecasting into the future.

The truth is that CCTV inspection equipment is delicate. The manufacturer may demonstrate the strength of its construction by banging on it or dropping it from a few inches off the ground, but these demonstrations are done with brand new equipment that hasn’t experienced the wear and tear of regular use.

Most CCTV inspection equipment works hard. It is placed in manhole after manhole to inspect thousands of feet of pipeline day in and day out. If treated properly, inspection equipment will run for long periods of time, but when it’s not, it will spend much of its time at a repair facility and cut deeply into your bottom line.

The sad truth is that 90 percent of required repairs are due to human error. This can be very frustrating for management because of the incurred cost and downtime.

Reducing repair costs

The first step in reducing repair costs is providing proper training. Every operator and employee on the support staff must be well versed in equipment operation and handling.

The next step is to address “pride of ownership.” It’s important to help your employees understand that the equipment they control belongs as much to them as it does to you. They need to recognize that the mishandling of the equipment will affect them financially in the loss of bonuses and raises.

Over time, some employees become indifferent to the delicateness of the CCTV equipment they operate. Carelessness sets in and they begin to lose perspective of the value of the equipment and start treating it like a pry bar or a manhole hook. It is the supervisor’s job to remain vigilant of this indifference and take corrective measures immediately.

The fact is that most CCTV cameras and crawlers are equivalent in cost to a luxury car. If your technicians were lowering a car into the manhole, there’s no doubt that they would be much more careful. Regularly reminding them of the value of the equipment and the cost of repairs can be helpful.

Understand the cause

What is the number one way in which CCTV inspection equipment is damaged? Some will say running it down a line and punching through root balls. Others will say driving around town with the equipment bouncing in the back of the van, but equipment is most commonly damaged during insertion and removal through the manhole.

Cameras are accidently dropped and wind up crashing into the bottom of manholes during this process. A simple wrong step can cause an individual to drop the camera onto the pavement. But the most common cause of damage is when the camera is allowed to bang against the side of the manhole while lowering it in or pulling it out.

Striking the camera against the sidewall of a manhole may seem harmless at the time. Most of the time the lights are still burning, video is still running and the tractor is still crawling. With a sigh of relief the operator will reinsert the camera into the manhole and continue the inspection. But what they don’t realize is that the pressure inside the camera has been compromised. Positive pressure keeps water out of the inside of most cameras. Once the seal has been broken and the pressure is released, there is nothing to prevent water from entering the camera. And we all know what water does to electronics.

After an incident like this, most operators will assume the equipment is still working properly and continue the inspection. But the first time the camera goes underwater, whether it is that day or a few days later, moisture will reach the electronics and the camera will go down. Operators will assume it is due to a random and unavoidable malfunction. Managers are usually told the camera was just running down the line when it suddenly went out. Since the camera didn’t stop working right after it struck the sidewall, there will be no understanding of the real cause of damage. The cost of the repair will be in excess of $5,000, and operators will continue to handle the equipment roughly, making it likely the incident repeats itself.

The right way

It’s important to ensure that the rope and cable are perfectly vertical when lifting the camera out of the manhole. If they are at an angle the camera will swing and strike the side of the manhole. If the camera begins to swing, it’s important to lower it back down to stop the momentum. If that is not possible, staying motionless until the swinging diminishes will be helpful. Sometimes the motion can be counteracted with the rope or cable in order to stop the swinging.

CCTV equipment can be very heavy, so the best way to maintain control is to have two people on hand to lift and lower the camera. Many inspection vans come equipped with a winch. This can help facilitate the insertion and removal of the camera, but the same precautions should still be taken. Even with a winch, the camera can swing and strike the side of the manhole.

When finishing an inspection run and beginning another from the same location, the camera must be lifted and turned into the secondary invert. It is very common to sustain damage during this process because the camera must swing around in order to line up with the new pipe. During this process, the camera will tend to turn quickly when the support rope and the tractor cable are overlapped, so this has to be done slowly and carefully to protect the equipment.

Sometimes conditions increase the potential for damage. For example, not all manholes are perfectly vertical. Some are built at an angle while others can have unusual configurations that make them difficult to work with or don’t allow a vertical drop because the invert is beyond the reach of the rope. Most crews tend to swing the rope back and forth across the manhole structure until the camera swings far enough to be dropped into the invert. This can be very dangerous. The safest way to perform this task is to use poles in order to gradually and carefully push the camera into place.

Most of the damage inflicted on CCTV inspection equipment is caused by individuals who lack training and experience. Without proper instruction, operators will not understand the necessary precautions and will invariably and unintentionally damage the equipment.

By ensuring that the equipment is handled properly, a CCTV inspection program will be able to meet its goals and minimize repair costs.


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