Drain Cleaning Machine Works Pipeline Magic

Little Wizard boldly goes where other drain machines can’t while improving productivity on tough cleaning projects.

Drain Cleaning Machine Works Pipeline Magic

The TCM-3000 Little WIZARD drain cleaning machine from GI Industries can use either water or compressed air to flush debris through a line after cleaning.

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Elite Pipeline Services faced an interesting challenge about four years ago when a longtime customer — a nuclear power plant operator — asked the pipe cleaning and repair company if it could scour out and line a roughly 50-foot-long section of 3-inch-diameter pipe without using any water. 

“They didn’t want us to use water in this particular pipeline because it would generate a lot of radioactive contamination that’s difficult — as well as very expensive — to clean up,” explains Carl Beitner, operations manager of the company, based in Allendale, Michigan. 

The solution? The TCM-3000 Little WIZARD drain cleaning machine, which scrapes debris off pipe walls via high-torque, high-speed rotation of various scouring heads/tools. In addition, the little WIZARD can simultaneously flush out any resulting debris by using either compressed air or water that’s disseminated just behind the cleaning head. In nuclear plants, however, Elite Pipeline Services crews use portable HEPA-rated vacuum machines to collect the debris, Beitner says. 

“If we put air into the pipe, it creates dust particles that float around and pose another contamination issue,” he notes. “That project was the first time we had to dry-clean a pipe in order to prep it for lining and one of the first times we worked in a radiological-controlled area at the plant. We had worked at the plant before, doing a variety of nondestructive pipe cleaning and repair, but this time, they needed something different.” 

The variable-speed Little WIZARD is powered by a 3/4 hp electric motor (7-amp draw) that can be plugged into a conventional 110-volt electrical outlet. It can spin cleaning tools at up to 1,750 rpm and can clean pipes ranging from 1/2 to 24 inches in diameter and up to 150 feet long. A pneumatic foot pedal activates the rotating cleaning head and also controls the air/water flow while a switch on the unit’s cabinet controls forward, neutral and reverse functions. In neutral mode, the head stops spinning so the operator can apply either air or water pressure to move debris. The unit includes a fitting for attaching a compressor for air flushing and water is supplied by hooking the unit up to a conventional faucet bib with a garden hose. 

The machine is housed inside a lightweight aluminum cabinet that weighs about 45 pounds and measures 18 inches long, 9 inches wide and 10 1/2 inches tall. The unit comes with two flex-shaft cables in 50- and 100-foot lengths, and to boost operator safety, the cable is housed inside a protective sheath made from a proprietary blend of nylon and plastic. 

As the shaft spins faster, the cutting tools on the head expand to maximize cleaning power. “The faster you spin it, the more efficiently it cleans,” Beitner says. “It’s similar to running a cable machine, but it’s safer because of the jacket that covers the flex shaft. Your hand never comes in contact with the rotating cable. It also cuts down on the mess because you don’t have that open cable throwing debris around. It’s a much cleaner process.” 

Moreover, the unit’s compact size makes it easier to get in and out of tight spaces, which allows crews to complete jobs faster. That’s not to say the company never uses water jetters; the company owns trailer jetters made by Sewer Equipment Co. of America and Spartan Tool and sometimes uses a jetter in conjunction with the Little WIZARD. 

Beitner also praises the unit’s versatility. The company owns six units and uses them for commercial/industrial work, too. Technicians have used the Little WIZARDs in a variety of applications, including cutting out a liner that cured before it fully inflated and removing tree roots. In one instance, employees even used it to cut through concrete that made its way into a cast-iron pipe during construction. “The carbide fingers started chewing on it and broke it out in chunks,” he says. 

The company also uses the Little WIZARDs to reinstate pipes after completing lining projects. Without the Little WIZARD, the company would have to bring along additional reinstatement equipment. As such, Beitner says the unit saves customers thousands of dollars by using one machine to perform both services. “We also use what’s called honing brushes, which have little carbide balls that scour the pipe almost to its original condition,” he adds. “We do that when we need a really good seal for a new liner.” 

The unit also improves productivity because technicians can simultaneously run an inspection camera ­— the company relies on Verisight Pro inspection systems, made by Envirosight — behind the cleaning head without worrying about getting it caught up in the cable. “When we follow with a camera, we’re 100 percent sure we cleaned what needed to be cleaned, without adding additional time to the process (by running a camera through after the fact),” he notes. Furthermore, when used at nuclear plants, the machine saves customers’ money because it eliminates the need to collect and dispose of contaminated water — an expensive service. “Reducing customers’ expenses makes us more attractive as a bidder,” Beitner says. 

Overall, the Little WIZARD is a valuable productivity-enhancing and cost-reducing tool for Elite Pipeline Services, which was founded in 2004 and employs 20 full-time workers. Work at nuclear plants nationwide generates about 75 percent of the company’s business volume, while commercial work — performed primarily in western Michigan — accounts for the rest, Beitner says.

“They’ve done very well for us,” he says of the machines. “We’re very happy with them. And GI Industries provides us with great customer service. These machines have become essential on the nuclear side of our business and have definitely improved productivity on the commercial/industrial side. Our job turnaround times would be much slower without them, and they definitely help improve profitability because we win more projects by saving customers money.”


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