Even in uncertain times, essential sewer services have to be maintained. When capital budgets at the municipal and state levels are under threat, cities increasingly turn to contractors to inspect and maintain wastewater infrastructure. The challenge for contractors is getting equipped to seize the opportunity.
Crawler inspection is a core service for any sewer contractor. Cities need to know the condition of wastewater infrastructure, and inspections reveal where cleaning and rehab work is needed—potentially offering additional opportunities for service revenue. An inspection crawler is a major investment, and the system chosen will ultimately have a significant impact on long-term productivity and profitability.
To make the process easier, we’ve compiled guidance from contractors on the top ten factors they consider when making a crawler purchase decision.
- Agility. To complete more inspections, a contractor needs the ability to maneuver past obstacles. Choose a steerable design that can navigate around obstructions like rocks and protruding taps, and insist on all-wheel drive to power through sediment and grease. A compact wheelbase (with three or more axles) will assist in climbing over offsets and debris.
- Versatility. Contractors encounter a wide range of pipe sizes, materials and conditions. A modular crawler design can adapt to these challenges. Look for a complete selection of wheels and plug-and-play accessories—preferably ones that can be changed rapidly without tools.
- Low Cost of Ownership. Savvy contractors know lifetime cost of ownership impacts the bottom line more than purchase price. Warranty terms, annual maintenance costs, and the proximity of regional service centers all impact cost of ownership. Also, determine whether common service procedures (like cable retermination and seal replacement) are simple enough to perform in-house; this will save money and downtime.
- Reliability. When a crawler breaks, it can sideline an entire crew and erode profit. Look for durable construction materials (stainless steel and aluminum), no exposed wires, a rearview camera to avoid obstacles during reverse travel, a lightweight cable that won’t subject the crawler to unnecessary pulling stresses, and a fully automatic cable reel to minimize drag and prevent tangles.
- Scalability. Contractors know that adding new services is the key to growing business. Choose a crawler platform that offers accessories for specialty services like side scanning, dimensional profiling (laser and/or sonar), lateral launch, inclination measurement and geospatial mapping. (By contrast, investing in separate systems for each of these capabilities depletes capital and makes it difficult to deploy a range of capabilities with a single crew.)
- Portability. A compact crawler system that can travel in a smaller vehicle (panel van, pickup, ATV) with modest power requirements (small generator, inverter, MEPS) is ideal for reaching remote inspection sites, getting into narrow alleyways and performing easement work. It also keeps overhead costs low.
- Intelligence. Digital technology underpins many of the capabilities of modern crawlers. Look for a touchscreen interface that can be updated online with the latest features and customized to your needs. Beyond controlling crawler functions, determine whether the interface allows you to easily customize text overlay, enter observations, generate reports and wirelessly share inspections on the cloud. More advanced interfaces will include tools that allow you to measure pipe size, defect dimensions, flow level, connection size/angle and more. Finally, determine whether the crawler supports onboard diagnostics and remote troubleshooting—data gathered from onboard temperature, pressure and humidity sensors can help identify minor maintenance issues before they become major repair bills.
- Support. In the punishing world of sewer inspection, support isn’t a question of if—it’s a question of when. Your crawler’s manufacturer should have a regional presence capable of delivering personalized support, on-site training, service capability and a fully stocked inventory of parts and accessories.
- Productivity. Contracts for sewer inspection don’t pay by the hour, they pay by the foot or by the job. Choose a system that deploys rapidly, is efficient to operate and packs up quickly. Can it be raised/lowered without a crane? Can the crawler setup be changed without tools? Are all crawler functions presented in a single, intuitive interface? Are there macros to automate common inspection tasks like joint scanning? Is cable slack managed automatically? Does the control interface support observation entry and reporting?
- Track Record. Contractors are tough customers, and they’re loyal to equipment that serves them well. Ask other contractors what they use and whether they’d recommend it. What are the maintenance and repair costs? How productive are their crews with the equipment? How good is the support they receive from the factory and local dealer? What unique job-site challenges has their equipment overcome?
Equipment performance has a big impact on the success of any municipal wastewater contractor. While the considerations here rank highest among contractors evaluating a new crawler purchase, be sure to bring your own experience and intuition to the process. Schedule an on-site demonstration and pick difficult pipes for the test drive. If the demonstration goes well, consider renting the system for your next job—confident manufacturers won’t hesitate to offer a rent-to-own arrangement.
Above all, keep your options open. It’s easy to stick with what’s familiar, but technology is always changing—and nowadays digital features provide an increasing level of differentiation between crawler systems. Properly evaluating crawler options takes time and focus, but the payoff in productivity and profitability makes it well worthwhile.
To evaluate Envirosight's ROVVER X sewer inspection crawler, request your free on-site demonstration: