In today’s ever-changing world, nothing seems to have evolved quicker than software. Whether it’s for your phone, tablet or games — it’s all about the speed at which you can use it and the clarity of the image you are seeing.
The proliferation of inspection software in the trenchless technology industry cannot be overstated — software has made pipe inspection an easier, faster and more cost-effective asset management tool for cities around the globe. The creation of these intricate programs used in connection with the small yet powerful cameras that traverse the underground pipes have taken contractors and public works officials to crevices, bends and spaces unheard of in the early days of pipe inspection.
California-based PipeLogix has been in business since 2004, but the software the company was founded on was well established in the trenchless industry long before that — in fact, it was one of the first software programs of its kind in the mid-1990s.
PipeLogix co-owners Joan Stone and Jeremy Wagner have worked with the inspection software since its inception and over time have upgraded and expanded the capabilities of the software technology to give its users the most accurate and clearest picture of what condition their pipes are in.
Once foreign to “old school” water and sewer professionals, computers and software are now second-nature on the jobsite, putting the pen and paper in the drawer. Pipe inspection has evolved from man entry inspection to VHS tapes to CDs to DVDs. Today, the data goes directly to a removable hard-drive or USB stick to record and transfer the information to your office. The use of inspection software has pushed the trenchless industry to new heights, allowing for more accurate data — with the 100 percent trenchless-based PipeLogix evolving into a top manufacturer with more than $2 million in annual revenue with customers throughout North America, as well as South America, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
With the trenchless market firmly established and gaining more and more users each year, PipeLogix plans to be around to help them see and analyze what is in their underground pipes.
“There is more money being spent on rehabilitation than there ever was before,” says Stone, a 20-year veteran of the industry. “[Trenchless technology] is a very strong market.”
Stone and Wagner were co-workers before going into business for themselves. Stone joined pipeline inspection technology manufacturer Pearpoint in 1993 and Wagner in 1998 — for both it was their introduction to trenchless technology and the world of underground infrastructure. They were hooked and are today leaders in their field.
“Before then, I had never thought about pipe underground before,” Stone says. “It was an eye-opener.”
The Pipelogix pipe inspection software — formerly known as flexidata (with the little “f”) — was developed and released in 1996 in the United Kingdom by Pearpoint. The flexidata format was developed and released for the U.S. market in 1998.
At the time, video inspection software was in its earliest, rudimentary forms. Pearpoint’s inspection software was one of the first available to the trenchless technology market.
“Pearpoint wanted to develop a software product to interpret the inclinometer module it had for its camera system, which shows you the lay of the pipe,” Stone says. “They had this module that would display on the screen but had no way for anyone to print out a report. Pearpoint decided to develop software for its customers, which pretty quickly expanded into more of a data collection program to do surveys, all based on the Water Research Council (WRc) standards in the United Kingdom.”
The program quickly grew to include picture capture and movies, etc. This all sounds like technology the industry would have had long before then, given the status inspection software has today but this was the mid-1990s, basically the infancy of the digital age. “This was very early on to use software in this capacity,” Stone notes.
“Most people were still doing paper reports and using video printers to capture pictures [of their underground pipes]and print them off in the camera truck,” Wagner says. “They would literally sit in front of the video monitor and take a picture of the screen… It would print like a Polaroid on hard stock paper. [Customers] were amazed when they could take pictures with software.”
Stone concurs, adding, “The video from the cameras used to record to a VHS tape. If they wanted a picture, then they had to use a video printer device, which was actually adapted from the medical industry. And then inspection software came along, eliminating that step and directly transmitted the data to the computer on the truck.”
In 2004, Pearpoint was acquired by SPX Corp., a $5 billion, Charlotte, N.C.-based, multi-industry manufacturing conglomerate, resulting in significant changes to the Pearpoint operations. flexidata was Stone and Wagner’s baby — developing and nurturing the innovative software from its early days to the point where it became a solid technology with enormous growth potential. However, when SPX purchased Pearpoint, flexidata was not a part of SPX’s future plans for the company and were cutting its ties with the product.
“We were given the opportunity to purchase the rights to the flexidata software program, which we were happy to do,” Stone explains.
So with that, Stone and Wagner ventured out on their own and housing their new base of operations in an 820 sq ft-office in Palm Desert, Calif. “We were both thrilled and nervous,” she remembers of that time.
The first years on their own proved challenging — even more so than the typical “starting a new business” issues that occur. Their product was known in the industry; that wasn’t their problem. “It was definitely an interesting time,” Wagner says. “One of the hardest things we had to deal with early on was convincing people that we were not a part of Pearpoint anymore. They just wouldn’t believe it, especially the camera manufacturers.”
Stone says they needed to work with the camera manufacturers to develop the software to meet the needs of their cameras but some were unsure whether the company was still an arm of Pearpoint and were reluctant to divulge the inner workings of their camera technologies. In 2010, Stone and Wagner decided a product name change was in order to establish complete separation between the two companies — Pipelogix software was born.
“It took a long time to change their minds,” she says. “The flexidata name was so well known in the industry. The name change did help.”
Actually the flexidata name was beneficial in the early days as the customers recognized the software moniker. “We did have a lot of devoted customers and still do,” Stone says. “The very first customer that ever bought the software from me in 1998 is still our customer today. In the beginning and when you’re a fresh new company and are trying to make your way in some of the new markets, it was difficult. However, it was also beneficial in the early days to use the flexidata name because it was known and that helped us get into places.”
The Pipelogix software has come a long way since the early days. It has gone through a few evolutions to meet the ever-changing world of computer and camera upgrades, as well as industry coding and mapping software it must integrate with in order for municipalities to make the best decisions about the state of their underground water and sewer pipes.
Stone and Wagner point to the company’s customer service as key to its success, as well as the versatility of its product — they say both working together has enabled PipeLogix to sustain the confidence of its customers and attract new ones.
“Software is a problem because you always have to be developing software. You can never stop,” Stone says. “Microsoft doesn’t stop developing software and they are always changing the operating system on your computer. Computer builders change the components inside the computer and camera companies are always changing their products and how they interface. Plus we have ESRI— a very large mapping organization — that is always updating its programs. We are constantly writing updates and coming out with new versions for our customers.
“Through all this, I believe we have established a level of trust with our customers so that when we send them an update or new release, they know it’s going to work. They know we are putting out a product that’s not going to fail on them.”
Wagner notes how difficult it is to keep up with all the new versions of systems that PipeLogix products interface with and that is why they keep in constant contact with customers and the manufacturers, as well as work closely with industry standards. “We usually release new versions of our software two to three times a year,” he says. “We try not to do too many to allow people to use it for a while and that, in turn, gives us a little time to develop whatever tweaks are needed.”
“We have a lot of features that are built into our software and we’ve always been willing to work with our customers,” Stone says. “When they need custom exports, we’ve been able to create those for them. Customer service has always been a big, big part of our company philosophy.”
During the early years, customers were enamored with the capabilities of the technology. Nowadays it’s all about the visual and how clear a picture they can get. “When we first brought the software to the Pumper Show (now the WWETT Show), we had people standing three or four deep at our booth. They were so excited to see this technology,” Stone says. “Now it’s all about the picture. We’re at a point where we have camera systems that have the HD picture and records as an HD video.”
The Trenchless Market
Since the time that Pearpoint first developed the inspection software, the market for this technology has just exploded, coinciding with the growth and acceptance of the trenchless market itself. Not only are there more inspection software companies out there, but the camera manufacturers have developed software packages to work in concert with their own cameras. The inspection market has become a critical component of the trenchless technology industry — encompassing so much with regard to asset management, pipe cleaning and rehabilitation — and the impact that software plays in the strength of the market is huge.
“The municipalities can make a more informed decision on how to spend their money,” Stone says. “Because not only do they have a visual now on their computer [onsite], they can sort data and they can see where the worst conditions are. They can view the surveys and also have them displayed on the map. We can color code the pipes to show where the bad conditions are. They can look at their entire city now and see everything and decide whether they need to reline or replace their pipes.”
“The trenchless market is always going to be there. It’s never going away,” Wagner says. “There’s always going to be infrastructure that is going to need inspecting and going to need replacing and rehabbing. Technology is continually going to change to try to make it easier and more cost-effective in the long run for the cities and municipalities that need to maintain these systems.
“We just need to be able to keep up with the technology changes and try to come up with things that will benefit our customers and make their jobs easier by giving them a little bit more information.”
PipeLogix is also actively involved in trenchless organizations to be a voice in educating customers and potential customers about the technology, as well as helping to craft the industry standards when it comes to identifying pipe defects. Stone has worked with NASSCO — specifically with its Software Vendor Committee, since it developed its Pipeline Assessment & Certification Program (PACP) and later its Manhole Assessment & Certification Program (MACP) and its Lateral Assessment & Certification Program (LACP). All three of these programs are intrinsically linked with the inspection software that cities use. Stone later served on the NASSCO board and later became its president.
Currently, Wagner serves as chairman of the Software Vendor Committee, which continually reviews the program codes and manual for improvements. Wagner notes that NASSCO is releasing the latest version of the programs this year, syncing up the manual and database.
“All municipalities are very aware that they need to be aggressively inspecting their infrastructure,” he says. “They all want to invest in software and we need to make sure it’s a good investment for them and they are getting what they need. They put a lot of research and effort into getting the right kind of software.”