Contractor Profile: Affordable Pipeline Services

Sometimes you just have to believe in what your gut and all your experience tells you and then make that leap of faith. That’s how Affordable Pipeline Services’ Craig Post entered into the CCTV inspection market, embarking on a successful expansion of his business that led him into the pipe cleaning market.

In 1999, Post decided to expand the services his San Diego-based company provided to include the growing municipal CCTV inspection market, seeing the potential the additional service would bring to his business. Post took his leap of faith on the viability of the inspection market with the purchase of his first camera inspection van.

“He mortgaged his house to buy the TV inspection van, hoping that it might work out. He’s not at all looking back on that decision with regret,” says vice president Duane Johnson says, laughing. “But that is the kind of dedication Craig had then and now. He is an owner who puts everything he has into [the business].” Literally.

Affordable Pipeline Services started out by handling the inspection needs of municipalities in the San Diego area. A few years later, pipe cleaning was added to the company’s menu of services as Johnson and Post correctly assessed how inspection and cleaning go hand-in-hand.

“Pipe cleaning [of municipal lines] was added as a support mechanism for our pipeline inspection work,” says Johnson, who joined the company in 1999 and was charged with purchasing that first inspection van. “That’s where the industry has really changed in recent years. We are now more fueled by the cleaning. The inspection market is still strong, but the cleaning side has at times even surpassed it.”

Today, Affordable Pipeline Services is a division of Affordable Drain Services that focuses on municipal cleaning and inspection work. Affordable Drain Services concentrates its efforts on residential commercial properties. The company employs 24 workers, evenly split between the two divisions.

Company Success

Johnson has seen the growth of both the CCTV inspection and pipe cleaning markets over the last decade, as municipalities around the United States focus their efforts on cost-effectively maintaining their aging underground infrastructure. As municipalities are faced with more requirements, such as Wastewater Discharge Requirements (WDR) in California, they are turning to outside contractors to televise their lines and clean their pipes.

“There is a big push in California with the WDRs and that has created a situation where a lot of municipalities have needed additional support for their cleaning operations. WDRs are creating more aggressive cleaning programs for many cities and we are seeing more general pipe cleaning contracts resulting from it,” Johnson says.

Today, Affordable Pipeline’s fleet of equipment includes five trailer-jetters from US Jetting and Harben, three combination vac trucks from Vactor Mfg. and AquaTech and three CCTV inspection vans with an assortment of remote and TV inspection equipment from Pearpoint and CUES. Crews also use Pipelogix software, in particular its GIS modules.

“Our equipment gives us the ability to haul it out in the middle of nowhere and inspect pipes in canyons and easements without any problems,” Johnson says.

Affordable’s business goal is simple: to be the best at what they do — and that means providing the solution to their customers’ problems or, if they can’t, finding someone who can. “From the beginning, our goal was to be the best. Plain and simple. We really try to accomplish that every day,” Johnson says.

Key to the company’s success is its operations manager, Corey Charfauros. “To put it simply, I tell our client that we can accomplish the project and then hand it over to Corey to figure it out,” Johnson says. “Having an extremely knowledgeable manager in the field, dealing with each project on a daily basis, is key to providing the type of service our clients have come to expect.  

Affordable Pipeline Services prides itself on being able to take on the most challenging of projects and as the technology has improved, these opportunities are becoming more frequent.

Johnson points to the evolution of the nozzles as one technology that has taken the pipe cleaning market to new levels. “The biggest change over the years from a pipe cleaning standpoint has to do with the nozzles. We are seeing more technology going into the nozzles,” Johnson says. “In years past, there was basically one type of nozzle out there. Today, nozzles are designed for specific applications. [Pipe cleaning contractors] now have the ability to do jobs we could never do before.”

Johnson relates one recent project in which Affordable Pipeline was called on by an area veterans hospital to clean out concrete that was pumped into its sewer system, which effectively shut off the sewer system for the entire hospital. If the crews couldn’t clean it out, the hospital would have to dig up the pipe, which wasn’t a realistic option given that the line ran under the hospital’s power conduit and its MRI lab. And, of course, there was the cost.

 “When we were done, we used 14 different nozzles and we got all the concrete out without having to dig up the pipeline, which was vital,” Johnson says. “They were looking at millions of dollars of excavation and repair if we weren’t successful. We worked 72 hours straight with rotating shifts. We used three pump trucks to handle the sewer flow of the hospital because we could run a bypass.”

Johnson is also a firm believer in giving back to the industry that he and Post believe in. He believes in training of not only his employees but his competitors’ as well to make the pipe cleaning and inspection markets even stronger. He serves as a trainer and chairman of the Southern Collections Systems Committee of the California Water Environment Association, whose mission is to help municipalities throughout Southern California in the training needs of all their crews. Johnson teaches classes, as well as gives presentations at industry tradeshows.

“We do our best to propel the industry as whole and not just our company,” he says, adding that having good relationships with competitors also makes the industry strong. “That kind of support is vital in this industry… when you are not looking at competitors as enemies but as allies.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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