February 13, 2019
Terrell Harmon is something of a late-stage pioneer in our industry. He runs seven-year-old Harmon’s Pipe Services LLC (HPS) in Rockmart, Georgia. The company primarily contracts to major pipeline contractors for large new subdivision builders in metro Atlanta.
Harmon is an experienced veteran of the industry, and decided several years ago that, though he wasn’t yet ready to retire, he did wish to slow down his previously furious work pace and enjoy life a little more. That included enjoying the work itself. So he took stock and made some big changes.
Once a full-service business offering pipeline air testing, vacuum testing of manholes, pipeline cleaning and video inspection, with a full six-person crew, HPS now consists of Harmon working alone in the field, focusing solely on CCTV video pipeline inspection for commercial customers. It’s the work he most enjoys, and that provides the best ROI for his time and effort. His wife also works part-time administrating the business.
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It was in this taking stock that Harmon also took a good look at his go-to equipment, evaluating whether he had all he needed, and if he was running the right tools for the job. He has used Cobra Technologies CCTV pipeline inspection equipment since he started, and now runs two Cobra Model 800 crawlers, two V5 cameras, and a Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera.
He decided he was more than happy with the performance of this setup. “Cobra is a local company with great after-sales service. They make a great product that’s simple to operate, for a fair price,” Harmon shared. But he realized he needed to add one last piece.
“Most of my calls were becoming for off-road jobs. I guess the big vans couldn’t get video equipment to these places. All sewer lines leave the road eventually. Some go through the woods, down to outfalls in more distant and less-travelled areas. I knew carving out a niche for myself in the market was good strategy,” he recalls.
That’s when he started narrowing his business development efforts. HPS began specializing in video inspection of outfalls and other assets requiring off-road access. So Harmon now had to address that off-road accessibility issue, since it was becoming his bread and butter.
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In 2000, Harmon decided to approach Cobra Technologies about building out a complete CCTV system he could mount on a UTV, like a Polaris or Gator. He hadn’t seen anyone commercially producing such an outfit. This setup would be able to get his equipment out where the landscape is more rural, and there aren’t many wide, well-maintained roads. And sometimes, it had to be able to go off-road completely and still get the job done.
Based on his long prior experience with Cobra’s after-sales service support, he believed they would be open to accommodating his request. He was right: Cobra built Harmon’s UTV-based inspection system to his requested specs, including their AssetDMS PACP-certified data collection and analysis software.
They began with a basic Polaris Ranger Utility Side-by-Side vehicle, complete with roll cage, seatbelts and basic amenities like cup holders. They added a rear canopy to protect the inspection equipment, which is accessible from the rear, and isolated it from the passenger cab with a large plate steel panel, painted black. The operator stands at the rear of the unit, facing front, to use the inspection system, which is configurable to individual need.
More plate steel was used to fabricate the canopy and a half-wrap window was installed on the sides to provide protection from the elements, while still allowing full visibility for the operator. Plate steel was used for the operator’s deck, to provide a place to write and set tools. A component rack was downsized from standard van configuration to fit across the width of the Ranger, to hold all the computer modules, readouts and the monitor screen.
A locking tray was installed below the monitor for valuables, and a slideout tray below that to hold the operator’s control panel. An LED tap light on the underside of the canopy provides illumination when needed. The operator’s deck folds up on support slides, and the entire canopy roof folds down, to form an enclosure that protects the equipment during transport and storage.
The new Cobra Video Inspection UTV proved a robust performer. With Harmon’s input, it went through a few iterations to incorporate his feedback and additional requested features. Cobra’s designers ultimately ruggedized the unit and made it more visually appealing with chrome diamond plate panel in place of the plain plate steel originally used. Now it looks as durable as it performs.
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Though it was something of a financial risk, Harmon had studied the jobs coming in, and knew where his market was going. He took an educated gamble and anticipated that his niche would continue to grow, providing all the opportunity he would need. His hunch paid off: He recouped his investment in only about 18 months, and now has a lock on the off-road inspection segment of his market.
His brainchild has now become a standard offering in Cobra’s inspection vehicle lineup, and is offered as a customizable option for other operators whose work takes them off-road and into the thickets.
Though he demurs from calling himself a pioneer, Harmon will grin and admit, “Well, I’ll try anything!” Sometimes, it really pays to go with your gut.