Finding Success in Specialization
June 29, 2011Jim Aanderud believes in keeping things simple. He says specialization is key to any business, especially his – Innerline Engineering.
“Our specialty is pipeline inspection and pipeline cleaning. That is what we do. We don’t really have any other areas we deal in,” he says. “I believe very much in specialization, because that’s how you become the best at something. I’ve really resisted expanding. I want to specialize in a certain area, and I want to be the best at it. I can’t do that if I’m busy dealing with learning other things.”
Innerline Engineering formed in 1997 in Corona, Calif., just east of Los Angeles. Aanderud was hired in 1999 to grow the business, and in 2006 he bought the company. Innerline provides CCTV inspection and pipe cleaning through regular contracts or the occasional call-in. Employees are able to inspect pipelines from 1 ½ to 108 in. in diameter.
“Most of the work we do is an entire sewer infrastructure of a city from one end to the other,” Aanderud says. “These contracts will last anywhere between a year to five years. The contracts are constantly being renewed. You need to do a good job so they’ll renew your contract each year. We’ve never had an incomplete project. We really have a fantastic track record. We’ve built a great reputation.”
A great reputation is extremely important to Aanderud and Innerline’s family of 14 employees.
“I believe how you project yourself is very important. How people perceive you is very important, especially on our website,” Aanderud says. “People want to know they’re dealing with a leader in the industry. We spent time getting good at what we do. We built an image and backed it up, too.”
Innerline has kept up with the various industry trends throughout its 14 years of service. When the company first started, VHS tapes were the norm, a process that was very time-consuming, Aanderud says.
“You sit there in the inspection truck, and you wind up with two hours of inspection on this tape,” he says of the recording process in the 1990s. “You have to fast forward and rewind. Most customers never looked at the tape because it was too cumbersome, unless they really wanted to fast forward to a certain problem spot.”
With the revolution of digitalization, Aanderud says pipe inspection companies were met with a higher expectation.
“Now the customer could sit and look at these videos in a few seconds. They could see where the bad spots
were themselves,” he says. “They began to learn and look at this and became more demanding of the product. They no longer accepted mistakes. They wanted correct information, street names, spellings.”
With advances in technology came a need for a better working class.
“The customer became more demanding. We needed to up our game, so we hired better people,” Aanderud says. “You’re dealing in an industry where you don’t go out and find a guy who went to college because he wanted to do this. We try to find guys who have more ambition in life, that have gone to tech school or some college, with more of an ability.”
Aanderud says the difficult part about the pipe inspection business is that it’s a blue collar job that needs white collar expertise.
“We can hire anyone and put them in that position, but you’re dealing with computers… massive amounts of data, terabytes of information,” he says of Innerline’s projects. “When we inspect a city, we’re talking about tens of thousands of individual video files and databases. You need someone who really knows how to manipulate this stuff. We try to find individuals who are capable, who can perform this work at a higher level.”
A more informed workforce will be necessary if the industry continues to advance. Panoramic inspection is slowly starting to make its way into pipeline inspection services. Aanderud compares panoramic images to the street-view on Google maps. These high-definition images allow for better viewing of pipes post-inspection.
“The problem today with standard inspection equipment (pan and tilt cameras), is the resolution is not that great. The live picture is much better than the recorded image,” he says. “Whoever sees it later won’t get a good view. This panorama technology is supposed to eliminate that.”
The attempt is to take away relying on the operator to make assessments. With these images, an engineer can go back later and take a better look. Currently, Innerline uses RST and Pearpoint inspection systems for its CCTV surveys.
When it comes to cleaning, Aanderud says doing a great job takes using some common sense. Using the right nozzle for the project really makes a difference.
“We’re trying to be proactive with the [nozzle] upgrades,” he says. “Some [companies] have a $350,000 combination unit and they’re using a $50 nozzle unit at the end of it. It doesn’t make sense. There have been so many breakthroughs in nozzle technology. We can do things we couldn’t do five years ago.”
Innerline has been getting into large diameter cleaning recently, which takes specialty nozzles. Aanderud says nozzles can be costly — some are more than $20,000.
“It’s all about having the right equipment to do different sizes [of pipeline],” he says, mentioning the company uses Vac-Con and Vactor equipment for pipe cleaning. “Our area of growth right now is in large diameter cleaning. But our bread and butter is pipeline inspection and cleaning, which 8-in. is the principle that a majority of pipelines have.”
Innerline’s employees stay on top of the latest technology advancements and training to ensure that the customer is getting the best result. All Innerline employees have been trained with NASSCO’s pipeline assessment and certification program (PACP). Aanderud says keeping his employees informed and happy keeps the customers happy.
“Having people who are motivated and paid well to really take that job seriously and look at it as a career means you’re going to be able to produce a better product,” he says. “Our success, as far as being good at what we do, isn’t the equipment. There are a lot of different brands out there and each one is good, but they key to success is labor.”
Kelly Pickerel is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.