In Hindsight, Good Foresight

The common phrase is that hindsight is 20/20, but good foresight can be picture perfect, too. Looking back over the past 10 years, it’s clear Richard Lindner had it right when he purchased a fledgling environmental business unit from Everest VIT in 2001 and created Envirosight, now one of the top names in environmental inspection equipment.

Envirosight will celebrate its 10th year in business this June. Lindner was vice president of marketing for Everest VIT (now GE Inspection Technologies) a decade ago when he left to establish the new company with a core staff of five employees. With a unique product and sales channel strategy, Envirosight grew quickly, realizing sustained annual growth of at least 20 percent for the first five years.

Success was by no means guaranteed, however. Everest VIT specialized in video inspection equipment for the industrial market and had tried unsuccessfully to enter the municipal market. “We tried to access the municipal accounts, but didn’t understand the intricacies,” he says.

Still, Lindner didn’t give up. He saw needs that were not being met in the municipal market, and he thought the inspection equipment he was familiar with at Everest VIT could offer a fresh approach to an industry that had been lagging technologically. When he started Envirosight, the new company marketed a range of innovative inspection equipment to municipalities and contractors, including ROVVER inspection crawlers, the QuickView zoom survey camera and WinCan inspection reporting software.

The key was narrow focus on one market and a few core products. “Our game plan has always been to create value by taking the best global technology and applying it to our regional markets,” Linder says. “Most of our technology is from Europe, which has its own challenges, but it’s the best technology, and it hadn’t been used much in North and South America until we came along.”

Since its inception, Envirosight has gained a reputation for innovation and dependability, says Allen Thomas, a consultant with Envirosight. (Thomas is also a former editorial consultant for Trenchless Technology.)
“When you put a piece of equipment in the field, you have to be able to support it with service,” Thomas says. “Envirosight has done the best job of building the infrastructure for technical field support.”

Thomas also cites the company’s breadth of technology as a strength — a trait that has allowed Envirosight to set itself apart from other suppliers while expanding its inspection capabilities.

“In a lot of ways, Europe sets the bar for the rest of the world in terms of technology, practices and regulation,” Thomas says. “Envirosight did an incredible job of finding the best European equipment and tailoring it to the American market.”

The focus on infrastructure has also been going on much longer across the Atlantic Ocean. “In the United States, it’s only been since the 1970s and the Clean Water Act that we’ve worried about infrastructure,” says Lindner. “In Europe, they’ve been doing it longer, and it’s much more technically competitive, so more is spent developing this equipment. In fact, Europe is filled with cottage industries — small shops that are constantly developing new technologies and methods. Only the ones with true merit find a global market”.

Lindner partnered Envirosight with Austrian crawler manufacturer iPEK for its line of video inspection crawlers. Leveraging iPEK’s technology offered a clear market advantage, but Envirosight was vigilant to make sure the products were properly adapted to the needs of U.S. operators and that stateside service infrastructure and parts inventory were superior to what even domestic manufacturers offered. “Even if foreign technology is superior, it can still have the stigma of being foreign. Our job is to eliminate that stigma. We live and die by making sure our customers experience training, support and service that exceed what other manufacturers deliver.”

Envirosight’s challenge has not only been to build a renowned customer service infrastructure, but to create demand for innovative technologies through effective marketing. “Early on, we were selling against heavy crawlers that couldn’t maneuver past anything, that required a crane, that needed constant retermination — and their cumbersomeness was actually mistaken for an advantage,” says Lindner. “Today, the market understands the value of agility and reliability.”

QuickView faced similar barriers to acceptance. “We’re all used to the kind of inspection footage you get from a crawler,” says Lindner. “It shows great sidewall detail, but it costs lots of time and money to operate, and most of the time it captures more information than you need for maintenance planning. It took years to convince municipal customers they could acquire a more comprehensive, up-to-date assessment of their pipeline infrastructure for less money with a zoom camera. Today, though, most of our customers are devout zoomers and all our major competitors now offer a zoom inspection product.”

In its first three years, Envirosight grew six-fold and had to move to a larger facility to accommodate its business. Now the company has 25 employees in administration, sales, service, production, engineering and training. Its headquarters are in Randolph, N.J., where it all began, but the company has recently opened field offices in Pittsburgh, Germany, and South America. Lindner says Envirosight is likely the No. 2 environmental inspection equipment company in North America.

Today, Envirosight has an installed base of more than 1,200 crawlers and 2,000 QuickViews in the Americas. “We saw a huge opportunity in this market, and we certainly had some luck,” Lindner says. “Our equipment was very different from the others and that gave us the leverage we needed in the market.”
In 10 years, Envirosight has become a larger, more global supplier of environmental inspection tools. The company has stayed true to its vision, but has relied on innovation to capture more business.

“We pride ourselves on a good ground game,” Lindner says. “We have a great sales network, with sales partners who know each region and understand the importance of local service. Early on, camera technology was difficult to sell and support, so few dealers truly focused on it. Today, all leading dealers have a camera line, and for Envirosight, we have a sales channel program where customers know our sales partners are fully committed to the product.”

A good sales channel also makes it easier to roll out new technologies. That has been proven out with the launch of DigiSewer side-scanning, a new technology for ROVVER and SuperVision crawlers that allows them to rapidly image every inch of pipe wall at high resolution. The technology produces a single, mural-like image whose width and height correspond to the pipe’s length and circumference. “Video footage captures acceptable detail, yet it’s very time-intensive to review and clumsy to annotate, plus it takes a lot of bandwidth to share and archive,” says Lindner. “The benefits of side-scanning are overwhelming, but the customer needs to see them firsthand. Our sales partners grasped the technology immediately and brought it to the market with lots of enthusiasm. Without that full court press, market acceptance would have been much slower.”

With technologies like DigiSewer, plus the emergence of GIS and kindred navigation technologies, Lindner believes software is the future of infrastructure intelligence. Accordingly, Envirosight has invested heavily in a dedicated support and distribution channel for its WinCan data collection, asset management, GIS and reporting software. Pipeline Analytics, an independent, wholly owned subsidiary of Envirosight, now supplies WinCan software and support to inspection camera manufacturers and end users throughout North and South America. The company is staffed by technical specialists and based in the Pittsburgh office. “Software is the most important component,” Lindner says. “You can have the trucks, cameras and an office — and that’s all great. But none of that makes a difference if you don’t have the software to use the data fully.”

The industry paradigm is to inspect 20 percent of infrastructure each year so that the entire inventory is inspected every five years. Once baseline data is established, Lindner says it’s easier to keep up on it, inspecting only where trouble arises. “There’s so much work to be done to ensure the reliability and productivity of these systems. At the end of the day, there’s not enough funding to inspect every piece of infrastructure. If our equipment can capture more information at less cost, and if our software can streamline analysis and improve maintenance planning, our customers win.”

Innovation doesn’t just benefit customers, however. It benefits the industry as a whole, says Lindner, by creating competitive pressure. “I’ve never been one to think of my competitors as enemies,” he says. “In fact, I believe the opposite. We help each other. We developed our latest QuickView because a competitor copied the previous version. The new QuickView is much more powerful, and it wouldn’t exist if a competitor hadn’t forced us to be better.”

Lindner says increased competition is a positive trend for the industry. However, he says that barriers for entering the environmental inspection market are becoming higher because of advances in technology. Now, in addition to traditional electromechanics, companies need to be experts in software, data management and microprocessor-based control and communication. Furthermore, there are fewer suppliers than in the past, so companies must also be more global.

Envirosight has been successful at staying ahead of the competition, says Terry Atwater, president of water/wastewater services for IDEX, based in Lake Forest, Ill. IDEX supplies Envirosight with robotic crawlers and cameras through its design and manufacturing company iPEK, located in Germany and Austria.
“They have been good at looking at trends, what customers need and what needs to come next. When it comes to any company, it’s always the vision and leadership that makes a difference. Envirosight has a great vision of the company it wants to be. They have done a good job of laying the foundation for further growth.”

In addition to staying on top of market demands and technology advances, Envirosight has begun to enter new business segments. Although the economy has put a strain on all equipment companies over the past two years, Lindner says the company is poised for growth in 2011.

Part of succeeding in a down economy is diversification, and in the past year Envirosight has bolstered its
growth by entering the pipeline rehabilitation market. “The story is similar to what played out on the inspection side,” Lindner says. “We didn’t see anyone bringing leading technology to the rehab market, so we decided to do it ourselves.  After several years of research, we picked a few specific technologies and began following the same type of business plan. The strategy provides a nice hedge, because although the camera and cleaning markets might slow down during tough market times, asset owners run huge risks if they delay fixing their pipes.” The company serves the rehab market through its subsidiary Pipeline Renewal Technologies (PRT), which is staffed by several industry veterans.

PRT now has an exclusive license for a lateral renovation technology called the Janssen Process, a structural alternative to glue-in-place lateral seals. Janssen Process is currently being applied on a widespread basis in metropolitan Washington, D.C., by customer Reynolds-Inliner. PRT also supplies high-productivity robotic lateral reinstatement cutters and lateral cutters, both focused on the pipe lining industries.

Envirosight’s reputation for innovation and quality has Lindner seeing a bright future for the business with its adherence to a clear company vision.

Bradley Kramer is a contributing staff editor of Trenchless Technology.
// ** Advertisement ** //
// ** Advertisement ** //

See Discussion, Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.