Things to Consider When Designing an Inspection Vehicle

When you are ready to build out a pipeline inspection vehicle, there are two decisions that need to be thoroughly evaluated. First, there are several considerations that will dictate the type of chassis that will meet your needs. Second, you will need to think through the inspection equipment you need, now and in the future.

First let’s tackle your chassis choice. Too often people will make decisions on chassis based only on price. While that is an important consideration, you will thank me later if you also think through some of the following:

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How Will the Vehicle Be Used?

This may seem like an obvious question, but you should consider whether you will be doing mainline or lateral inspections or both. Maybe you will only use the vehicle for mainline inspections now, but expand to lateral inspections down the road. You also need to take into account whether you are going to use the vehicle for something other than inspections, such as water meter/valve maintenance or even snow plowing.

Next you need to think about the equipment area and storage for equipment, tools, parts, signs, and safety cones. We advise customers to consider their future equipment or space needs and to make sure they have considered safety measures for their vehicle, including proper strobe lights, confined space equipment, a sink, bins, toolboxes, underbody boxes, shelves, and a hoist to minimize the need for manual lifting.

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Does the vehicle need to provide the ability to walk from the cab to the control room and/or the control room to the equipment area, especially in case of bad weather or safety concerns?

inspection camera

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In What Type of Environment Will You Be Working?

The size of vehicle you choose is often dictated by your work environment. In a congested urban area, a smaller footprint in the field will be more important than if you will be working in a rural area. Weather conditions also play a role. Will you need to navigate the snowy roads of Maine, or do you need a vehicle that allows you to work comfortably in the Texas heat?

Does the Vehicle Need to Meet Size Restrictions?

Think about height and width restrictions, especially if you need to navigate low bridges or narrow streets. Don’t forget about garage heights and widths as you settle on the right chassis.

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Do You Need a Specific GVWR/GVCR?

If you need to carry or tow miscellaneous items in addition to your equipment (e.g., signs, manhole blowers, tools, buckets), be sure the vehicle has the space and can accommodate the extra weight.

What Type of Power Source Will You Need?

Each power supply option (e.g., generator, battery, or engine-driven generator) has limitations to factor into your decision. Many buyers underestimate the power they will need. The duty cycle of a smaller generator can quickly be pushed to the limit if you don’t have enough power.

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What Is the Total Cost of Ownership?

Think beyond just the sell prices of the chassis selections. You should also understand the cost implications of fuel type, operating costs, maintenance, repair/part accessibility, and re-sale value. For example, when choosing diesel or gas, factor in the cost per gallon and upfront costs vs. long-term performance and maintenance. Diesel engines typically last longer than gas but cost more upfront and weigh more.

Pathfinder series

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The next step is to build your vehicle out to suit your needs. Start with the basic layout of the vehicle. Working with professional guidance, identify your needs for the control room, keeping operator comfort in mind. Think about whether you need climate control (A/C and heater) and the level of noise from the power source. Most vehicles can be customized for climate control, special lighting needs and safety considerations.

Now it’s time to turn your attention to the type of equipment you will install in your inspection vehicle. Again, there are a series of considerations that will dictate your selections:

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Pipe Diameter/Material

This will dictate the size capability of the tractor/camera you select, as well as the various tire options. For example, bigger pipes require larger tires or extended hubs to keep the camera centered in the pipe. Concrete or clay pipes are porous with plenty of grip, so rubber tires may be sufficient. PVC, plastic and relined pipes tend to be slicker, which requires the increased traction of carbide tires.

Level of Debris/Equipment Resiliency

While many sewer pipes are cleaned prior to inspection, some are not. Working in sewers can mean navigating all types of debris. The inspection equipment you select needs to withstand the harsh environment.

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How Much Cable Will You Need?

Bear in mind that longer cable means fewer set ups, which increases your productivity.

Camera Features

A top-quality camera, with the right lighting and in-the-pipe lens cleaning ensure you capture every detail of the pipe and maximizes productivity.

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Ease of Repair

Field-repairable equipment has the advantage of keeping crews productive out in the field. Additionally, be sure you can easily access manufacturer training and repair services, as well as replacement parts and loaner equipment, if needed.

Software Compatibility/Reporting

Ensure that the equipment you select has a simple computer interface and can generate the reports you need for your customers. Does it need GIS capability?

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Purchasing an inspection vehicle is a significant investment. It requires due diligence so you choose the right size vehicle, structure the interior to meet your needs (not just a “cookie cutter” design) and choose equipment that will maximize uptime and generate the results you need for your customers. Be sure to work with a professional team that can guide you at every step of the decision-making process.

Jim Kraschinsky is vice president of sales for Aries Industries.

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