Prevention Is Better Than Cure: How Remote Pipeline Inspections Save You Time and Money

By Krystal Nanan
Published: February 27, 2019 | Last updated: July 5, 2023
Key Takeaways

In contrast to conventional methods, camera inspections allow pipeline issues to be precisely diagnosed with little to no destruction to the surrounding landscape.

Plumbing is one of the most critical elements of any residential or commercial building. Issues related to plumbing can often be complex and worrisome since the majority of piping is usually buried and hidden from view. One of the first steps to diagnosing a problem within a pipeline network is conducting an inspection. Inspections allow contractors to view the condition of the pipe to determine the root cause of the issue.

Unfortunately, conventional inspection techniques usually entail extensive excavation and exploratory work. Vast amounts of soil are removed in an attempt to reveal and assess buried pipelines. Since the exact location of the issue is most times unknown, these types of inspections are typically done by trial and error, resulting in several excavation sites. In addition to being time-consuming, conventional methods are highly destructive and are usually followed by costly restorative works.

As a result, exploratory trenchless techniques, such as camera inspections, are gaining popularity among home and business owners, and government municipalities. In contrast to conventional methods, camera inspections allow pipeline issues to be precisely diagnosed with little to no destruction to the surrounding landscape.

How Do Remote Inspections Work?

Remote inspections are a type of visual assessment method used in internal pipeline inspections. As its name implies, remote camera inspections involve the use of miniaturized video capturing technology tools to view the inside of water and wastewater pipelines without having to perform extensive surface excavations. As a result, camera inspections are termed as non-destructive evaluations.

One of the most common tools used to perform pipeline camera inspections are CCTV systems. This technique involves using a robot-mounted, forward facing PTZ (pan/tilt zoom) camera with an integrated lighting system. The camera system is then assembled on a wheeled carriage and inserted into one end of the pipeline. The camera equipment is operated by qualified technicians who control and the camera’s movements and interpret the visual feeds and measurements.

As the camera traverses the length of the pipeline, the operator is able to locate, view, and record anomalies and defects such as cracking, deformations, blockages, fractures, etc.

4 Benefits of Camera Inspections

1. Diagnose problems without unnecessary digging.

Most plumbing failures occur in areas of the piping that cannot be easily or readily accessed or viewed. Tree root infiltration, for example, takes place below ground and can cause significant damage to buried pipelines, resulting in thousands of dollars in repair costs. It is, therefore, crucial that these types of defects be detected as soon as possible. (Read Your Comprehensive Guide to Condition Assessment of Buried Pipelines.)

One of the main drawbacks of conventional pipeline diagnosis is the need for excavation and trenching. This digging can destroy precious landscapes as well as incur significant costs. During camera inspections, the camera can is sent through the pipe, sometimes via a relatively small, non-intrusive opening. In addition to wheeled carriages, simpler setups, where the camera affixed to a flexible line or wire, can be used.

2. Determine the nature and exact location of the problem.

Another shortcoming of conventional excavated inspections is the lack of efficiency in determining the location and root cause of a particular issue. Removing the soil only exposes the outer wall of the pipe, while the inner diameter remains obscured from view. This makes finding the exact location of the blockage or obstruction a trial and error exercise, possibly resulting in multiple excavations.

During camera inspections, operators can control the movement of the apparatus through the length of the pipeline. The camera returns high-definition images in real-time to a monitor, allowing cracks, leaks, holes, or blockages to be viewed and located with a high degree of precision.

This characteristic eliminates the guesswork associated with conventional inspection techniques and leads to a more accurate diagnosis. Once accurately diagnosed, the appropriate methods of trenchless repair or rehabilitation can then be determined by the plumbing contractor.

3. Minimal remedial and restoration work.

Since there is no digging involved, camera inspections can help preserve expensive or protected landscapes. One of the most significant costs associated with excavated investigations is the ensuing restoration work. This is especially relevant in urban areas where infrastructure, such as roadways or driveways, are required to be restored once inspection and repairs are complete.

4. Future damage can be prevented.

Camera inspections are also an effective tool for preventative inspections. While cameras can determine the location and nature of existing problems with a high degree of accuracy, they can also identify potential pipeline issues that may be in development. (Read Identifying and Managing Dangers Associated with Subsurface Utilities.)

This allows appropriate actions to be taken before problems worsen. Interior pipeline corrosion, for example, can be detected before cracking or rupture occurs, preventing leaks which can result in property damage and costly repairs. Camera inspections should be routinely conducted, especially in older piping networks.

What We've Learned

Camera inspections are a recommended tool in any pipeline maintenance program. Its non-invasive nature allows investigations to be conducted without the need for excavations. This attribute helps reduce cost by minimizing the amount of trenching and subsequent restoration work required. Furthermore, the accuracy and precision of camera inspections eliminate the guesswork associated with conventional inspections, reducing the need for trial and error exploratory excavation.

High-definition videos and images can also result in more accurate diagnoses which can help contractors determine the most feasible trenchless repair or restoration technique for a given pipeline. Additionally, camera inspections can assist in the early detection of potentially damaging and costly pipeline issues before they develop.

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Written by Krystal Nanan | Civil Engineer

Krystal Nanan

Krystal is a civil engineer and project manager with an MSc in Construction Engineering and Management. Her experience includes the project management of major infrastructure projects, construction supervision, and the design of various infrastructure elements including roadway, pavement, traffic safety elements and drainage.

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