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Improving Municipality Worker Safety With Pipe Crawlers

Rachel Doornekamp   |   April 19, 2021

Modern life wouldn't be possible without the series of pipes that extend underground, beneath cities and municipalities. These pipes and sewer lines transport water and materials away from homes and other buildings to treatment plants. Although they might be "out of sight, out of mind" for most people, keeping sewer lines and storm pipes clean, clear and in good working condition is critical.

Pipe crawlers simplify the process of cleaning sewer lines. The robots, or sewer line cleaning machines, also help keep workers safe on the job. Learn more about the benefits of pipe crawlers for municipalities, including how they can keep your crew safe while preserving and protecting your infrastructure.

What Are Pipe Crawlers?

A pipe crawler can be your eyes in areas that are too cramped and small for a human being to fit. Pipe crawlers are small robots that have a camera attached to them. They travel through pipes, capture images and video, and give you a glimpse of what's going on beneath the surface.

Generally speaking, two types of pipe crawlers exist, portable and non portable. A non portable pipe crawler needs a separate vehicle, which provides the power and the CCTV connection. Some of the drawbacks of non portable pipe crawlers are that they are tricky to operate, as they need a big team and specialized vehicles, such as a CCTV truck, to get an inspection underway.

A portable pipe crawler fits into a carrying case or two and can be brought to a site in a standard truck or van. Instead of connecting to a fully-equipped CCTV truck, a portable pipe crawler connects to a hand-held controller via a thin tether. It's easy for workers to lower a portable pipe crawler into a pipe and raise it out again after an inspection.

In addition to being portable or non portable, there are a few other features to consider when choosing a pipe crawler:

  • Type of pipe they can crawl: Sewer and stormwater pipes can be made from various materials, such as corrugated metal, brick, clay or PVC. Some pipe crawlers can travel through a variety of different materials, while others are more limited.

  • Size of the pipe they can crawl: Pipes come in a range of sizes, from narrow pipes that are just 6 inches in diameter to pipes that are several feet across. If you're working with pipes that are 6 inches to 12 inches in diameter, a mini pipe crawler is likely the best option. If the pipe is wider, a full-size model will likely make more sense.

  • Camera placement: Ideally, you can adjust the camera's location on the crawler to get the best view. Some models, such as the DT340, let you attach the camera to the vehicle itself or its arm.

  • Submersibility: A pipe crawler is going to get wet. Ideally, the robot will be fully submersible, able to keep going even when it has to crawl through a pipe full of water or other liquids.

  • Available wheel types: The size of the pipe crawler's wheels play a role in determining the size of pipe it can fit into. The bigger the wheels, the bigger the pipe. Some models also have the option of trading wheels for tracks, depending on the type of terrain or surface the pipe crawler will travel over.

  • Battery type: The battery type determines how long the pipe crawler will last before it needs to come up to the surface for a charge.

How Do Pipe Crawlers Work?

A portable pipe crawler is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). To get an idea of how a pipe crawler works, we can examine the DT340 Pipe Crawler System. The DT340 is fully portable and powered by a lithium-ion battery, which has a life of up to eight hours after an hour and a half charge. It's the only pipe crawler available today that doesn't rely on topside power. It's also the only pipe crawler with a depth rating of up to 50 meters. The DT340 can go into areas with fully-submerged access points without any difficulty.

To use the DT340, municipal workers attach the camera to it and connect its tether to a hand-held controller. The camera connects to one of two parts of the DT340. It can connect to the vehicle itself or the pipe crawler's extendable arm. Connecting the camera to the arm can be ideal when a worker wants to view the upper area of a pipe.

After the camera is connected to the DT340, a worker can lower the pipe crawler into the pipe or tank. The pipe crawler remains attached to the surface through a tether, which is strong enough to keep the crawler secure but thin enough not to get in the way of the crawler as it works its way through a pipe. The tether connects to the controller, which a worker uses to steer and direct the pipe crawler beneath the surface.

Using the controller, a municipal worker can zoom in on areas of concern in the pipe, such as areas where there is visible wear or corrosion. They can steer the crawler to better look at certain areas or adjust the camera angle to take in as big of a picture as possible.

The person operating the controller can also adjust the brightness of the LED lights on the pipe crawler, giving themselves a better view of what's going on in the sewer or stormwater pipe. The pipe crawler can check for and detect the following in a stormwater pipe or sewer line:

  • Sediment buildup
  • Cracks or signs of leaks
  • Abrasions
  • Dents
  • Sewer line clogs or blockages

It's possible to connect the controller to a laptop, DVR or another recording device to record the footage the pipe crawler captures. The municipality can then review the footage and use it to decide what to do next, such as fixing a clogged city sewer line or replacing a section of pipe that is badly worn or corroded.

How Are Pipe Crawlers Used to Increase Worker Safety?

When a pipe crawler works its way through a city stormwater pipe or sewer line, it eliminates the need for a human worker to get into the pipe and look around. An ROV acts as substitute eyes for workers. It can easily fit into pipes, carrying out visual inspections and highlighting any areas of concern. After a pipe crawler has performed an inspection, the municipal workers' team knows exactly what they need to fix and what areas need repair or attention.

By keeping people out of the pipes, a pipe crawler helps protect the health of municipal workers. Sewer and stormwater pipes can be full of bacteria and other germs that can potentially cause illness. Sending a pipe crawler down first to check out the pipes' interior reduces the level of exposure workers have to germs. It's also relatively easy to clean and disinfect the pipe crawler after each use.

The Benefits of Pipe Crawlers for Municipalities

Municipalities come in a wide range of sizes, from big cities with big budgets to small towns with much smaller purses. No matter the municipality's size, it likely has infrastructure, such as sewer and stormwater pipes, that live underground. Maintaining that infrastructure is critical for the health and ongoing function of a municipality. Pipe crawlers help cities and towns of all sizes and budgets maintain their infrastructure, making their municipality an attractive place to live. Some of the benefits of using a pipe crawler for pipe inspections include:

  • 270-degree camera rotation: 270-degree camera rotation: The camera on a pipe crawler can easily rotate 270 degrees, giving an inspector a clear view of the area inside a pipe.

  • Compact and easily maneuverable: Pipe crawlers from Deep Trekker are fully portable. They connect to a tether and a hand-held controller on the surface while the pipe crawler itself explores the interior of the pipe or water tank underground. Lowering the pipe crawler into the pipe is simple. Municipal workers don't need to wait for contractors to arrive or depend on a separate CCTV vehicle. The controller itself is easy to use and is very similar to a video game control. It's weatherproof and won't be affected by a bit of rain, snow or cold temperatures.

  • Affordable: Small towns love portable pipe crawlers, partially because of their affordable price tag. Non portable pipe crawler systems require a town to hire outside contractors, which can add to the cost of inspection considerably. Smaller municipalities have praised the affordable price of the DT340 while raving about its ability to perform its job well.

  • Record all investigations: It's a good idea for a city or town to record inspections if anything unusual turns up and create a record of the inspections. When conducting a new inspection, municipal workers can review older footage to see if there was evidence of an issue before or if the concern is new. Recording inspections also helps a town decide what to do about a problem. The hand-held controller of a pipe crawler connects to a recording device and can record the footage to an SD card for review later or for historical documentation.

  • Self-contained efficient battery: Although many pipe crawlers require topside power, the DT340 is powered by a lithium-ion, self-contained battery. The battery can provide up to a full day's worth of power on a single charge, meaning an inspector can get in a full day's work without having to take charging breaks or bring the crawler up to replace the battery. How far the pipe crawler can travel on a single charge depends on the terrain, the condition of the pipes and the speed, but it might be possible to cover up to 33,000 feet of pipe in a day.

The Importance of Providing Proper Pipe Crawler Safety Training

Using a portable pipe crawler is just the first step toward keeping workers safe during inspections. It's also essential that municipal workers know how to operate the pipe crawlers safely. Some things to keep in mind when training people to use the pipe crawlers include:

  • General safety requirements: Ideally, workers should be familiar with general ways to stay safe on the work site, such as wearing highly visible clothing when working on the roadside, maintaining their body temperature when working in hot or cold conditions and wearing protective gear, such as a hard hat or safety goggles, as needed.

  • How to use the controller: One of the benefits of a portable pipe crawler is that the learning curve is much smaller than the learning curve required to operate a CCTV truck. It's still important for a person operating the controller to know how it works, what buttons to press to turn or adjust the camera and how to zoom in. Not knowing how to use the controller will affect the quality of the video captured by the pipe crawler.

  • How to choose the right wheels for the pipe crawler: The DT340 can be fitted with large or small wheels or with tracks, depending on the size of the pipe and the conditions inside of it. It's vital that operators put the correct wheels on the ROV before sending it into the pipe. Otherwise, the pipe crawler won't be able to do its job properly and important safety issues, such as a small dent or corrosion areas, might not be detected by the camera.

  • The age and condition of the pipes: Different municipalities might use various types of pipes. Depending on the system's age, the pipes in one part of town might be completely different from the pipes in another part of town. Municipal workers should know what they're working with to be sure to send the right pipe crawler in to do the job and so they have an idea of what to expect once the pipe crawler is performing an inspection.

Contact Deep Trekker for a Quote Today

Deep Trekker offers the first battery-operated and fully portable CCTV pipe crawler system. Whether you need to inspect pipes that are as narrow as 6 inches in diameter or pipes up to 36 inches wide, our DT340 and DT320 Mini pipe crawlers can do the work for you. To learn more about our pipe crawlers, including pricing details, contact us for a quote today.