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Shining a Light in the Dark: Pipe Inspection Cameras

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Sewers and pipes eventually need cleaning or repair, and inspection often is the first step. Knowing what best to do is generally first a matter of inspecting the situation. To assist in pipe inspection, specialized cameras are the most effective means of getting inside a pipe and looking around. Pipe inspection cameras themselves run the gamut from simple cameras connecting on a USB cable to a computer, up to fully autonomous robotic cameras capable of travelling far along pipelines and performing complex operations.

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Pipeline cameras can operate in piping as small as one inch inside diameter, up to virtually any size of pipe, but they have a couple of characteristics in common: they illuminate the inside of the pipe so that the camera can obtain images, and they are designed to operate in harsh conditions. Pipeline devices are typically waterproof and often explosion proof (meaning that they will not spark an explosion), as pipelines usually contain fluids and may be filled with gases that can explode in the presence of a spark.

Extremely specialized equipment, such as that used to inspect oil pipelines, might need to operate in acidic and high pressure environments, and at times may not be using optical inspection at all, but other sensing technologies such as ultrasonics, x-rays, and pressure measurement. Oil pipeline “smart pigs” are propelled great distances — kilometres sometimes — along the pipe by the pressure of the moving oil itself.

In the residential and commercial plumbing markets, pipeline inspection equipment is still generally expensive and specialized enough that it is primarily found in the hands of professional plumbers and contractors. Such equipment usually positions a camera at the end of a semi-rigid cable that is then pushed into the pipe being inspected. As a result such cameras are limited in the distance they can travel, but those distances are usually sufficient for residential and small commercial/industrial inspections.

Economics of camera piping inspection

Despite the cost of pipe inspection equipment, there is a good case that pipeline inspection can be one of the most cost effective weapons in the plumber’s arsenal. Knowing precisely where a problem exists in a pipe, and what that problem might be, can greatly reduce the cost of a job. Using inspection, the plumber, before digging, can know where to dig and what replacement parts or repair materials to have on hand.

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Pipeline inspection can show the position and extent of root penetration, cracks in clay piping, corrosion or calcification in iron pipes, and problematic joints, among other things. It is extremely useful to know the type of piping and the nature of a blockage before setting in to work.

Residential pipe inspection equipment

A typical residential pipe inspection system consists of a computerized controller, a camera, and a reel of cabling to connect the two.

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The controller/camera display unit remains with the operator, outside of the piping system, and is used to configure the camera’s illumination, orientation, and movement. It also displays images of what the camera is observing, and can store video and still images of the inside of the piping.

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The cameras found in pipe inspection systems have evolved greatly in recent years, and are now sensitive, high-resolution, and sharp. In addition, these cameras can be rotated, swiveled, and zoomed under remote control to provide the best view possible.

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The cabling connecting the control computer to the camera supplies power to the camera, sends operating instructions to the camera, and transmits images obtained by the camera back to the camera operator. It is often found on a reel that contains the cable not in use.

The images returned by the pipe inspection camera are usually an excellent start on diagnosing problems and designing a repair strategy.

Master Drain has the pipe inspection equipment to assess your plumbing system before heading into more involved work, such as digging or routing out blockages. Contact Master Drain today to take advantage of our skills and equipment in pipe and drainage inspection and repair.

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