A View from across the Pond

May 10, 2016

Everything's bigger in America. The general picture that Europeans have is usually characterized by gigantic metropolises with millions of inhabitants, vast, seemingly endless territories and impressive infrastructures. However different Germany and America may seem at first glance, closer observation reveals a great deal in common. For instance, a city where people live, no matter what size, needs a functional, tested sewer system.

The Beginnings

The foundations of the sewer inspection industry were laid in Germany in the 1950s with the first sewer TV system. Over the years, an awareness has developed as to how important these inspections are. Nowadays, TV inspection is not just a topic for experts in the trade but also for private individuals who, if they are property owners, are responsible, among other things, for having their sewers leak tested.

America has not reached this point yet but is well on the way there at a fast pace. Here, the German market can provide help and advice to the American market as a kind of “big brother” and is in many respects a role model. The history of American sewer inspection is very similar to that of Europe, although the sewer systems in North America are not quite so old. This is why inspection or even rehabilitation was not considered to be that important. It was not until the 1970s that the priorities in this respect were reconsidered and altered. This led to increased requirements for technology, expertise and qualified personnel. An apt summing-up of the US business area at present is: “USA, the place to be in the sewer industry!”. This statement illustrates not only the developments in the USA with regard to sewer inspection but also the increased demand for camera systems.

RapidView and a Look at the American Market

RapidView, a company from Rochester in the state of Indiana in the USA, is the business partner of the Kiel-based company IBAK Helmut Hunger GmbH & Co. KG and is working intensively on satisfying this demand with high-quality products. RapidView, which was founded in 1991, started business as designers and manufacturers of inspection solutions for the nuclear, oil, commercial and urban industries. When it added IBAK technology to its program, the company reached a new  stage and was able to further improve its customer satisfaction. As an increased volume of orders is to be expected again this year, it is worth while examining the tendencies on the American market.

There is clearly an upward trend, but what are the reasons for the boom? Why just now? The answer lies in the fact that sewer inspection was neglected, as already mentioned above. High levels of pollution and wear and tear now make fast action necessary. Matthew Sutton, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at RapidView, explains the urgency as follows: “The majority of our pipes are approaching the end of their estimated service life or have already exceeded it by far. So it is not surprising that the market for sewer inspection is continuously growing at an ever increasing speed.”

However, that is a real danger, because a fast growing market reaches the zenith of the boom just as quickly and then the demand falls again. “That is absolutely correct”, Matthew Sutton adds, “We are really experiencing a boom phenomenon right now. Nevertheless, we do not just expect a short-lived surge, but we reckon with a protracted period of growth. The reason for this is quite simple: a great many pipes are losing their function at an alarming speed. In addition, there is continuously increasing pressure from regulatory bodies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency. This forces municipalities to spend more on inspection and rehabilitation. We must not lose sight of the fact that the investments required for the underground infrastructure amount to more than 570 billion US dollars.”

Of course, the inhabitants of the cities concerned profit primarily from these measures. So it is surprising that work on the sewer system was not demanded and performed much earlier. “Unfortunately, things like sewer inspection are not always in the public eye,” says Matthew Sutton. “The underground infrastructure happens to be under the ground and so the population often forgets about it. But this is also starting to change as large-scale incidents involving bad water quality, pollution and the health risks emanating from these provoke a public reaction. As a result, we expect a growing awareness and an increasingly sharp focus on such matters in the future.”

However, awareness and suitable action are only one side of the story. Because high-quality implementation also requires well thought-out technology. Finally, Matthew Sutton explains why RapidView recommends IBAK technology to its customers: “Quite simply – quality. We have adopted the IBAK motto 'Quality makes the difference' as our own, as it also matches our company philosophy. Quality of design, manufacture and customer service allow our customers to achieve higher productivity and increased returns on their capital.”

A Big Little Camera

In most cases, what works in Europe also works in America. So IBAK cameras and camera tractors are equally successful in the United States. Only the focus is on other preferences and this is due mainly to the fact that the requirements are quite simply different. For example, the IBAK LISY add-on module is booming in the USA at the moment. The lateral inspection system has a decisive advantage over other systems. It is designed to achieve a better performance but at the same time to require considerably less repair and maintenance costs. The improved successor model with individually continuously adjustable speed is already in demand.

Because of the success of the fastest satellite inspection system in the world, IBAK's American partners at RapidView also see a great market for the NANO camera. The smallest pan and rotate camera in existence can be connected to all IBAK push-rod systems, camera tractors and satellite systems and has full bend-negotiating capability. Any desired viewing direction can be reached extremely rapidly by the pan and rotate head thanks to its microprocessor control. In addition, the camera can rotate endlessly around its own axis.

Both the LISY module and the ORION camera, and in future probably also the NANO camera, are among the systems in highest demand in North America because they are used to avoid and  detect gas pipes crossing sewers. These are gas pipes that were laid by mistake through an existing sewer by pipelayers. This causes damage at two positions in the sewer and a gas pipe that crosses a sewer obstructs the flow of wastewater. At the worst, accidents of this type can have devastating consequences. The size and the maneuverability of the inspection systems make it possible to take rapid action.

The 3D-GeoSense pipe run survey has also attracted particular attention. So, in the USA, it is not only important to establish and document the condition of sewers, but, among other things, the position of the sewers in the ground is also of interest, for the reasons stated above. The pipe run survey is a decisive instrument for first-class, high-quality inspection of ground drainage systems. It provides a complete record of the sewer network data and can generate a map of complex lateral systems. The use of 3D-GeoSense makes it possible to create a plan of the pipe run with a minimum of additional effort as the survey is performed automatically at the same time as the  inspection. The xyz coordinates of the pipes are scanned and thus a 3D plan is generated and this makes it easier to locate laterals for any required rehabilitation measures or other constructional work (e.g. supplementary work on gas pipes).

Apart from its accuracy, it is particularly the user-friendly operation of the 3D-GeoSense system that makes it so appealing to its users. So it is obvious to American customers why this kind of pipe run survey has established itself so well on the German market. As a result, the people from RapidView wish and expect that America will follow Germany's good example. How greatly the requirements of the American market differ from those of the German market  often only shows up in minor details. Whereas for instance German inspection systems use a 33kHz transmitter, American systems are equipped with a 512Hz transmitter installed in a special housing on the push rod. This specialist frequency is often specified in the USA as this makes it easier to locate the camera when there are metal objects under the ground. In the US, great importance is attached in particular to this small component which is so important in terms of sales.

Future Prospects

With IBAK's support, RapidView made a very effective start to 2016 with its successful participation at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show (WWETT). From February 17 to 20, all sectors of the sewer industry, from the smallest inspection camera to a big high pressure flushing truck were represented at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

With 36 years of experience, an exhibition area of over 50,000 square meters, more than 600 exhibitors, 100 technical papers and 4,200 participating companies, the WWETT show has developed into one of the biggest exhibitions in the USA. This year, in cooperation with IBAK, RapidView exhibited among other things lateral inspection with LISY, the PANORAMO and the PANORAMO SI, 3D-GeoSense hydrostatic pipe run surveying, MiniLites and conventional mainline sewer inspection.

Of course, ideas for future products and innovations are discussed on such an occasion and some of these will already be on show at the IFAT exhibition. The sewer industry is therefore also looking across the pond with great interest to see how our national products will be presented at coming exhibitions in the USA. With its pioneer role, the German market is still an important bench mark for developments on the sewer inspection sector. Because Germany sets world-wide standards as far as the quality of inspections and inspection technology is concerned. IBAK, too, is aware of this responsibility and puts the focus of all future developments on individual customer value and, with every innovation, strives to create real, additional customer benefit. Impulses in this direction come, now as ever, from the market with the most experience - Germany.

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