Thinking Long-Term

Purchase price is only one issue when considering the value of an investment in CCTV equipment for sewer pipe inspection

Municipalities and contractors face difficult decisions when purchasing pipe inspection equipment. There is more involved than comparing features and initial purchase price.

It is essential to understanding fixed costs, variable costs, and how a specific piece of equipment will affect long-term return on investment (ROI). Capturing these costs and understanding value is not always easy, but with a little work, owners can make purchases that serve them well for many years.

Many options

There are many choices when considering inspection equipment, and one consideration is quality. Equipment designed and built to higher quality standards can increase productivity, reduce downtime and maximize profitability. In fact, it may reduce operating costs enough to offset the higher price.

Quality begins in product development and design. Equip-ment designed to accomplish a task efficiently will outperform equipment made with lower-cost materials or methods. Also part of the quality picture are the sales distribution channel and after-the-sale service. Does the company have a knowledgeable sales staff to help you choose the best equipment for your needs? When you do have a problem, will the company be there to help you?

As for costs, there are two basic types. Fixed (direct) include lease payments, rent, benefits, insurance and depreciation. Variable (indirect) costs include fuel, employee wages, energy usage and repair/mainte-nance expenses. It is important to understand the impact of both.

Where do you start?

In choosing camera equipment, you must first understand what you need to accomplish. For example:

What is the scope of your project? Will you primarily inspect small-to-medium mainline pipes, or large-diameter lines? Will your work be reactive? Or is it part of a long-term proactive assessment program? Decide what diameters of pipelines you will inspect and look for equipment that matches that range. More modern systems may have modular designs that let you add capabilities later as you grow.

How large is your project? Will you inspect 50,000 linear feet? Or hundreds of miles? Newer technologies can greatly increase your production and lower your costs for large, long-term assessment programs.

How can you expect the equipment to perform? Are you on a tight schedule where every day counts? If so, you will need higher quality, reliable equipment. How long do you expect the equipment to be in service? What will be the availability of system components as the equipment ages?

What is your budget? Be aware that financing options can overcome budget constraints. Also, consider how much to allocate for repair and maintenance. All equipment can and will break down in the sewer environment. Lower-priced equipment often costs more to service.

What training and support will your employees need? This depends on the skills your people already have and on the manufacturer’s capability. Look for a company that provides adequate training and support after the sale. Ask for and contact references.

What part will software play in your process? Do you need pipe inspection software to log defects and manage information? Will you want your inspection data integrated with a GIS or asset management system?

By weighing these questions carefully, you can avoid buying more or less equipment and capability than you need.

Competition is good

With these questions answered, contact manufacturers and discuss your needs and expectations. They may have ideas you never considered. Technology moves fast, and today’s inspection systems can deliver speed and quality far superior to the best available just a few years ago.

Ask each representative to demonstrate the equipment under normal operating conditions. If possible, have them all demonstrate in the same pipeline so you can evaluate each brand’s features, capabilities and ease of use with the fewest variables. As you gather information, you will begin to understand what features and capabilities are the most important, and you will be able to set minimum specifications.

Look at the true costs

Now it is time to make the best choice. Each product will have fixed and variable costs that you must weigh against its productivity potential to access the true cost of ownership and return on investment. Consider:

Initial purchase price. This is important, but it is by no means the only factor. Manufacturers and dealers will work with you to deliver the equipment you need within a reasonable budget.

Production rates. Each piece of equipment has its own capabilities. Do you expect to inspect 1,500 feet per day (the estimated national average)? Or will you inspect up to 5,000 feet per day? Equipment that enables greater production will cost more up front, but will have lower overall operating costs.

Employee wages, benefits, salaries. Will the equipment require less labor to complete your project on time? More productive equipment can reduce your labor costs, allowing you to inspect more with fewer employees. Equipment that is safer and easier to operate can also reduce employee stress.

Vehicle maintenance. Systems with high productivity can reduce the size of your fleet, reducing your cost to fuel, maintain, insure and license vehicles.

Repairs. Will the system be costly to repair? How often will it break down? All systems are susceptible to damage, but a well-designed system can reduce recurring repair costs. A system that saves you $10,000 on the initial price may cost you more than that in long-term repairs and maintenance.

Lost time. Equipment breakdowns will put you behind schedule. Equipment that is more reliable stays in the field generating revenue.

Features. Does the system provide capabilities that allow you to charge more for your services and help the recipients of your information make better decisions about their infrastructure?

Product lifecycle. Will this equipment last three years? Or 10? Is it ready for digital output? Are any of the components subject to rapid obsolescence that will make your system outdated in a few years? Can the system withstand the rigors of use? Does the manufacturer guarantee spare parts availability? The lifecycle is critical to overall profitability and productivity. For example, purchasing a brand that costs 20 percent less, but lasts half as long, is not a wise decision.

Choose carefully

In the current economic climate, it is especially critical to make informed purchase decisions. The right equipment can make your life easier, increase your effectiveness, and decrease your costs. But first you must understand product quality and its benefits. Look at the total cost of ownership to make decisions based on true costs. F

Matt Sutton, MBA, is vice president of sales and marketing for RapidView IBAK North America. He can be reached at 574/224-5427 or


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