Multiple Uses

There is a lot you can do with a downhole camera.

By Raymond Roerick

Inspecting an abandoned well prior to grouting.

Think about this on the slow days. Almost all municipalities have curbs and gutters. Gutters drain into storm sewers, storm sewers fill with street refuse and garbage, and the garbage settles in and starts to plug the storm drains.

This eventually turns into a major cost outlay for cleaning. That is when they know what and where the problem lies.

If you’re a water well contractor with a downhole camera, it has the answer as it provides a visual inspection.

Some contractors have already capitalized on this opportunity to offer a value-added service to their communities—plus pick up some nice projects to supplement their income, and further justify the ownership of a camera that can spend a lot of time on the storage rack.

The remarkable ingenuity of our industry has turned the downhole camera into a horizontal push camera.

It’s simple to get started. All you need to do is design a skid plate to mount the camera to or buy a centralizer. A skid plate can be as elementary as a ski that allows, via a clamp, the camera to rest on the curled nose on the plate that will allow it to be pushed over the debris in the storm sewer with a push rod.

A push rod can be a flat metal sewer tape available at most plumbing suppliers. These sewer tapes have a fitting on the end that allows for attachment of several different tools and are easily adapted to the skid plate or centralizer.

Another option is fiberglass rods, available at local building supply stores and generally used for chimney cleaning and electrical wire pulling. Solid rods can be purchased in various lengths and transported and stored in something like a PVC sewer pipe. There are also several companies that manufacture continuous coils of about 3 feet to more than 300 feet, which is the approximate distance between storm sewer manholes.

The rest is the basics of you working the camera. You have the footage counter, recording device, and knowledge of the camera.

Providing Additional Services

Before the latest economic downturn, “add-ons” or additional services were decreasing because everyone was busy trying to keep up with customer demand and rushing to the next job.

A mirror attached to the end of the camera looks at perforations in a well.

Then came the economic tsunami and those trends reversed. Now that we are on the road to economic recovery, the sale of additional services is a must. What we must do now is know how to overcome a homeowner’s reluctance to add-ons.

You must know how to explain the benefits of video inspections.

First and foremost, remember that you are there for a reason, and the best part of it is you were invited. The customer trusts you and wants you to help them.

Prospects are 72% more likely to purchase a product or service when video is used.

Begin with the simple things for a customer who has a steel-cased well with a screen. A video will provide a history of the casing condition, but most of all, a good view of the condition of the screen.

If the screen was not designed properly for the aquifer or gallons per minute, the first sign will be the encrustation or growth of barnacles which will greatly reduce the well’s capacity, lowering the pumping level, and increasing the pumping cost.

This gives you the opportunity to offer your customer yet another service. You can offer to rehabilitate or recondition the well. In this scenario, the video offers four benefits to the customer: history of the well, record of condition (used to compare with the next inspection), rehabilitating the well, and reduced energy cost.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, prospects are 72% more likely to purchase a product or service when video is used and they make their buying decisions faster.

Looking at the casing of a well being investigated for sour taste and smell in the water.

After seeing a video of their water well, most homeowners will have a greater understanding of the well, the reason there is a problem, and a greater appreciation for you. When showing the video, remember to explain that the video inspection will save them money in the long run in addition to the preventive maintenance procedures you can explain with the video.

Lots of Uses in Surface Water

There are all kinds of other uses for downhole cameras too. They have all kinds of uses beyond a water well system.

Recovery and Removal: For example, a long-time friend of mine in northern Minnesota shared with me another use for his camera a few years ago. It seems Joe is a volunteer on the local Dive Search and Rescue team.

It never fails. Every state that has frozen lakes also has anxious fishermen who just can’t wait to get out and do a little ice fishing. An over-anxious fisherman went out on unsafe ice one day to test his fishing skills and found a patch of ice that was not thick enough to support his vehicle. The truck broke through the ice and sank to the bottom of the lake.

This presented several problems as the truck and victim needed to be recovered and removed from the frigid waters. Here’s a little-known fact: When a vehicle breaks through ice, it doesn’t go straight down. It glides and turns in different directions as it settles to its final resting place.

In years gone by, the volunteers would have donned scuba equipment and spent hours to days taking turns going down in the freezing water looking for the vehicle and coming up to rest and replenish their oxygen supply.

But since the purchase of his downhole camera, Joe and other volunteers started a systematic process of drilling holes in the ice, expanding their search pattern, and lowering the camera down to locate the vehicle and the victim. This made the recovery a fast and much simpler task and enabled everyone to spend considerably less time in the freezing water.

Visualizing: A more pleasant use is a company I know that was trying to recover a sunken boat off the East Coast. It was having a hard time trying to understand the communication problems their divers underwater were encountering, and the types of special tools needed.

With the attachment of a tethered downhole camera to a diver’s helmet and the monitor on the surface, the recovery job’s time was cut by 80%. Since then, this company has added three more downhole cameras to their inventory.

Recreation: And yes, I am asked all the time if the camera works well for lake fishing. Of course, the answer is yes. You can not only see the fish approaching your bait but will catch a lot more fish when you can see them putting the bait and hook into their mouths. Happy fishing!

Uses in Water Towers

We received an inquiry from a state water tower inspector a few years back.

They were required to inspect city water towers every four years to see if there was corrosion, a leak, drip, or any possible sign of a problem on the external side. If found, they would be required to drain the tank and send in a crew with all their safety gear, air packs, sterile suits, lighting, and tethered to a winch or crane at the inspection entry port. This entire process would take them four to five days to complete.

They knew there had to be a better way. They had done their homework, and they wanted a camera. Unfortunately, the state’s budget would not allow them to get an underwater tethered rover for the inspections.

I suggested they attach a down-view well inspection camera to a section of ¾-inch CPVC with threaded fittings on both ends. That would allow them to add distance to their inspection perimeter without adding much weight.

With some trial and error, they found an inexpensive aquatic robot, and using the camera cable as the tethering, they were able to make both options work, depending on the tank.

Then they called, wondering if there was a simple approach to using a laptop to view and record the inspections. I shared the URLs of a couple websites that provided USB video grabbing cables and software. They were then able to come up with a computer program where they could record and attach the video to their report for the community and one for their files.

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Downhole cameras are not new, but they can be critical to the revenue of water well companies today. Make sure you know how to sell the services of videoing a water well system to your customers. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. That camera can turn slow days into good days.


Raymond Roerick is the international sales manager for WellVu Camera in Brainerd, Minnesota. He has enjoyed a career in the groundwater industry that has seen him drill wells, install pumps, work as a manufacturers representative and at a water well wholesale house. He started WellVu with the desire to provide quality cameras at a budget price for contractors. He can be reached at wellvu1@gmail.com.

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