Getting the Picture: Troubleshooting Inspection Camera Issues

Learning basic troubleshooting for common inspection system problems reduces downtime on the job.

Getting the Picture: Troubleshooting Inspection Camera Issues

Inspection cameras are complex machines and many repairs must be performed at service centers, but there are certain problems contractors can troubleshoot themselves to avoid downtime.

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Inspection cameras are a critical tool on sewer cleaning and pipe rehab projects. So when a camera breaks down on a job, productivity, profitability and customer relations suffer.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Equipped with some basic know-how, savvy contractors can save the day by troubleshooting camera issues.

Of course, inspection cameras are complex machines and many repairs must be performed at service centers. But industry experts say there are certain problems contractors can troubleshoot themselves — to keep jobs moving on schedule.

To learn more, I&I spoke with Julie James, customer service manager in the Western office of CUES, and Adam White, a technical specialist at RIDGID.

James and White point out that most manufacturers’ camera systems are different, which makes troubleshooting generalizations difficult. Nonetheless, the key to resolving many camera problems lies in determining which of the system’s basic components are malfunctioning: the monitor, reel, camera head or cable.

Doing so requires isolating and testing each of these components. And isolating the problem component provides a side benefit — operators only need to send in the broken component, as opposed to sending in the entire system, leaving them without a camera, they say.

On CUES camera trucks (most of the company’s camera systems are truck-mounted), contractors can use a test cable to evaluate the state of various components; a test cable is included with cameras. For example, an operator can bypass the cable reel by plugging one end of the test cable into a test port on the truck and the other end into a camera head; if the camera works, it’s not the source of the problem, James explains.

“If you use the test cable and the camera comes up and running, then you know the issue is in the cable,” she says. “If the camera doesn’t work, then the cable isn’t the problem.”

Here are some other common problems and how to troubleshoot them:

No image on the monitor

With RIDGID cameras, this could indicate a problem with the monitor, reel, camera head or interconnect cable, which is a short cable that connects the reel and the monitor. To make a determination, White says operators should disconnect the reel from the monitor, then use the monitor to watch a prerecorded videotape (if it’s an older camera) or a video that’s been downloaded onto a thumb drive.

“If you can watch a video, you know the monitor is working properly,” he says.

To eliminate the camera head as a problem, operators using RIDGID equipment can use a spanner wrench (it comes with the camera) to remove the head from the cable. Then plug the camera head directly into the interconnect-cable port on the monitor.

“If you get an image on the monitor, then you know the camera is good, too,” he explains. “So now you know the problem is not in the monitor or the camera head so it must be in either the reel, the push cable or the interconnect cable.”

To test the interconnect cable, attach the camera head to one end and plug the other end into the interconnect port on the monitor. If an image appears, then the interconnect cord also works, he says.

“The good news is you can replace the interconnect cord in the field,” White says. “It’s always a good idea to have a spare of anything that can be easily changed out. Some guys don’t like to spend the money upfront on spare components, but that can be the difference between uptime and downtime.”

If you still don’t get an image on the monitor, the problem most likely is in the push cable or the reel. “At that point, there’s not much you can do in the field,” he says. “Further diagnosis would require more in-depth disassembly that isn’t feasible to do in the field.”

Water or sewage in the light heads

This problem typically is caused by failed O-rings. To fix this problem, remove the light heads, let them dry off for a few hours (or use a hair dryer to save time) and then replace the O-rings, James advises.

“We encourage people to maintain their light heads, too,” she adds. “Just remove a few screws and the heads come out. You can replace lenses, reflectors, O-rings and bulbs. It’s simple to do, and parts are readily available. And it doesn’t hurt to carry extra parts out in the field.”

Broken cable

If a cable breaks, operators sometimes can “reterminate” it in the field. To do this on a CUES camera, cut off the bad part of the cable, then use the metal splice chamber to reconnect to the cable; the splice chamber protects the connection between the cable and the “pigtail,” which has pins on the end that plug into the mainline equipment, James explains.

“We recommend that if operators are going to go through all that work, they might as well replace the pigtail, too, because they get pretty beat up,” she says. “It’s a judgement call.”

Proper operation can help minimize the chances for broken cables. For instance, it’s recommended that operators keep their hands as close as possible to the drain they’re cleaning, which reduces pressure on the cable, says Adam Teets, a service manager at RIDGID.

“I’d say that 80% to 90% of camera failures stem from push-cable breakage,” he says. “So the best preventive measure is to push the cable down the line without too much pressure.”

Prepare with spares

Carrying spare parts is critical to minimizing downtime. Even something as seemingly simple as a lifting strap for a transporter can cause profit-killing job stoppages because without it, the camera can’t be lowered into or removed from the pipeline, James notes.

“Little things failing will shut you down just as quickly as big things,” she says. “If you’re ordering a motor cable (which connects a camera transporter and the cable), order two. Sometimes you just don’t want to incur the expense, but don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. … It’s not a lot of money compared to the cost of shutting down a truck.”

Proper maintenance is also crucial. Because of the environments in which they work, cameras are constantly confronting water and debris. That means it’s important to disconnect electrical connections to let them dry out to avoid corrosion, and remove debris that can slowly degrade seals and other parts, James says.

On pan-and-tilt cameras, for example, minute bits of grit can compromise the pivot mechanism. “And when you’re going up a sewer pipe, the wheels will pick up everything from hair to dental floss,” she adds. “Hair actually acts like wire and digs into the seals until they fail.”

As such, it’s important to do things like remove wheels and clean the axles. If a camera lens cracks, replace it right away so moisture doesn’t enter, she says.

Operators also need to remember that as electronic devices, camera systems need to be treated with care. “Our field reps often see users treating monitor-control units like anything but a complex electronic device,” White says. “They need to be properly stored: Don’t let them rattle around your truck every time you make a turn or a hard stop.”

Operators in cold climates also need to remember that electronic devices have a harder time working in bitter cold weather and battery life diminishes rapidly. So if temperatures are below zero, it’s a good idea to move the monitor into a garage or a utility room overnight, he suggests.

Taking care of your inspection camera will help prevent downtime when problem pop up on a job. 



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