Drain Cleaning: Advancing Technology Makes Specification More Difficult
Welbourne says new-generation drain-cleaning equipment has put greater power and performance in the hands of plumbers.
"Jetters are much more powerful than they used to be," he says, adding they deliver pressure at 3,200 pounds per square inch (psi), while previous models used about 1,750 psi. Cables also are stronger and tend to break far less, he says. Newer units also more often feature line locators.
"The unit shows me on screen where the line is at," Welbourne says. The locator's display shows line direction, changes in direction, left-right guidance to aid in centering over a line, and a digital depth indicator showing the line's depth at a particular point. The locator also shows the camera's progress through the drain by tracking a beacon from the transmitter. It also can spot the location plumbers need to start digging if a pipe collapses and they need to excavate for repair.
While Welbourne has the final say on the department's needs for drain-cleaning equipment, he uses several resources to help build the case for new tools and technology. First, he seeks the input of the department's plumbers, who will use the equipment regularly.
He also can narrow down the search for a piece of equipment to purchase by using work-order histories from the department's computerized maintenance management system. A series of work orders for areas of a building or specific lines in a building mean the department might need a certain piece of equipment to address the problem.
"I can go in and pull up a building's restroom as far back as eight years ago," he says.
The result of specification efforts by Welbourne and his staff is an equipment arsenal that allows plumbers to tackle most any issue building occupants can create.
"We probably have better tools than a lot of plumbing contractors," he says. But as with many organizations, cost considerations have changed in the last few years in response to the recession. As a result, specifying and purchasing equipment has changed.
"Cost, especially now, is a big thing," he says. "I can't just go out and say, 'I need a $20,000 jetter' and expect that they will say yes."
That said, Welbourne also is aware that, in having to choose between a unit that is more expensive and one that costs less, cost is not the most important consideration in purchasing equipment.
"Cheaper is not always better," he says.
Finally, Welbourne says while brand names are important in choosing drain-cleaning equipment, they are not the most important factor.
"I'm not really brand loyal," he says. "A lot of times, it's experience that decides."