Marina del Rey, CA--El Nino incited storms have taxed runoff and sewer systems across the country this winter and spring. Timely detection of breaks in such pipes, some of which are approaching the century mark of service, is critical in restoration of utility service, pollution and erosion prevention, and simple relief from basement flooding.
Now municipalities and contractors have a new weapon in locating problems and in conducting routine maintenance and inspection operations. The Flexicam video camera from Sreco-Flexible(TM), at 1.42 inches in diameter, is one of the smallest available. It maneuvers through right angle bends in pipes as small as 3 inches in diameter or moderate bends in 2-inch pipe, according to Ramiro Fernandez, Sreco-Flexible video-products chief engineer. The flexible snake connected to the camera has a semi-rigid fiberglass core surrounded by signal and power wires, which are jacketed with an abrasion-resistant PVC. Pushing and twisting the snake, based on the geometry viewed by the camera, allows the operator to negotiate up to four bends at distances out to 150 ft.
While the camera's small size is a major feature, its versatility is maximized by incorporation of new generation, high intensity LED (light emitting diode) multi-chip lamps from Ledtronics (Torrance, CA). Previously, single-chip LEDs would be mounted on an inspection camera. But these produced uneven light beams with hot spots, making images vary greatly in contrast, and reducing the chances of spotting a source of trouble in a pipe wall or channel.
To provide clear images from bright-but-even lighting, the Flexicam lens is surrounded by a ring containing eight LED lamps, each of which has six light producing chips. The six-chip lamp produces three times the illumination of a single chip it replaces while consuming the same power, according to Al Astor, OEM national sales manager for Ledtronics. The multiple chips in front of each lamp's reflector fan light out over a wide 160-degree viewing angle. Single chip LEDs can only generate 30- to 60-degree beams. In addition, the LEDs are matched to the sensitivity of the monochrome camera, around the red wavelength of 660 nm. "The Flexicam can see out to 12-inch diameter pipe walls, depending on material reflectivity," notes Fernandez.
Repeated camera immersion and stresses when traversing pipe dictate a rugged design. The vibration and shock resistance of solid-state LEDs boost camera system reliability. "The LEDs are so rugged, I still haven't seen a bad light come back from our customers," says Fernandez. An optically clear epoxy holds the LED lamps within the aluminum camera housing. A unique vitrification heating process hardens this "like glass," he adds.
Another application for the Ledtronics multi-chip, high brightness LEDs is packaging into lamps with bases to replace incandescent bulbs. These can be used in lighted push buttons and annunciators, panel indicator lights, and backlights for head-mounted display screens.