There was a one-eyed rat creeping through the Rogue Valley's sewer systems last year. Now there's a piranha.
The Pipeline Piranha is an invention of the video inspection crew at Rogue Valley Sewer Services in Central Point.
You can reach Rogue Valley Sewer Services at 541-779-4144 or 541-664-6300.
"One-eyed" Willy, the rat, was the crew's unofficial mascot, but he was exterminated after a video inspection transporter spotted him in the pipes below Jacksonville.
The Piranha attaches to the top of a transporter, which is built to drive through sewer lines while looking for clogs and other defects with the video camera attached to its front end.
After a transporter spots an unwanted object, the Piranha's jaws are used to grab the debris, which is then dragged out of the line by the transporter.
"It has saved us a bunch of money," says Terry Sackett, operations manager at RVS.
Sackett, along with RVS video inspection crew leader Larry Rogers, thought up the idea for the Piranha 20 years ago. Sackett started working for the company in 1976 and Rogers started in 1980.
"I would be sitting here staring at something right in front of the camera thinking, 'We need to get something that can reach out and grab that,'" Rogers says.
Sackett and Rogers knew what they needed but didn't know how they could make it functional. Kevan Kerby did.
Kerby, a fifth-year video inspection worker with RVS, fabricated and designed the Piranha. It cost under $1,500 to build, and aside from the pneumatic devices used to control the Piranha's jaws, and a 400-foot electrical cord for its power source, it was made from scrap metal.
"The hardest part was keeping it small enough to fit inside an 8-inch pipe," Kerby says.
Kerby unveiled the Piranha in March 2009.
Before that, Rogers didn't have a tool to reach out and grab what was in front of him. Instead, RVS had to haul a backhoe to the site, dig up the line, remove whatever was in it by hand and replace the line.
Digging up a section of sewer line and replacing it can cost about $2,500 per job if it is below a paved street, Sackett says. The Piranha has saved RVS about $15,000 since its introduction, he estimates.
With the Piranha attached, the video inspection transporter is nearly 3 feet long, 6 inches tall and weighs about 35 pounds.
Mostly, the Piranha removes mechanical plugs that erode over time and slip away into the sewer line from their original positions. In some cases the plugs, which are used to test the strength of a line, are forgotten after construction. The Piranha also removes rocks and anything else its electronically controlled jaws can grasp.
The paint job on the Piranha was done by Quintyn Zilembo, who started working for the RVS video inspection crew in September 2006, the same week as Kerby. Zilembo is also responsible for the design on the tight-knit crew's T-shirts, which feature a bright green, cartooned version of "One-eyed" Willy on them.
Currently, RVS has a patent pending on the Piranha, and no other sewer service company has access to the product.
"We think there is a market for it," Sackett says. "It saves a lot of work and inconvenience to the public if we're not digging up lines that run under the street."
Manufacturing the Piranha, however, is not something that interests RVS, Sackett says. Rather, the company hopes to sell the patent or partner with someone who can manufacture it. RVS owns 50 percent of the Piranha; the remaining 50 percent belongs to Sackett, Rogers, Kerby and Zilembo. A price for selling the patent hasn't been discussed.
"When I used to see a plug in the line I would get so mad," Rogers said. Now, when he moves the transporter through the 400 miles of sewer lines RVS is responsible for and spots a plug, he just opens up the Piranha's jaws.
"We needed a tool for the job," Rogers said. "Finally, we got it."
Sam Wheeler is a reporting intern with the Mail Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.