NASSCO just completed its 42nd year and continues to set standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As the association experiences remarkable growth, this series profiles those who have made significant contributions, and impacted the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless rehabilitation methods. This is a bi-monthly installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders.
This month, NASSCO honors Jeff Tinlin who has been an industry stalwart his entire career. Tinlin was part of the original team that developed PACE and remains a respected trainer.
Growing up in a small farming community in Central Nebraska, I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the world beyond the corn fields. After one year in college in Nebraska, I took advantage of a free tuition offer at the Denver Institute of Technology in Denver, CO. My mother had an alliance with this college through a Floral Design Program that she developed and taught, and children were offered free tuition. I graduated in 1983 with an Associate’s Degree in Computer Science and immediately joined the workforce, taking a job with an electronic cash register company programming point-of-sale systems for hotels, restaurants and retail stores.
While I did mostly programming in this role, I also was responsible for training and worked very closely with the company’s sales team. I soon realized that I preferred being out on the road and loved the idea of selling technical equipment. At the time, my company did not have an opening for sales, so I started looking around for other opportunities. Soon after, a family friend offered me a sales engineering position with a French company selling quality control robotic visual systems in the Atlanta area. I moved to Atlanta and fell in love with the life of a sales person.
Years later in 1990, this same family friend offered me another opportunity in the sewer market, selling pipeline inspection equipment. This family friend, Doc Bennett, was now helping Pearpoint, a company from England, become established in the U.S. market for pipeline inspection equipment. I honestly couldn’t believe that equipment existed for inspecting sewer pipelines. I took six months to ponder the offer and finally accepted the position, moving to Chicago to take over the Midwest sales operations for Pearpoint. I had two very good friends in Chicago, so it seemed like a good place to become established for this next phase of my career and life.
Soon after, Doc Bennett married my mother, becoming my stepfather, and he then moved on to CUES where he worked until his retirement a few years ago. I took to this industry right away and stayed on at Pearpoint for 13 years, eventually working my way up to vice president of sales. One of my early accomplishments was to identify a dealer in the Michigan area known as Jack Doheny Supplies. They did not have a camera line at that time. In fact, most sewer equipment dealers did not sell CCTV systems, due to the technical aspects of that equipment. After a few years of persistence, Doheny finally opened up to the idea of taking on the Pearpoint line and really began to run with it. A big part of our success was an employee named Doug Kamienecki, who became the head of the camera department. Doug and I worked side-by-side for years and the result was a camera department within Doheny that is probably one of the largest for any dealer worldwide.
Another partnership that I am very proud of is my background with what is now RapidView USA. The owner, Rex Robinson, was my first customer in the industry. We became very close and he eventually became my Pearpoint dealer for the state of Indiana.
During my tenure at Pearpoint, I had heard of NASSCO, but really had no dealings with them. We were working on our own software development at the time for recording CCTV inspections, and NASSCO approached Pearpoint, specifically Joan Stone, to join the newly formed PACP Committee. Joan started out on this committee, but soon became too busy. She was running the software division for Pearpoint and simply did not have the time needed to effectively dedicate to the cause. She asked me to step in for her, and the rest is history. I stayed on the committee and saw the development of the PACP program through completion. I even wrote the first test, which was 85 questions and took a half-day to complete. Luckily for today’s operators, the test is now less than half that long.
I was honored to be part of the PACP team and one of my more memorable events was Sept. 11, 2001. The entire team was assembled in a basement in Atlanta hashing out the final details of the program that day. We emerged at noon to a world that had changed forever.
I eventually left Pearpoint in early 2004 after they had been bought out and the dynamics had changed. I needed another challenge. An opportunity came up to become a partner in an existing company that was wanting to move into the sewer inspection market with a new product. Alliance Technology was building components for other manufacturers in our industry. They hired me to become the sales director and to help them move forward with inspection equipment for the lateral inspection market. We developed and branded the Insight Vision line of pipeline inspection equipment and soon after, the Vutek push camera line. We did quite well, as our approach was to establish our product with the more traditional sewer equipment dealer market in the U.S. Our sales eventually reached $3 million annually and we were going strong until the market collapse of 2008/2009.
The economic downturn basically forced myself and the other minor partner, George Milkowski, to leave the company and pursue other careers. George moved on to run the Cues Midwest Service division out of Waukesha, WI, and I joined LMK Technologies. For me, it was again time for a new challenge. I had known Larry Kiest, who owns LMK, since his early days in the industry working out of his garage. He had since built a very substantial company and was looking to expand his sales team. I joined LMK and began to learn about the ever-expanding market of CIPP lining and technology, especially the lateral lining market. Understanding the T-Liner and the need for sealing the laterals from the main up onto the property of a home was, and is, a very important part of our industry in the attempts to reduce and eliminate infiltration and inflow in a sewer collection system.
After one year at LMK, the Jack Doheny Companies approached me with an opportunity to open up and develop the territory of Illinois and Wisconsin. During the almost three years that I was with Doheny, I renewed my PACP Trainer status with NASSCO and dove feet first into PACP training again throughout the Midwest. Since then, I have trained nearly 1,000 participants and still enjoy training to this day.
While I know that my primary role as a PACP trainer is to educate on the importance of proper coding and compliance to the PACP program, I also use the platform of trainer to share my knowledge of the industry and the new technologies that are emerging to help our field become stronger and more efficient. I always try to do this in an objective manner to help students become familiar with all of the aspects that apply to our market. Observing and coding of observations and defects is just the first step. Problems that are found need to be repaired. I like to use tangible samples in my classes of liners and other products that come after inspection and will be used to rehabilitate collection systems.
My desire to learn all aspects of the industry, coupled with amazing opportunities that leading companies have offered me over the years, has led me to become more involved with the rehabilitation side of our market. I am currently the general manager for CIPP Robotics, a full-line distributor of the IMS robotic cutting equipment and UV curing systems. I like to be on the cutting edge of our market, and this is proving to be a great opportunity.
In addition to the role at CIPP Robotics, I have also started my own company, Specialty Trenchless Products. My son Dillon, who recently graduated with his MBA, is helping me run the business. It’s centered around the Inline Jetsonde, a device that I designed and patented to be used on sewer jetting equipment while cleaning pipelines. My goal with this company is to bring new and innovative products to the market that will aid our industry in all aspects of pipeline locating, inspection and rehabilitation. I am a big fan of trenchless technologies in general, and there is always room for improvement in the technologies that serve our market.
Through all of my career twists and turns, two things have remained constant: the first, my family. My wife Diana, daughter Brandi and her husband Joe (who have three children ranging in ages from one to 17), son Sean (who is a NASSCO scholarship recipient and currently works designing water towers as a structural engineer) and son Dillon, whom I mentioned above and is running Specialty Trenchless Products. My wife and children have had to put up with a husband, father, and now grandfather who is required to be away from home quite a bit. Without their love and support, I would not be where I am today.
The second constant in my career is the standards that NASSCO has worked so hard to implement in our industry. Through PACP and the other programs they offer, NASSCO has been, and continues to be, a very valuable part of our industry. Back in the 1990s, when we were developing the Flexidata software at Pearpoint, we found it very difficult to create a standard on our own. Everyone wanted their own custom codes and no one had any interest in any type of consistent standard. Fortunately, the visionaries who were members at NASSCO saw a program being used in England called WRc and pushed for a similar standard here in the States.
Even though some of the “Old Guard” on the original PACP Committee were mostly interested in creating handwritten forms, many, like Marilyn Shepard and others, saw the emergence of computer technology as key to what we were trying to accomplish, and we pushed hard for the development of a PACP database that could be exported by any compliant software system. This would allow for any software to create a standard export that could easily integrate into another software system. This is now the cornerstone of PACP compliance.
As NASSCO regulates and certifies the individual software programs involved in this program, it serves to simplify this process for cities and contractors alike. By design, anyone’s software and the resultant data collected during a PACP inspection should be exportable in a PACP format and imported directly in to any other PACP-compliant software. This saves contractors a considerable amount of money and time, versus the prospect of that contractor having to own and understand multiple software programs.
Occasionally you hear that NASSCO has too much influence on our industry. Based on my experience before the PACP program, I believe that is a good thing. In fact, my hope for NASSCO is that the organization continues to grow in influence, encouraging all software manufacturers in our market to embrace full compliance which will, in the end, benefit us all.