VideoCheck Lights the Way

Getting a "digital inspection" is not necessarily something that fleet professionals look forward to.

That is, unless Shell Lubricants' VideoCheck™ digital inspection system is coming to your shop to make sure your trucks' engines are in good shape. VideoCheck™ is a state-of-the-art digital fiber optic method to inspect hard-to-access internal engine components like cylinder heads, valves and pistons, saving many hours of labor.

The system uses a small video camera attached to the end of an adjustable cable, which is fed into the engine to transmit images to a high-resolution laptop monitor. This less invasive method allows for a complete engine assessment without completely tearing apart (and putting back together) the engine, identifies potential damage or problems and provides visual indication of lubrication performance.

VideoCheck™ records and saves video images of key engine components and the operator issues a report, including diagnoses and recommendations, if any. The program is free of charge and available for any Shell customers or prospects.


Jeff Priborsky, Shell Lubricants U.S. marketing manager (business-to-business), says VideoCheck first started in Mexico before moving north of the border around three years ago, and now has two full-time operators criss-crossing the country.

"We keep two guys pretty busy--this year alone we've done over 200 inspections and/or demonstrations, and next year we plan to break the 300 mark," he says. "We set out a schedule for the entire year, and we work with our fleet reps and provide them each with two weeks during the course of the year. There's enough flexibility in the program with two operators where if there is an emergency situation, where you've had a catastrophic failure or something of that nature, we can usually respond quite quickly."

The technology was first developed for the medical industry but was adapted for industrial use--at first to inspect aircraft engines and turbines before Shell used it to see inside of on and off-highway diesel engines and gearboxes. Priborsky says while the system is mainly used to validate fleets' maintenance schedules and practices, sometimes it is at the right place at the right time to save some serious money.

"We had a large mining customer out west that just put a large piece of equipment back in service after having a complete rebuild on the engine, and cost-per-hour to run one of those and the revenue those generate is staggering," he says. "Within 20 hours, they were developing issues, and the engine OEM said, 'You did something wrong--you have a lubricants issue.' We were able to get our VideoCheck operator out there within 48 hours and inspected it and determined it was an assembly issue. And we were able to document that to show the OEM."

Sometimes, VideoCheck can help save fleets money by proving that components do not need to be replaced right away.

"We recently had an inspection where the tractor was one of the owner's personal trucks--his little baby for years," Priborsky says. "It had just over 1.25 million miles, and he said, 'Well, we're going to get her overhauled--let's see what it's like.' So that's what we did the inspection on, and when he was able to see the condition of his engine, he said, 'Wow, you just saved me $15,000, because I don't need to do a thing to this truck.'"

Sometimes the VideoCheck™ system arrives just in the nick of time. An over-the-road transport tractor was having problems, but the fleet owner had no idea why and didn't think it was bad enough to pull the truck off the road. A VideoCheck™ inspection found that while the piston showed no signs of notable deposits, major damage was seen along its crown and outside edge. The truck was pulled off the road, possibly avoiding a costly on-road failure.


Steve Gitzlaff, senior vice-president of fleet operations for Marathon, WI-based Marathon Cheese Transport, is in charge of maintaining 33 Class-8 tractors and more than 100 trailers that travel across most of the country, from Idaho to Mississippi to Ohio. The company has worked with Shell for several years and had never needed VideoCheck™, but when Gitzlaff had the chance to get a demonstration this fall, he did not hesitate.

The good news is Gitzlaff didn't have any problem trucks that were stumping his technicians; he just wanted to see how the system worked and what its advantages were, and came away very impressed.

"The man-hours it would take to tear it down, to get the heads off and get it to the point where you can see inside the liners and pistons and look at the bottoms of the valves and everything, that's about 36 hours," he says. "What they found in the truck that had 925,000 miles on it is the wear was excellent for as many miles we had on that engine, it was wearing very well; we didn't have anything to fear from that truck--no excess buildups or carbon deposits or anything like that--the cross-hatching and everything else looked fine."

While he has avoided any major problems with his current fleet, he says VideoCheck would have been particularly helpful with some past issues.

"Throughout the years, we've had a lot of things that (I've) wondered about, and we did most of our diagnosis and still do based on oil sampling, and then it's kind of a crapshoot as to whether we should keep it and try it one more time and see what happens or do it now," he says. "This would help you make a quicker decision, and in some instances, maybe save yourself some money. It's an outstanding tool, no doubt about it."

For Gitzlaff, it's nice to know that while he may not need the system today, if and when problems crop up in the future, the system is just a phone call away.

"They said 'Don't hesitate to call us (if you have problems) and we would be able to let you know if it's free or in the area,'" he says. "They would do the best they could to get there as quickly as they could. I'm not aware of anything else out there that's similar to this. We'll certainly keep that in mind and try to use it if we can."


Ideally, the VideoCheck™ demonstrations will show that things are working well, like with Marathon Cheese Transport.

"It's not meant just to be there in case of emergency; it's meant to help show the internal operating conditions of their engines without tearing them down," Priborsky says. "The unique thing about that inspection was that engine has over 900,000-some miles. That just goes to verify that their maintenance program was working. When you see cross-hatching of that quality with over 900,000 miles, you know you've got a couple hundred thousands of miles to go before even considering any rebuilds."

Fleets that use VideoCheck™ also receive a digital inspection report to help managers figure out the best plan of action.

"It gives you a chance to review what occurred that day, and let's face it, with any situation where you see a demonstration, you can go back to your desk and six hours later it's like, 'What were we looking at?'" he chuckles. "It takes down all the basic inspection information, then it will talk about the procedure, what it was performed on, and from there will go into specific observations--you take a look at the piston crown, cylinder liner, RTDC area and the heads and the valves. And it will give you a summary on each of those and provide you with the images. There's a small road map that shows you exactly where they were looking on the cylinder."

Priborsky says the idea is to have the report in the hands of the fleet manager within five business days, if not sooner.

"The VideoCheck operator turns his report in within 24 hours, it is reviewed by our technical team here at Shell to make sure their observations are accurate, and they're not over-stating everything, then it's put into a PDF format for delivery and review with the customer," he says.

Priborsky says most times, he finds that VideoCheck™ ends up showing that many fleets are doing the proper maintenance on their engines. However, if a fleet has maintenance problems, chances are good that VideoCheck™ is going to find them. He says a good example of that is a recent inspection of a school bus fleet with over 400 units that was using a competitive product.

"We went in and inspected one of their units and the fleet manager said, 'This is just an anomaly; this isn't right--we're only doing 18,000-mile drains,'" he says. "He brought in three more units--one of them only had 94,000 miles on it, and what they found was a little disconcerting when you're looking at an engine that doesn't have 100,000 miles on it--scuffing, moderate-to-heavy carbon and soot build-up, drag lines, weak, uneven cross-hatching throughout the cylinder.

"It doesn't matter if they went to our product or not," Priborsky says. "They could see the product they were using at 18,000-mile drain intervals--which is short--was not going to be in the best interest of their fleet for the long term. Of course, now everybody is trying to hold onto their fleet equipment for a little bit longer. With the way the economy is, getting an extra year out of your truck is huge."


For fleets that are eligible to give VideoCheck™ a try, Priborsky says it can definitely save time in the shop and possibly improve some maintenance practices.

"This is a very new way to look at and inspect your internal engine components," he says. "It's non-invasive--you're just removing a fuel injector. It allows you to determine the current condition, detect any damage that may occur. In the past, you had to remove the cylinder head. Now you don't, and the cost savings is exponential. If you've ever gone into a radiator that's just been running nothing but standard green coolant, and you see the calcium building-up and see the green goo drop out of the bottom of the radiator. That's a case for change right there."

Whether checking for a problem, verifying proper procedures were followed or even satisfying a prospective buyer, VideoCheck™ can be a very helpful tool for fleet professionals.

"If you're looking to sell off a couple units, you could do a couple of inspections and say, 'This is representative of the way our fleet is maintained,'" Priborsky says.

For more information or to schedule a demonstration of VideoCheck™, contact your local Shell account manager, call 1-800-64-LUBES or visit

Additional shop options:

Heavy-duty truck technicians have used borescopes for years, and while they don't provide nearly the same degree of examination as a VideoCheck™ inspection, they provide fleets with some options to look inside hard-to-access components without taking up precious time tearing them apart and putting them back together.

The Lenox Instrument Company, Inc. has four borescope products, with prices starting under $1,000. Lenox's Bill Lang says borescopes are becoming more popular for fleet professionals.

"Labor costs are driving it and more people are aware there's other options than taking (the engine) apart," he says. "You can look at the cylinder wall, you can look at the condition of the valve; see if you had scoring of the cylinder wall, because your piston rings are in need of some attention. If you had leaky valves, you would be able to see the valve seals leaking."

Ridge Tool Company product manager--visual inspection Brian Harvanec says borescope technology is getting better and more affordable. Still, they are not cheap, and he says Ridge Tool Company's RIDGID® microEXPLORER™ digital inspection camera is a less expensive option for fleets.

The microEXPLORER™ is a portable, handheld video inspection system that lets technicians perform and record detailed visual inspections of hard-to-reach areas. Harvanec says the company's top-of-the-line product with image and video capture capability is under $1,000. Technicians can take still and video images and record their voices over the top of inspections for future reference.

"It's perfect for looking inside of cylinders, pistons, valves, and other internal engine components, but also great for general applications like looking at frames, behind body panels and behind dashboards," he says.