CCTV-equipped mini submarines and computer-chipped balls are now a part of Unitywater’s impressive arsenal, fighting the battle against pipeline leaks.

Unitywater executive manager infrastructure, planning and capital delivery, Simon Taylor and asset performance engineer, Keir Anderson with the Smartball.

Unitywater Executive Manager Infrastructure, Planning and Capital Delivery, Simon Taylor and Asset Performance Engineer, Keir Anderson with the Smartball.

These innovative new technologies are now regularly flowing through the utility’s water mains, identifying leaks quickly and efficiently, helping Unitywater save money and improve its operations.

Roving through the network

The Submersible Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Robot, dubbed ‘Rove’ by Unitywater staff, is a 25cm wide remote-controlled device fitted with a CCTV camera.

From a vantage point underwater, it performs a condition assessment of reservoir interiors, checking for any structural or safety problems.

It means there is no need to divert water supplies while reservoirs are taken off line for human divers to perform a confined-space entry. This improves safety, saves time and comes in at half the cost of a diver and associated stand-by rescue team.

A total of 15 reservoirs and towers have been identified for ROV inspection in 2015/16. The first cabs off the rank are in Narangba, Margate, Peregian Beach, Bli Bli and Mooloolah Valley.

Smart balls

The SmartBall leak detection and condition assessment device is an aluminium alloy ball – about the size of a tennis ball – encased in a foam outer shell, which is disinfected and placed into a sewer or water main to ‘free swim’ with the water flow for up to 12 hours at a time.

Unitywater asset renewals engineer, Glenn Stock with the CCTV ROV.

Unitywater asset renewals engineer, Glenn Stock with the CCTV ROV.

The core ball contains instruments including an acoustic sensor and GPS tracker, which can detect the sound of leaks to an accuracy of less than two metres, as well as gas pockets which can reduce the capacity and efficiency of the main.

Unitywater recently used the SmartBall device through 8.9km of pipeline in the Landers Shute-Woombye region, one of the main water pipelines supplying the Sunshine Coast. The journey took three hours and 12 minutes.

The trial resulted in three leaks being detected. These leaks were forward-estimated to lose $31,000 worth of water on an annual basis, had they remained undetected.

Unitywater has repaired one leak already and is investigating the others.

“The advantages of both of these innovations is that they allow us to monitor our assets from inside the pipe or reservoir, rather than attempting to draw conclusions from indirect, external clues. Plus the data collection is in real time and on the spot,” said Simon Taylor, Unitywater’s Executive Manager Infrastructure Planning & Capital Delivery.

“Leaks can be precursors to pipeline failure and the integrity of our reservoirs is critical.

“If we can discover leaks or reservoir defects early, we can take the immediate necessary action to repair them before they become a major problem.

“This helps us better target our maintenance priorities, minimise impacts to customers and reduce the strain on our maintenance crews and repair budgets.

“These are two good examples of using technology to work smarter, streamline the business and save valuable dollars.”

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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