Pressure Pipeline brings less intimidation, lower cost to water infrastructure inspection

Hamilton%2C%20Tyler45X64.jpgPosted by Tyler Hamilton
Colonoscopies and gastroscopies aren’t fun, but sometimes you just gotta have one to spot a problem before it becomes too big. When you get to a certain age these procedures tend to become more routine — a way to keep an eye on the plumbing and only fix it when you have to. Better that than to find out too late and be forced into emergency for a costly and risky surgery. The same can be said for our municipal water infrastructure. Let a problem fester and you might unexpectedly see a major burst in a water main that floods part of town and costs a bundle to fix and clean up. I point to the water main break in Toronto at the beginning of January, when five homes were flooded and had to be evacuated. The pipe in question was 89 years old, so the city should have seen it coming. It simply makes sense to routinely inspect your pipelines so you can spot leaks and breaks before they become catastrophic bursts. At that point you can target the fix, which is ultimately a cheaper approach to pipeline management.

Or maybe not. The problem with inspections is that they usually require the pipeline to be dewatered beforehand. This can be expensive, and the logistics are a bit daunting. This presented an opportunity for Mississauga, Ont.-based Pressure Pipeline Inspection Co., which has developed a technology that can be inserted into a pipeline while the water is flowing. A combination of sensors and cameras can be used to spot leaks and assess the overall condition of a pipeline, giving water utilities more information for better managing pipeline renewal. I recently wrote an article on Pressure Pipeline in the Toronto Star.

The company has two main technologies: Sahara and PipeDiver. Sahara consists of a long cable that can be fed through an access tap into a “live” pipe. It has a sensor on the tip and a small parachute-like collar opens up once inside to capture the flow of the water, which pulls the cable deep into the pipe. As it travels it sends out acoustic signals. An operater on the surface listens with a special device and tracks the location of the sensor, at the same time listening for acoustical changes that indicate a leak or trouble spot. Sahara can also be equipped with a fibre-optic digital camera at the tip, allowing for live video inspection at the same time. PipeDiver ditches the cable altogether. It’s a remotely controlled free-swimming robot that is injected at one point in a water main and extracted many kilometres away. PipeDiver is targeted at press-stressed concrete cylinder pipes, which are typically quite large. In Mexico, Pressure Pipe recently broke a record by letting its PipeDiver device swim 37 kilometres before it was finally retrieved. I encourage you to watch the video above — it shows how PipeDiver is put into the pipe and, even more neat, how it’s taken out.
This kind of technology will become increasingly important as municipalities struggle with aging water infrastructure. It’s estimated that 15 per cent of water is leaking from our infrastructure, a major waste to say the least. Municipalities, faced with limited budgets, are going to have to do a better job prioritizing projects and targeting fixes. The current approach — replacing or renewing large segments of infrastructure based on a pre-schedule, or simply responding to bursts when they happen — is an inefficient use of limited financial resources. Better management and maintenance of assets will require more inspection, and more inspection will require technologies that can do the job at the lowest cost and with the least disruption

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