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Ageing Pipelines Turn to Robotics for Much Needed Repairs


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With the plethora of ageing pipelines across Australia, some dating back over 100 years, the prospect of having intelligent robotics and advanced tech liners repair leaks will be welcomed by the utilities industry and community.

The Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects Stream has just funded a $3 million grant for research into smart lining for pipes. The project, which is being led by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), will include a collaboration with 30 local and international project partners—manufacturers, applicators, utilities, and research organisations.

The project is valued at more than $24 million in total, with additional funding provided by 26 local and international partners across utilities, not for profit sectors and construction material manufacturers.

“Australia has over 260,000km of water and sewage pipes, enough to go around the earth more than six times,” says Adam Lovell, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia. 

“Around 70 per cent of it is underground and forgotten until there is a pipe burst under a major road. The inconvenience it creates is a growing issue in our busy cities and towns, but replacing kilometres of pipe is a very costly exercise,” Lovell continues.

"Water utilities can potentially keep customer bills down by using new materials or new smart robotics and sensors in repairing pipes instead of replacing them.”

“Many water and sewer pipes in our cities and towns are approaching the end of their life and replacing them completely can cost thousands of dollars per metre. Water utilities can potentially keep customer bills down by using new materials or new smart robotics and sensors in repairing pipes instead of replacing them.”

The funded research commenced earlier this year and will run until the end of 2021. It is designed to improve understanding of product performance and provide manufacturing partners with a globally competitive advantage through the development of solutions and smart tools. The project hopes to deliver a set of industry standard guidelines as well as perform analytical tests for validation and testing of pipeline lining, field-test new liners, and develop and test multi-sensor robot prototypes.

The comprehensive research is expected to position Australia as a global leader in smart water infrastructure design, engineering, testing and management.

Gary Hurley, Water Industry Research Manager (Networks) at Sydney Water explains: “As the largest Australian water utility, we look forward to governing the project partnership, providing water industry leadership to the ten other Australian utility partners and the two international research partners representing the US and UK.

“Three Australian universities, Monash, University of Technology Sydney and Sydney University will provide the research and work in collaboration with the lining industry partners to improve specifications, standards, products and services,” he says.     

The first field tests have commenced with a smart liner installed by two of the project partners Ventia and South East Water. Located in Rowville Victoria, redundant asbestos water main pipes have been renewed using more than a kilometre of DN 100 and DN150 liner—which involved custom making 88mm liner to fit the smaller asbestos pipes found in and around Melbourne. The condition of the liner will be monitored throughout the period of the study.

Using pipelining has the potential to increase the lifespan of pipes by as much as 50 years at a significantly lower cost. Nevertheless, while many new lining products have been introduced to the market in recent years, they have not been widely taken up. Rigorous research and testing will hopefully improve uptake and consistency in standards and specifications. 

If 10 per cent of pipe renewals were resolved with lining products, it's believed the market could be worth as much as $60 billion over the next ten years.

If 10 per cent of pipe renewals were resolved with lining products, it's believed the market could be worth as much as $60 billion over the next ten years, with Australian manufacturing businesses currently representing around 5 per cent share. The potential is also there for manufacturers to sell lining and sensing products to other markets, such as oil, gas and marine.

“The market opportunity is significant. However, there are currently no clear performance and application guidelines and standards in Australia. This has resulted in limited uptake of the technology and investment of Australian businesses into lining innovations,” says Lovell. 

“We have the opportunity with this project to improve knowledge in these products and applications, enabling the development of industry standards, specifications and tools, and confirming the demand for lining technologies.”

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