In-pipe testing detects mains water leaks

| Global Environmental Processes

Local water authority makes use of a ball with embedded sensors to detect leaks in mains water pipes from within the pipe itself.

Southern Water is testing the “SmartBall” device, which travels along water pipes and can detect weakened pipes before they become bursts. Supported by partners Pure Technologies and Water Research Centre (WRc), Southern Water’s technology team are applying the bowling ball-like device developed for use in the oil and gas industry in the 13,000 km of pipe line that make up its water network.

The brains of the ball are housed in a small hardened globe which contains acoustic sensors which can ‘hear’ a leak of as little as 0.11 litres/min. Other detectors can spot unevenness in pipes and pockets of air in a pipe. The data is transmitted to surface stations placed along the pipe’s path or downloaded when the ball is recovered. The brains are covered with a bright blue protective sponge layer making SmartBall look like a bowling ball from a distance.

“We have worked very hard on finding new ways of finding and fixing leaks with a goal of eventually reducing wasted water from our vast network to zero,” said Sarah Elliman, research and development project manager, “Innovation and collaboration go hand in hand at Southern Water – we look for the best technology and the best partners and work together to deliver the best answers to the challenges we face.”

“We are really pleased with how smoothly the SmartBall project went for Southern Water, and in collaboration with our partners Pure Technologies. The combination of SmartBall and Sahara – a tethered tool for inspecting pipes – means we can inspect rising mains of any length with minimal disruption to service. In-pipe inspection provides the confidence to target replacement and maintenance activity most efficiently, and we look forward to supporting Southern Water in the future – now we’ve got the ‘ball rolling’,” said Keith Walker – Head of Infrastructure at WRc

Leak detection has long relied on simple techniques. Hand held listening tubes held against pipes in the hands of a skilled operator are still used. More modern acoustic logging devices perform a similar role with sensitive digital technology. Finding where to look relies on metering the inputs to sectors of the network and comparing with meters at outputs. And Southern Water also welcomes reports from customers who spot ground water when a major burst takes place.

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