As part of sewer maintenance, risk assessment and renewal planning, water authorities must assess sewer conditions regularly. This is most commonly done by collecting CCTV or digital images followed by manual review by operators to grade the sewer condition# However given the subjective nature and large volumes of data which require processing the quality and consistency is often poor# There is a combined commitment by the Melbourne metro water utilities to assess annually 1,200 km of sewers, this equates to $7-12 Million per annum on data collection alone, which is often not converted to reliable information for decision making. Additionally, the percentage of sewers which has captured CCTV footage is less than 10 per cent# This is because it is a relatively high cost exercise; the utilities naturally focus on critical assets which leave many branch sewers unexamined# Furthermore, existing camera/optical approaches only provide information on the internal surface view of the pipe; however it does not provide insight into corrosion rate, pipe integrity, silt accumulation, and cannot be used for pressurised sewers.
The Smart Water Fund decided a global market scan was an important stepping stone before larger investment could be considered# In June 2013, Smart Water Fund commissioned a global market scan of automatic condition sewer assessment on behalf of the Victorian Water industry, through a firm called Systematic Innovation (SI). The study took eight weeks to complete, and reviewed current and emerging technologies both within the water sector and more interestingly from outside the water sector# In this instance, the project adopted an innovative scanning technique called TRIZ algorithm approach. Unlike a typical market scan, it not only reviewed the current state of play but also the “evolution potential” of technologies in order to predict the future landscape of sewer assessment# Less mainstream technologies were brought to the forefront during this study as a result of forecasting the evolution potential of technologies.
This methodology also evaluated the water industry rate of innovation, and found overall it is currently pulsing at a rate of around 0.15 jumps per year. This is low when contrasted to the ICT sector, currently the most dynamic industry, which is pulsing at around 1.7 jumps per year. This suggests there is significant untapped potential and solutions developed in other industries that can be exploited.
The project also provided a forum for the subject matter experts from the water industry to continue the dialogue and align their objectives. The project was championed by Phoebe Swift, Sylwia Solarska, Will Crosby from Yarra Valley Water, and supported closely by the Project Advisory Committee composed of asset managers from the metro utilities: Lachlan Sherry and Ian Monks from City West Water, John DeGrazia and Thomas Kuen from Melbourne Water and Duncan Sinclair from South East Water.
A total of 31 categories of “sewer assessment” technologies were identified during this market scan, with 5 shortlisted for consideration. A total of 4 methods of “data interpretation” methods were found that could automate current manual data analysis, and all were recommended for further investigation as a single project.
Specifically in the area of sewer assessment technologies, it was found that the latest optical camera technologies such as “Panoramo” by I-BAK, represents the most ideal technology currently available off the shelf. It is a significant improvement on traditional Pan and Tilt CCTV camera techniques, at comparable operating cost. Yarra Valley Water and City West Water have already started investment in this specific brand of technology. However when each sewer assessment technology were assessed for their ‘evolution potential’, the study found other technologies will likely supersede the camera/optical options in terms of ‘ideality’ #i.e. functionality, accuracy, cost. Due to the slower innovation rate within the water sector in Australia and abroad, investment in fundamental research is not recommended; instead adopt a ‘smart-follower approach’. Therefore of the 5 shorted listed sewer assessment technologies, 3 have been recommended to monitor advancements in other domains. For example Acoustics/Sonar technology in the healthcare field to generate accurate 3Dmodels, which could supplant optical/camera technologies in the future. Another is Ground Penetrating Radar #GPR# an aboveground assessment technique that eliminates the need to enter sewers, and represents a collaboration opportunity with other utilities e.g. energy, telecom who also have a vested interest in knowing what is located underground. Looking more broadly, the need to monitor sewer conditions will decline over time as sewer pipe material and design evolve, including technology with ‘self-repair’ capability.
In the short term, the key recommendations from this global Market Scan are:
1. Ultimate Optical – Adopt advanced optical/camera technologies such as “Panoramo” in the short-term as they are available off-the-self and become increasingly cost effective. Hybrid systems with acoustics are noteworthy.
2. Sewer Image Diagnostics Software – Immediately invest in automatic data #image# analysis which is currently performed manually. Look to transfer expertise from analogous problems in the healthcare and security sector in feature recognition software.
3. Disposable ‘Pill’ – Ready for immediate technology transfer into water sector from the healthcare sector. This technology has the potential to be used as quick scan of sewer networks which addresses the challenge currently where only a small percentage of sewer networks are assessed internally by CCTV. With this concept, there is also the opportunity open the image database to the public to de-mystify the industry and raises awareness of the important service the water industry performs for the public.