New Smart Technology Can Predict Water Infrastructure Failures

Water Infrastructure Failure Inspection

Image Courtesy of Sydney Water

Age, material and soil type are just three causes behind an average 7,000 failures per year of Australia’s critical water mains.

Now NICTA, a specialist information and communications technology research and development organisation, is collaborating with Sydney Water to improve the assessment of water pipes using technology that forecasts potential breakages in the system.

The technology learns at it goes and can more accurately identify which pipes are at risk of failure. Potential savings to Australia’s water utilities and the community are estimated at $700 million a year in reactive repairs and maintenance.

The agreement follows trials in Wollongong where the advanced machine learning techniques accurately predicted breaks in the following year with twice the precision of the existing technology. The system will now be integrated with pipe failure data from Sydney Water to reduce the inconvenience and expense incurred by water pipe breakages.

“All water utilities with buried water pipes are faced with the issue of finding pipes that are at high-risk of failure before they fail and result in significant disruptions to the community. To do this we need accurate models to identify high-risk pipes which can cope with the differences in age, pipe material, environmental conditions and urbanisation,” said Kevin Young, managing director of Sydney Water. “We need smart technology to help provide answers. NICTA’s approach is innovative and has the potential to have worldwide impact in pipe condition assessment. We have introduced the approach to our international colleagues, who are keenly watching the outcomes.”

Orchard Hills Water Filtration Plant

Orchard Hills Water Filtration Plant. Image Courtesy Of: Sydney Water

“Our approach draws on NICTA’s specialty in machine learning,” said Dr Fang Chen, NICTA’s technical lead on the project. “We have developed a new computer modelling based approach to estimate the likelihood of pipe failure. Our approach could also be applied to other infrastructure failure prediction, such as bridges.”

Meanwhile, in a further move to drive greater efficiencies for customers, Sydney Water has also awarded Thiess a five-year operations and facilities maintenance services contract, with a further two-year option, starting July 1, 2013.

Thiess will provide mechanical and electrical services for Sydney Water’s water and waste water treatment plants and networks, and facilities management for more than 2,000 sites and buildings.

 “The contract is one of the largest of its kind in Australia’s water industry,” said Young. “This partnership will contribute to a more competitive and productive Sydney Water which will help keep customer bills as low as possible, while maintaining a high level of service.”

By Justin McGar
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