Pure Technologies

Listening In: Smartball Detects Ancient Buried Sounds


Courtesy of Courtesy of Pure Technologies

For this leak detection survey, Pure’s innovative free-swimming acoustic tool gathered critical information about the aging pipeline assets of this historic Arabian city.

This large public utility supplies bulk water to this bustling, historic resort city located in the Arabian Penninsula region. The city’s infrastructure – above ground and below – has recently been modernized to keep up with growth and support the expanding tourist industry.

Recognizing that its underground infrastructure was reaching the end of its service life, the water utility called on Pure Technologies Abu Dhabi (Pure) and its local agent International Aramoon Company, to perform a series of SmartBall leak detection surveys on 150 kilometers (93 miles) of its ductile iron pipe (DIP) water network.

SmartBall gathers critical information about the city’s buried pipeline assets

Every pipeline is unique and comes with its own set of assessment challenges. When an operator has a strong understanding about the risk and operational conditions of their system, an appropriate and defensible inspection plan can be developed.

For this project, Pure introduced its proprietary SmartBall leak detection platform to identify and locate leaks and pockets of trapped gas along the water pipeline.

Pure began the SmartBall inspection project facing a number of challenges. For starters, due to limited access to historical drawings, the pipeline system and route was relatively unknown, with only a scanned copy of the schematic available for review. Operational challenges included fluctuating flows within the pipeline, as well as a lack of access points for insertion and extraction.

To make matters more difficult, Pure faced issues related to the isolation of branches during the inspection. The utility could not provide the option for a valve exercise prior to the trial “dummy” SmartBall run, which was decided on to eliminate the chances losing the real SmartBall.

SmartBall acoustic tool collects data as it rolls through the pipeline

Pure began the project with an ocular visit attended by the client and a pipeline maintenance operator to understand the right of way and alignment of pipeline sections. The distances between pipeline features were measured using an odometer, while bend locations were assumed based on street references from the schematic drawing.

Since the pipeline was non-redundant and could not be shut down, insertion and extraction points were provided by hot tapping the pipeline.

Prior to the official SmartBall launch, Pure conducted a trial run with a dummy ball on each pipe section to eliminate the chance of losing the SmartBall on its journey. Both the dummy ball run and SmartBall inspection were deployed on the same day to reduce the possibilities of flow fluctuations.

As the free-swimming SmartBall tool rolls through the pipeline, it collects acoustic data. The acoustic sensor identifies the sound of water leaving the pipeline, or the sound of trapped air at the top of the pipeline, which can reduce water flow and increase strain on pumps.

Easy to deploy, SmartBall also makes it easy to screen the pipeline for leaks, which could indicate a structural problem that deserves further attention.

Assessment identifies 21 leaks on 68 kilometers of pipe

To date, the SmartBall tool has inspected more than 68 kilometers (29 miles) of pipe within the city’s network, with additional runs planned. The inspection resulted in the identification of 21 leaks of various sizes. Of the total, 14 leaks have been verified and repaired by the utility.

The investigation confirmed that with good condition assessment, asset life can be extended, while managing utility’s exposure to risk. This mindset sets a good example for other Arabian cities to follow in developing a sustainable long-term strategy for managing aging infrastructure.

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