Thirty Years of Innovation in Pipeline Management
Water and wastewater utilities must meet the growing needs of their communities with finite and often diminishing resources. Utility asset managers face the difficult task of prioritizing where and when to spend these limited resources.
Pipelines can make up the largest portion of a utility’s total assets, but the condition of buried infrastructure is largely unknown.
Historically, this lack of visibility meant pipelines were rarely included in proactive system planning. This reactive approach led to costly pipeline failures that have impacted communities across the world and undermined public confidence in water services. This is especially true for critical pipelines where failures can cause severe flooding and property damage as well as widespread service disruption.
Utilities recognized the need to proactively address these invisible parts of their networks. However, manual visual inspections were once the only option for large pressure pipelines. These inspections required utilities to dewater or excavate pipelines and made collecting condition data costly, challenging, and disruptive. Additionally, these inspections yielded only qualitative information that provided limited guidance for asset managers trying to avoid failures and maximize pipeline life.
Demand grew for technologies that could collect better condition data while minimizing the cost of capturing that data.
High-profile failures of prestressed concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP) catalyzed the development of pipeline assessment technologies toward the end of the 20th century. PCCP is a very durable and economical material often used in large pressure pipe applications. Though rare, failures on these pipes are typically sudden and catastrophic.
New technologies entered the market that could detect leaks and gas pockets and gather wall degradation measurements over long stretches of pipeline. Today, pipeline condition data is more accessible than ever. Pure Technologies’ free-swimming SmartBall® and PipeDiver® platforms can inspect pipelines without impacting service, and SoundPrint® AFO can monitor PCCP for structural changes in near real time.
Utilities are using condition data to identify and address at-risk pipes and avoid high-consequence failures. However, asset managers can now do more with this data.
Pure Technologies, a Xylem brand has assessed thousands of miles of large-diameter pipelines, garnering a vast amount of condition data. This database fuels advanced analyses that inform how pipe assets are likely to degrade over time.
Understanding current and forecasted degradation leads to more defensible, cost-effective pipeline management strategies. Armed with condition insights, utilities can more confidently determine which pipes to repair, how often to inspect, and justify other mitigation actions, including pipe replacement.
Over the past decade, utilities have increasingly leveraged data to invest in pipelines over their service life rather than reactively addressing short-term needs.
Despite this trend toward proactive, data-driven asset management, most plans still assume that pipelines have a limited useful life. Our data on large-diameter pipes tells a different story.
Pure Technologies’ inspection data shows that over 90 percent of large-diameter pipelines are in near nominal condition, irrespective of age. Only about one percent of pipes need immediate repair. Predictive modeling using this data suggests that failure rates for these assets will remain low into the future.
For example, we recently analyzed degradation trends for 15 inspected PCCP transmission mains operated by a large Mid-Atlantic water utility. Less than two percent of pipes will warrant replacement by 2050, according to this predictive analysis.
With over two decades of condition data collection and analysis, we propose that the life of large-diameter pipelines can be extended indefinitely through inspection and proactive management.
Advances in technology and data analytics now enable utilities to manage pipelines through continuous, incremental investment rather than planning for end-of-life replacement. This approach reduces the overall cost of ownership by preventing failures and avoiding the unnecessary and disruptive replacement of assets with remaining service life. Learn more about data-driven pipeline management.