Since 2007, utilities all over the world have been using the SmartBall® pipeline inspection platform to save millions of dollars in water loss and to fix leaks before they turn into larger problems.
Developed by Pure Technologies (Pure), the tool is trusted by utilities for two main reasons. One is for condition assessment purposes, and the other is for reducing non-revenue water. From a condition assessment perspective, SmartBall® is a proactive tool that can be used as part of a larger holistic approach to help identify problem areas that require repairs before they turn into bigger issues, and also to help utilities prioritize capital spending.
The primary purpose of the SmartBall tool is to detect and locate the acoustic sounds related to leaks and gas pockets.
“Unlike traditional correlators, the SmartBall sensors travel inline along the pipe, inspecting every inch of the water main to detect potential problems such as leaks and gas pockets. Based on thousands of miles of experience, the SmartBall tool has found three to four times more leaks than trunk main correlators, which are traditionally used in smaller diameter pipes, and are less effective for transmission mains and larger diameter pipes.”
Business Line Manager, SmartBall
What makes the SmartBall tool so remarkable is its ability to get into and out of pipelines very easily, and to be deployed for long runs in one inspection for both water and wastewater pipelines. The tool requires only two access points – one for insertion and one for extraction.
For insertion, the foam-shelled SmartBall tool is placed into a claw, compressed, and then lowered into the line through a 4-inch (100mm) or larger tap, all while the line is pressurized. Throughout the survey, Pure’s inspection team constantly monitors the SmartBall’s position as it traverses the pipeline collecting data.
There are many alternative options available to get the SmartBall in and out of a pipeline. Having multiple options reduces the money and effort required by utilities to support the inspection.
Once the inspection is complete, the data is extracted from the ball and sent to Pure’s data analysts where they will identify leaks and gas pockets.
As utility owners know, it can be expensive to excavate, and what SmartBall tool does is provide information that’s accurate, so clients can dig up the pipeline and find the leak the first time.
The “leak-where-predicted” scenario recently happened with the City of Ottawa when Pure deployed its SmartBall inspection platform to locate leaks and pockets of trapped gas along a critical transmission main, as part of a long-term condition assessment program for the municipality.
The Baseline Road Water Transmission Main is a high priority 1220mm (48-inch) diameter pipeline comprised of lined cylinder pipe (LCP).
For the City of Ottawa project, five (5) surface-mounted acoustic sensors were placed along the pipeline to track the SmartBall tool during the inspection. The SmartBall device was inserted into the pipeline through a 100mm drain near a hospital. Acoustic and sensor data was collected and recorded as the SmartBall tool traversed the pipeline for more than three kilometers.
From the survey results, Pure detected one (1) acoustic anomaly characteristic of a leak and zero (0) anomalies consistent with pockets of trapped gas.
Although Pure was confident in the SmartBall leak detection data, sometimes it’s worth a try to verify an anomaly with a complimentary technology. In this instance, ground microphones, regarded as a conventional a leak detection tool, were deployed to try and detect leak sounds. Although the suspect area was marked, neither Pure nor the client could pick up leak-related sounds from the ground microphone.
Even though the leak was not picked up by the ground microphone, Pure was confident that the acoustic signature from the SmartBall was caused by a leak, based on more than 15 years of experience identifying leaks. That confidence and experience proved right, and when the suspected area was excavated, the leak was located within a meter of where the data analyst calculated the leak to be.
The results gave the City of Ottawa actionable data regarding the condition of their pipeline, and the City was able to fix the leak reducing non-revenue water loss and any potentially costly damage caused by the leak. It’s a great example of a proactive utility taking efforts to improve the reliability of its services.