Fast Alerts For Broken Pipes

A flow- and pressure-sensing technology with time synchronization helps water systems quickly detect and minimize losses from bursts in distribution mains.

Many technologies can help detect leaks on a water distribution system. Acoustic sensors can be deployed in the field by attachment to hydrants or valve boxes. Field personnel can actively listen for leaks with portable devices.

These technologies are great for ongoing monitoring of a distribution system and detecting and localizing slow leaks. But what about the bigger leaks — those that happen when pipes burst, as many did during the wickedly cold winter just past? Here, rapid response can head off major water losses and property damage and shorten service interruptions.

Syrinix, based in the United Kingdom, offers a solution in the BurstMinder intelligent pipeline monitoring system. It’s designed to alert water utilities immediately to main bursts and to give the time and relatively precise location of the event, so that crews can respond promptly. Dale Hartley, business development manager, talked about the technology in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What is new and different about this technology?

Hartley: In general, there are two types of leak detection technology. There is vibro-acoustic leak detection, which involves acoustic sensors mounted on or even in the pipeline. And then there is flow and pressure sensing, which is what the BurstMinder solution uses.

TPO: How does your technology detect and localize main breaks?

Hartley: BurstMinder doesn’t use acoustic or vibration technology. It uses flow and pressure sensing with extremely high time synchronization. To my knowledge, no one else has done it this way. The system uses small, easily deployed, battery-powered monitors to measure flow and pressure. To sense pressure, it uses an integrated transducer that samples at a high frequency, in the region of 100 times per second or more. To monitor flow it attaches to an existing flowmeter. It uploads data wirelessly to a cloud-based server once a day, or at any time it picks up a burst occurrence.

TPO: How exactly does the interplay between flow and pressure indicate a burst?

Hartley: Suppose that we have a sensor at the entrance to a district metering area. If there were a burst somewhere downstream in that metering area, the sensor upstream at the entrance would see an increase in flow and a drop in pressure.

TPO: How do the measurements of flow and pressure lead to location of the burst?

Hartley: Besides the sensor at the entrance to the district metering area, we would have deployed within that area additional BurstMinder units. All these are linked by way of software. While the sensor upstream of the burst sees an increase in flow and a drop in pressure, a sensor downstream from the burst would see a decrease in both flow and pressure. That suggests, through the code running on the software and the algorithms, that somewhere between those two points there is a burst. The sensing units are linked by GPS time synchronization with extreme accuracy, plus or minus 0.01 second. With that accurate time stamping and knowledge of the distance between the sensors along the pipeline, a leak can be located to within about 10 meters [33 feet].

TPO: Can you give a general idea of how many sensors a utility would need to monitor its system effectively?

Hartley: It really depends on the utility’s priorities. They will have a budget for finding bursts or reducing water loss, but they will not have enough money to monitor the whole network, so they will prioritize. Based on the available budget, in a given year they may decide to look at an area that constitutes, say, 5 percent of the entire network, perhaps because historically it has been a bad area for water loss.

TPO: Is this technology designed to detect slow leaks? Or only actual water main bursts?

Hartley: BurstMinder is not designed to pick up small leaks that may run for years without being detected — as important as those are. It’s designed to pick up when a burst occurs in a distribution pipe. These events will result in significant water loss, even though it may not be visible at the surface. In a matter of seconds after it occurs, the technology will alert the utility by SMS text and email that there has been a burst, and give a reasonably precise location.

TPO: How are the pressure sensing and flow monitoring devices deployed?

Hartley: They are typically deployed in meter chambers in the water utility network, where a flowmeter and pressure sensor are already present. The BurstMinder unit connects to those devices. It operates on its own battery. Typical battery life is three years. The device doesn’t have to be returned to the manufacturer when the battery is dying. The battery can be replaced locally. We offer a variety of battery options, including a lithium-ion pack in a casing with a fully submersible IP68 rating. 


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