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Maximising asset life for utilities begins with mapping and monitoring

  • Maximising asset life for utilities begins with mapping and monitoring

About the entity

Xylem Inc.
Xylem is a leading global water technology provider, enabling customers to transport, treat, test and efficiently use water in a variety of settings.

For utilities with a large and complex infrastructure of critical and valuable assets, tracking down developing problems before they pose the risk of failure could save huge amounts of time and money. 

Mapping these extensive assets is a current challenge for the industry; there is a growing need to identify known assets throughout the network, as well as within treatment plants, to manage service and maintenance regimes more efficiently.

Understanding the condition of each asset is the next vital step to maximise its lifespan. By gaining an awareness of its age and performance, utilities can identify whether core assets are functioning at their best efficiency point (BEP).

It is estimated that the majority of assets are operating outside the range of their BEP (1)– making it essential to identify the pumps, blowers, mixers and boosters in need of optimisation now before any malfunctions.

Getting proactive about leak detection

Non-revenue water accounts for around 24% of supply on average (2), making water loss through supply leakage a major pain point for water leaders seeking to meet challenging new AMP7 requirements.

A proactive leak detection strategy plays a key role in any asset management programme. This enables utilities to understand the general condition of their networks, to save critical water loss, but also minimises the potential for disruption to customers, increasing service performance.

With new free-swimming condition assessment solutions now available, utilities can monitor pipe conditions while the pipeline remains in operation, meaning no interruption to service. Innovative technology offers the ability to map pipeline networks and detects leaks and gas pockets. Such solutions are able to detect broken wire wraps using electromagnetic technology in pressurised water and wastewater pipelines in a single deployment, allowing water utilities to build a picture of what lies underground and identify potential pipeline failures to enable targeted repairs.

Putting into practice

In January 2020, the Tarragona Water Consortium in Spain’s Catalonia region experienced a catastrophic failure on their critical 75km-long 1600mm pipeline which affected the water supply to about 750,000 people. They performed a condition assessment, using a combination of inline leak detection and electromagnetic technologies, to inspect the entire pipeline for any other weak points.

Using smart water technology which can operate with the pipeline in service, utilities have an easier, safer and less costly alternative to inspection methods that require shutdown or dewatering.

Such ball-like solutions can be released untethered into the water flow often through an air valve or hydrant. Equipped with a sensitive acoustic sensor, they can locate leaks as small as 0.1 l/min with high location accuracy. The instrument follows the flow and is tracked by surface-mounted sensors as it rolls through the pipe, recording acoustic activity in the pipeline. After it rolls into the retrieval device downstream, the data is evaluated to locate leaks and gas pockets.

In this instance, the two-week inspection identified 12 leaks and targeted three pipe sections in need of repairs. Carrying out the targeted repairs meant the Spanish utility was able to extend the lifespan of the extensive pipe and avoid further failings in the future.

Other tools to identify and assess assets

Smart asset management and optimising performance  and reliability has transformed into decision-intelligence solutions capable of collecting real-time data from any motor-powered rotating asset without adding additional sensors to the asset. The asset data is enriched with intelligent tools and married with digitised expertise can provide insights on the condition and benchmark the performance against the required operations.

Optimising asset performance, particularly with aging infrastructure, has previously required upfront hardware investment to regain control of the total cost of ownership. The latest customisable digital maintenance packages are simple to integrate and can be reused and integrated with other systems through industry standard application programming interfaces (APIs) to manage risks, workflows and digitise analogue tasks and processes.

For example, pumps and boosters on remote sites such as lift or booster stations can be monitored with the assistance of local edge devices communicating to cloud services via cellular networks or fixed telemetry. This means operators can access real-time information via weblink, enabling the early detection of potential failures, identifying inefficiencies either in the equipment itself or the surrounding process, and highlighting problem assets so the operator knows where to focus valuable resources.

As a result, asset management tools can reduce maintenance costs by up to 27% by offering a complete overview of all assets with real-time status reports, reports of malfunctions and functioning insights. Utilising the available data means less time and money wasted on unnecessary maintenance as engineers can focus on the assets where repairs are required. 

Harnessing technology to pre-empt problems

Unplanned downtime and disruption can cost up to ten times more than routine maintenance – and condition-based, or predictive maintenance, can further reduce the need for wasted time and callouts.

By using roving leak detection technology, utilities can better learn the condition of the networks under-foot to save water loss, meet Ofwat targets and minimise the potential for disruption to customers.

Installing smart asset monitoring can mean cost savings by avoiding unnecessary scheduled maintenance. For example, straying too far from a pump’s BEP leads to premature wear, higher energy consumption, increased maintenance requirements, a reduction of overall efficiency and, as a result, more downtime. As evidenced in Spain, it offers the ability to pre-empt problems and avoid costly pipe replacement. It is also a vital tool to mitigate risk, including safety risks through remote monitoring options to reduce staff not required on site.

By optimising the performance of individual assets, this will maximise lifespan for utilities and save money and peace of mind in the long run.

(1) Taken from a Boeing Study and White paper: Reducing Operations & Maintenance Costs September 2003 -

(2) Global Water Intelligence, Global Water Market 2017: Meeting the world's water and wastewater needs until 2020, April 2016 – taken from Xylem’s Xylem Smart Water White Paper UK

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