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Underground 3D maps touted to reduce streetworks disruption

The use of 3D maps to plot the presence of underground utility networks and make the planning of streetworks easier was one of the top ideas to emerge from Northumbrian Water Group's Innovation festival.

NWG's Innovation Festival, held last week at Newcastle Racecourse, was an unique week-long event that brought people to the region from around the world to tackle social and environmental challenges.

One of the organisations taking part was Ordnance Survey, which is looking to work with utilities companies on a trial of 3D mapping to identify the exact locations of gas and water mains, electricity cables, and more, in one place for the first time.

If the trial is successful, it has the potential to be rolled out across the country, making maintenance and upgrades to these networks easier and less costly.

Ordnance Survey worked with Northumbrian Water on a week-long “sprint” as part of the festival, looking for innovative ways that businesses can contribute to an improved environment.

Richard Crump, a managing consultant for Ordnance Survey, said: “The topic of where the various companies’ underground assets are, such as pipes and cables, comes up regularly. There have been various attempts to tackle it in the past, but if we can pull all of this data together there are many different benefits, for the public and for the businesses that supply these utilities.

“Improving the knowledge of the various networks and the areas where they come together will help massively when there are problems with one or more of the underground cables or pipes, or when they need replacing. For example, it has the potential to reduce the chances of affecting other companies’ services, making it quicker and easier to make repairs or upgrades, and much more.

“We would like to get all of this data in one digital space that shows where it is, how deep it is, what the critical nature is, and then we can work with the companies to see how we can improve things for everyone.”

Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services at Northumbrian Water Group, said: “This idea of improving the knowledge that we all have about the various networks of cables and pipes beneath the ground has really caught the imagination of people at the NWG Innovation Festival.

“We have maps that show where our road networks and pavements are, people create maps of the electrical wires inside buildings, so the idea that we can do the same beneath our streets is something that makes real sense.

“Many older pipes and wires are not recorded digitally, so some of the data is incomplete or held only in paper format, but the benefits of resolving that and creating a complete network map are huge.

“Greater knowledge of what we are facing when we go out to work on our network means we can complete jobs more quickly, and this is a great new idea for improving that understanding. Likewise, if we need to dig a hole in the road to repair a water burst, knowing what else is in the ground can reduce the chances of causing problems on another company’s network, so we avoid unwanted disruption or loss of services to customers.”

The other challenges discussed at the festival included flooding, leakage, optimising the mobile workforce, upgrading ageing infrastructure and the use of artificial intelligence in the workplace. 

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Asset Management , Sewer Networks , Pipes & Pipelines

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