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How new tech twists on legacy processes are helping turn the tide on water leaks

Victoria Edwards, chief executive of FIDO Tech, talks about leakage and how the water sector's drive for innovation is delivering cost-effective, adoptable results.

Love Water’s new report The Great British Rain Paradox, backed by the Environment Agency and Water UK, presents a startling fact. The UK’s demand for drinking water could outstrip supply sooner than some people think.

This won’t surprise water companies who have spent decades working to improve the resilience of water networks to cope with population and climate pressures. However, one issue persists, leakage.

The huge progress which saw leakage reduced by a third - since its peak in the mid-1990s -continued last year with the sector’s Public Interest Commitment to triple detection rates by 2030.

It’s no small promise. End-to-end, Britain’s water distribution pipes would encircle the globe more than eight times, and as leakage is driven down, it is likely that remaining leaks are even harder to find and fix.

The good news in the last decade is that technology has transformed water company operations. Extensive monitoring and the interconnection of assets through Systems Thinking have given companies more information than ever about the way their networks are operating. 

But new technology is only one element in a long and complex process, which still needs human input at key points. Take leakage as an example. Despite the advent of smart loggers and meters, tracking leaks still requires the time-consuming manual analysis of data files, decision-making on-site and the use of legacy equipment, like listening sticks, which are still the leakage engineer’s most trusted piece of kit.

Without taking anything away from the professionalism of expert analysts and engineers who do this work every day, people are not machines. They cannot be right every time. Human analysis of audio files suggests that people are correct only about 60% of the time. That’s a margin of error which leads to frustrating and costly dry digs.

Solutions which work with existing processes, giving clear results and a call to action, not only increase performance, they make the working day more productive and enjoyable for skilled staff.

Ideally, such technology needs to be easy and cost-effective to adopt - revolutionising the accuracy of leak detection but not the process – so that uptake is sufficient to realise its full potential in delivering a step change in performance.

Symbiotic relationships

Fortunately, water companies are leading the way on this work with truly collaborative approaches. Many have innovation teams working in lockstep with emerging technology firms, so that the solutions they find are uniquely attuned to the way the sector works.

That’s what happened when FIDO Tech got the chance to work hand-in-hand with United Utilities as part of their Innovation Lab last year. Open access to a water company’s data, systems and staff, helps develop solutions which work as effectively in the field as they do in the lab.

In FIDO’s case we now have tech which not only delivers 92%, and growing, accuracy in leak detection, but which is also the engineer’s best friend on the ground, working seamlessly with existing processes, with no specialist training or service interruption.

FIDO’s patented algorithm works in two steps. First, analysing up to 2,000 audio files an hour to locate leaks to within 100m. Then, via a rugged pocket-sized in field device called FIDO1, to narrow the location to within a metre.

FIDO detects and analyses minute nuances and variations in sound, vibration, speed and turbulence. It filters out extraneous data and is unaffected by weather, background noise and removes issues of insertion into a live network, irrespective of pipeline material.

Because FIDO1s can be used in so many ways – as a listening stick, as an acoustic logger or placed directly into any hydrant at normal working pressure - field teams can act quickly and more flexibly with less equipment, receiving clear, objective, actionable results direct to a mobile phone in an instant. In pipe with video enabled, FIDO1s can even be used to map and monitor the condition of buried assets.

In the words of United Utilities’ Network and Capital Delivery Director Kevin Fowlie, FIDO is a ‘game changer’ and this is even before we know the full range of this technology’s capability. The more we talk to other companies, the more we find ways to apply FIDO’s uniquely water leak data attuned brain to solve their specific challenges.

As the water sector builds symbiotic relationships with start-ups and emerging talent, expect to see more ways adoptable tech is deployed seamlessly within trusted and established processes. This is where the battle to drive future performance, on challenges like leakage, will be fought and won.

Topic: Innovation , Leaks & bursts
Tags: drinking water , leakage , resilience , environment , technology

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