June 24, 2011
Mueller Water Products’ Echologics unit detects leaks in water pipes
A Canadian company has developed a leak-detection and water pipe-condition assessment technology that’s making its mark across North America.
Toronto-based Echologics Engineering Inc., a division of Mueller Water Products Inc. (NYSE:MWA), is currently assisting cities in Canada and the U.S. using its proprietary acoustic technology. Its mission: to either assess the structural thickness of water pipes or to pinpoint the locations of leaks — whether they are responsible for treated water loss or threaten other infrastructure, such as roads and buildings.
The technology was initially developed to “listen” for the subtle acoustic signals identifying leaks in PVC pipes, but it works just as effectively in pipes of a variety of other materials, such as ductile iron, cast iron and pre-stressed cement. The technology works by placing acoustic sensors at two locations along the suspect water line, in most cases valves or hydrants, at 300 to 1,300 metres apart.
The equipment compares the acoustic signature of the leak with the expected speed of sound in running water, and then uses a computer algorithm to pinpoint leak locations. Technicians can create additional acoustic information by inducing noise or vibrations into the system.
The information collected can also be used to assess the condition of water line infrastructure, including corrosion, internal line diameter and pipe wall integrity.
“Our contract work essentially involves placing a team in a particular city, and locating leaks 24/7, based on the parameters of the contract,” says Mark Bracken, vice-president and general manager of Echologics.
“In contracts, we typically agree to be at a potential leak site within a certain time frame and to find a guaranteed percentage of leaks within a prescribed distance, so that when repair crews arrive, they’ll have an extremely high likelihood of finding the leak exactly where we’ve marked its location on the road surface.
Typically, the outward signs of a main leak, such as water bubbling up through the road, don’t tell you a lot about where to dig to eliminate the leak. The water follows the path of least resistance, which may be a long way from the leak site.”
Echologics has performed work in Canadian cities including Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Ontario and Toronto, U.S. cities including Las Vegas, New Orleans,and Portland and as far away as the United Kingdom.
“In Canadian cities, the worst time for leaks is the point where the ground freezes up,” says Bracken. “The ground expands and puts downward pressure on the pipe and we get significantly higher break rates.
Once the soil begins to freeze, the water never comes up where the leak is. Typically, we might be called out once or twice a day, but at the freezing point we might be going for up to 36 hours straight.”
Accurately locating leaks depends, in part, on understanding the city’s infrastructure, including pipe materials, geometry and profiles, and the types of infrastructure buried nearby.
It’s also essential to know whether the leak is coming from city-owned infrastructure or private property to determine where the responsibility for repair should be allocated.
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