leak events. Processing large data sets
now employs modern ‘data analytics’
Vibration measurement is a
developing technology for detecting
leaks in pipelines, including adopting
PCB components normally used in
Flow meter and pressure
measurements can build a picture of
network performance, even to the
point of virtual models and statistical
analyses. Mass balancing and Data
Validation & Reconciliation (DVR)
calculation methods are of growing
Event detection and duration
monitoring is used for online
recommendations or for historical
review to understand unexpected
outcomes. Such methods can also be
incorporated into asset-management
systems to provide warning indicators
and risk-based predictions such as
Likelihood and Consequence of Failure
(LOF & COF).
Water quality sensor arrays employ
a number of existing measurement
techniques including pH, turbidity and
conductivity. Other contaminants can be
detected using water properties such as
Finally, there are biosensors which
monitor the behaviour of living
organisms in the water to assess the
toxicity of water samples. These arrays
can provide real-time data streams via
communication networks, which can
now adopt cloud-based information
Wireless Sensor Networks is a
common theme in pipeline monitoring.
This includes underground transmission
as a research and development topic.
Other applied science approaches
include thermal and pressure sensors
using low-power Force Sensitive
Resistors (FSR). These have non-invasive benefts. Elsewhere, clever
patent applications appear every year,
including ‘neurofuzzy’ decision support
with geographical information and
radio frequency devices.
More traditional tools include
visual inspections, CCTV surveys
and wall thickness measurements
using remote/near feld techniques,
broadband electromagnetic surveys,
or ultrasonic techniques. These are
limited to excavation and probable
pipeline shutdown. Listening sticks,
manual or electronic, are still employed
at the simple end of the spectrum.
There remains a healthy interest in
research and development projects for
pipeline monitoring. Funding bodies,
such as the European Commission and
World Health Organisation, are careful
to support the practical exploitations
and benefts, especially for growing
economies and developing nations.
BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED?
The total costs need to be appreciated
before your return on investment is
accurate. Some costs may not be obvious
in your pipeline monitoring system.
Furthermore, the power supply for
your instrumentation is essential. If
onboard batteries are used then check
their lifetime. ‘Sleep mode’ may be
useful, but energy hungry bi-directional
communications will shorten service
life. Local solar or wind power is
attractive but beware as some devices
have encapsulated batteries that
are non-replaceable. Low or ultra-low power sensors are improving
Getting your data back to base
is a universal requirement for all
monitoring systems. Ideally this would
integrate, or at least interface) with
your existing communication system.
Your ‘smart’ device may be able to do
local processing and only transmit an
intelligent summary. Simple signal
strength or electronic interference
may be crucial given pipe, meter or
Uni-directional (upload only)
signals may avoid the complexity of
bi-directional data streams, although
in-situ reconfguration may be helpful,
by adjusting a fowmeter’s calibration
parameters, for example. Unfortunately,
diagnostic data can overload traditional
Security and integrity of your data
is a growing concern in our modern
world. The newly opened UK National
Cyber Security Centre recognises the
worldwide threat to countries’ utility
infrastructure. Digital systems demand
regular review in order to ensure your
data is secure in transmission and
storage. The physical robustness of your
monitoring hardware may also need
assessment to protect against deliberate
interference, including vandalism, or
avoid accidental events.
A perennial problem is technological
redundancy. Is your monitoring system
designed to be upgradeable? Is the
hardware and software adopting
industrial protocols, standards or
We have seen how ‘smart’ meters for
electricity consumers are now being
‘dumbed down’ due to the change of
supplier or operating expense. This
disappointing downgrading may also
transfer to the water industry.
SINGAPORE: A SUCCESS STORY
Singapore’s modern water supply
network boasts the benefts of smart
technology and government investment.
Their Smart Water Grid incorporates
sensors, meters, digital controls and
analytic tools throughout the island,
including 300 multi-parameter probes
to detect both leaks and water quality
issues in real-time.
This extensive project is an example
of how administration and business
can combine expertise with clear
requirements in order to cultivate
reliable and sustainable water supply
for generations to come.
AWASH WI TH POTEN TIAL
Like most fashions, there is a need to
see past gimmicks to valuable solutions.
The digital revolution has been here for
a while (now at Industry 4.0), but there
has been slow adoption in the utilities
sector, particularly due to ageing assets.
A critical strategy to offset fears and
risk is to have research, development,
feld testing and reporting to be guided,
and promoted, by industry bodies.
Independent and impartial testing/
verifcation will lead to stable standards
and clear quality.
From pipeline to tap, ‘smart’ elements
are growing in sophistication from
monitoring technologies to fowmeters.
The amount of data becoming available
may require ‘big data’ style solutions
in order to gather, flter, present and
understand the real-time effciency and
effectiveness of our businesses.
Sharing industrial knowledge and
guiding practical developments in
pipeline monitoring is the key to success.
Some of the case studies in the oil & gas
sector may help to cascade experience.
Brendan Robson is a consultant engineer
at NEL, the National Measurement Institute
responsible for the management of the UK
National Standard for Flow Measurement.