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Leaky water pipes problem solved by Sheffield engineers

A leak detection system that can identify damaged water pipes swiftly and accurately has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield.

Leaking pipeLeaky pipes are a common problem for the water industry: according to Ofwat, between 20 and 40 per cent of our total water supply can be lost through damaged pipes. Developing more accurate ways of finding leaks would enable water companies to save revenue and reduce their environmental impact.

The system invented at Sheffield tests pipes by transmitting a pressure wave along them that sends back a signal if it passes any unexpected features, such as a leak or a crack in the pipe’s surface.

The pressure wave is generated by a valve fitted to an ordinary water hydrant, which is opened and closed rapidly. The wave sends back a reflection, or a signal, if it encounters any anomalous features in the pipe. The strength of that signal can then be analysed to determine the location and the size of the leak.

Originally developed by a team led by Professor Stephen Beck in the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, the invention was developed into a prototype device in partnership with colleagues in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, and Yorkshire Water.

Key facts

  • Between 20 and 40 per cent of our total water supply can be lost through damaged pipes
  • This new system works by transmitting a pressure wave along the pipes that sends back a signal if it passes any unexpected features
  • The strength of that signal can then be analysed to determine the location and the size of the leak

The device has now been trialled at Yorkshire Water’s field operators training site in Bradford and results show that it offers a reliable and accurate method of leak testing. Leaks in cast iron pipes were located accurately to within one metre, while leaks in plastic pipes were located even more precisely, to within 20cm. The results of the trial are published today (6 August 2012) in a paper entitled, 'On site leak location in a pipe network by cepstrum analysis of pressure transients', in the Journal - American Water Works Association.

Existing leak detection techniques rely on acoustic sensing with microphones commonly used to identify noise generated by pressurised water escaping from the pipe. This method, however, is time consuming and prone to errors: the use of plastic pipes, for example, means that the sound can fall away quickly, making detection very difficult.

In contrast the device invented by the Sheffield team uses a series of calculations based on the size of the pipe, the speed of the pressure wave, and the distance it has to travel. The device can be calibrated to get the most accurate results and all the data is analysed on site, delivering immediate results that can be prioritised for action.

Dr James Shucksmith, in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield, who led the trial, said: "We are very excited by the results we’ve achieved so far: we are able to identify the location of leaks much more accurately and rapidly than existing systems are able to, meaning water companies will be able to save both time and money in carrying out repairs.

"The system has delivered some very promising results at Yorkshire Water. We hope now to find an industrial partner to develop the device to the point where it can be manufactured commercially"

Dr Allyson Seth, Networks Analytics Manager at Yorkshire Water commented: “Driving down leakage on our 31,000km network of water pipes is a high priority for us.

"Over the last 12 months alone, we’ve targeted leakage reduction and as a result we’re currently recording our lowest ever levels of leakage.

"But we want to do more, which is why, in addition to the existing technologies we use, we’re looking at new ways to help us to reduce leakage.

"Our work with engineers at the University of Sheffield is the latest example of this, and we look forward to working with them going forward to build on what has been achieved so far."

Additional information

The paper, ‘On site leak location in a pipe network by cepstrum analysis of pressure transients’, by J.D Shucksmith, J.B.Boxall, W.J.Staszewski, A.Seth and S.B.M.Beck, is published on 6 August 2012, in the Journal - American Water Works Association.

The Faculty of Engineering
The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield - the 2011 Times Higher Education’s University of the Year - is one of the largest in the UK. Its seven departments include over 4,000 students and 900 staff and have research-related income worth more than £50M per annum from government, industry and charity sources. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) confirmed that two thirds of the research carried out was either Internationally Excellent or Internationally Leading.

The Faculty of Engineering has a long tradition of working with industry including Rolls-Royce, Network Rail and Siemens. Its industrial successes are exemplified by the award-winning Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the new £25 million Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC).

The Faculty of Engineering is set to ensure students continue to benefit from world-class labs and teaching space through the provision of the University's new Engineering Graduate School. This brand new building, which will become the centre of the faculty´s postgraduate research and postgraduate teaching activities, will be sited on the corner of Broad Lane and Newcastle Street. It will form the first stage in a 15 year plan to improve and extend the existing estate in a bid to provide students with the best possible facilities while improving their student experience.

Faculty of Engineering

Contact

For further information please contact:

Shemina Davis
Acting Media Relations Manager
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 5339
shemina.davis@sheffield.ac.uk