RedZone Robotics Solo

Florida County Reaps Benefits from Sewer Inspection Technology

To anyone living in Florida, the term “hurricane season” brings forth a mixture of worry, caution, and a watchful gaze on weather patterns.

For system and utility owners, the impact goes further when directly responsible for maintaining vital infrastructure and water/wastewater service to customers during and after the storm events.

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Brevard County, situated on the East Central coast, is home to more than 600,000 individuals stretching from the City of Palm Bay in the South to Titusville in the North. It encompasses 16 municipalities, including the popular Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. The latter serves both Port Canaveral for cruise ships, as well as the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. It is considered one of the most bio-diverse estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere.

With such important national treasures and delicate environments, Brevard was aware for the need to be prepared for major weather events. Unfortunately, the below ground infrastructure was not as ready.
Brevard County Utilities operates and maintains more than 500 miles of gravity wastewater collection system mainline, across 291 different lift stations, ranging from 6 in. up to 36 in. More than 95 percent of these pipelines are 12 in. and below and consist of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and vitrified clay pipe (VCP) materials. There are also six wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) in various unincorporated locations of the county, the largest located in Merritt Island, which operates at 6 MGD. With the storm surges and the constant rainfall, the WWTPs were unable to handle the increased flow, resulting in a discharge of 100 million gallons of untreated water to the Indian River Lagoon.

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It was clear. The water was predominantly clear, which was evidence of extreme inflow and infiltration (I/I) from Irma’s wet weather. Rainfall was getting into the system through structural deficiencies in the pipes and manholes and overwhelming an already fragile network – resulting in significant costs via pump station run times, treating water that otherwise would not be treated, and environmental consequences.

The County had spent decades keeping sewer rates low resulting in limited funding for utilities to repair the aging infrastructure. Despite this shortfall, the County was in the midst of an extensive capital improvement program (CIP) for fixing these pipes and manholes but had not made enough of an impact to mitigate Irma’s torrent. Over the span of 2017-2019, not nearly as many pipes were completed using the County’s annual budget. At the rate they were going, it would take decades to line everything. The need for prioritization was apparent.

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Brevard utilized a piggyback contract from nearby Palm Bay for sewer inspection services. While the concept of inspection was not new, the technology specified was new to Brevard. Robotic crawlers capable of inspecting three to four times the footage of a conventional camera was exactly the solution they needed.

RedZone Robotics manufactures a small autonomous CCTV camera called Solo designed for 8- to 12-in. pipelines – more than 95 percent of Brevard’s collections system. It is equipped with two pano-spheric cameras, one on the front and one on the rear, creating a 360-degree video of everything inside the mainline. It did not require a box truck and could be easily transported into easements, rear lots or other harder to access areas. Due to the quick setup, traffic control was also reduced significantly.

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Where the value peaked for the utilities department, however, was in the speed and spend. The services provided by RedZone would allow for larger portions of the system to be inspected using NASSCO’s Pipeline Assessment Certification Program (PACP) standard and not take the entire budget to do so. While the budget did not allow for the entire system to be inspected in one year, it did allow enough to create a proper prioritization program. The Solo units could survey and confirm which pipes were in need of repair, and after analysis of risk and criticality scoring, ensure that those pipes were at the top of the list to be CIPP-lined.

Further, the Solo units were operated on an inspect-to-clean approach. This meant not performing a pre-cleaning, but inspecting the pipe to determine if cleaning was required. On average, 70 to 80 percent of a system does not need to be cleaned in order to inspect. Many times, the defects that cause blockages are also not likely to be resolved by light jetting: roots and intruding taps are some of the biggest inhibitors for equipment. By placing a camera into the pipe and determining condition, the right remediation tool can then be used for the job, while saving on cleaning costs in the process.

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Initial inspection results confirmed two things:

  • The system was not in as bad of shape as they had originally thought. Basins that were originally set to be entirely lined showed that many of the pipes were still in good structural condition, free of cracks or offset joints.
  • By lining the most troubled spots after RedZone’s assessments, pump station run times were reduced by 50 percent – going from an average of 200 to 100 gpm.

Switching to a baseline assessment was proving to be a great strategy. Despite there still being evidence of I/I in the system, the reduction in the power consumption and use of those lift stations was monumental.

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Sewer Inspection Results

Using the inspect-to-clean approach, approximately 275,000 lf of pipe was identified as needing to be cleaned. This amounted to only 9 percent of the entire system. Shortly after inspections, Brevard was able to use their crews to successfully reduce the biggest problems prior to becoming emergencies blockages or overflow situations. Some cleaning from the most recent inspections in 2023 still need to be completed as part of this upcoming fiscal year.

As of today, more than 2 million lf of pipe has been inspected (66 percent of the system) and more than 8,000 manholes (60 percent of the system). In fiscal year 2023-2024, the remaining quantities will be inspected completing the baseline for the County in approximately five years. The portions of the system that are left also happen to be newer areas. While age is not always a predictor of condition; due to the limited resources on budget, the older areas became priority.

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Sam Cancilla is vice president of business development at RedZone Robotics Inc.

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