Although millions of people rely on water pipelines every day, it’s easy to use these assets but never worry about their condition. However, it’s important to continually monitor those underground utilities to ensure they’re in proper working condition — to save money and others from headaches if a serious malfunction should occur. That’s where condition assessment comes into play. When combined with an organized asset management program, condition assessment tools — from companies like Pure Technologies — allow utilities to keep a close eye and ear on their valuable infrastructure. 
“For a water or wastewater agency to successfully and efficiently manage their pipeline infrastructure, they have to know what kind of condition it is in,” says Michael Higgins, vice president of business development for U.S. operations for Pure Technologies. “The types of tools and technologies our company provides are useful for assessing the condition of their pipelines.”

Over the past 12 years, Pure Technologies has supplied utilities and asset managers with condition assessment tools and inspection technology to maintain vital water and wastewater pipelines.

Moving into Asset Management

Pure Technologies first opened its doors in 1993, establishing a corporate headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The company’s initial focus was to monitor and identify wire breaks in post-tensioned buildings and parking structures. The company developed an acoustic system with the help of Peter Paulson (the company’s current CEO) to perform such a task. In 1997, Pure expanded its capabilities to include large cable supported bridges and condition assessment of large diameter water pipelines. These initial technologies for pipelines were both electromagnetic and acoustic-based technologies, used to assess prestressed concrete cylinder pipe.

During this time, Pure opened a U.S. operations office in Columbia, Md., to expand and extend its offerings to the Americas (North, South and Latin), while the Canadian headquarters focused on international affairs.

“When we were choosing our location, we were looking at infrastructure concerns up and down the eastern seaboard and thought being on the East Coast would put us closer to the market activity,” says Mark Holley, president of U.S. operations for Pure Technologies. “We were originally focusing on the bridge market, but by 1997 the focus had turned toward condition assessment of large diameter pipelines. Now it represents 60 to 80 percent of our business.”

After entering into the condition assessment market, Pure embarked on numerous projects to validate and solidify its product line and uses. Some of the first clients to embrace Pure’s condition assessment tools included: Howard County Water Utilities, Md.; City of Tucson, Ariz.; San Diego County Water Authority; Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission, outside of Washington D.C.; and City and County of Baltimore.

“Those five water utilities in the United States were very proactive with the management of their infrastructure, and were the early adopters of the condition assessment technologies,” says Higgins.

Supplying Peace of Mind

Pure Technologies groups its products, which are all non-destructive condition assessment tools, into two categories: prestressed concrete cylinder pipe management tools and leak detection systems. Pure’s P-Wave and SoundPrint AFO both fall under the first category, while its latest creation, SmartBall, fits the leak detection niche.

“With our management tools, we offer internal inspection of prestressed concrete cylinder pipes, particularly large diameter water and wastewater pipes,” explains Higgins. “We specialize in internal inspections, utilizing the latest technologies and engineering services to assess the pipeline’s condition.”

 P-Wave, which was introduced in 1998, is an electromagnetic inspection tool that can detect deterioration (wire breaks) on prestressed concrete cylinder pipe. With the findings that P-Wave reveals, the company can estimate the amount of risk associated with the continued operation of the affected pipes.

Pure’s SoundPrint AFO (acoustic fiber-optic) monitoring technology involves deploying equipment in the pipeline to detect the acoustic activity associated with wire breaks in prestressed concrete cylinder pipe. This technology is capable of continuously monitoring up to 25 miles of pipeline from one data acquisition system and provides close to real-time information on the time and location of wire breaks on prestressed pipe.

“Our SoundPrint technology can be used in a temporary fashion, or, as we’ve been seeing lately, as a permanent monitoring tool for pipelines to continuously track their condition over time,” says Higgins. “The idea is that the tool can be deployed on the pipe so we can monitor it and track which pipe sections are having wire breaks and the rate of wire break activity. If the monitoring is done after the internal inspection, we can add those wire breaks from the acoustic monitoring to the ones estimated during the internal inspection to keep a running tally of wire breaks on a pipe.”

SmartBall, which was introduced in 2007, uses a free-swimming foam ball with an instrument-filled aluminum alloy core capable of detecting and locating very small leaks in pipelines. This acoustic device is released into the water flow of a pressurized water pipeline or a pressurized force main and rolls along with the water flow. As it moves along the pipeline, the ball records acoustic activity to identify leaks. SmartBall can also record the positional data of the leak, as well as the leak’s magnitude.

Monitoring the Market 

Although Pure currently offers a well-rounded collection of condition assessment tools, the marketplace for these technologies was not always vibrant. However, with more and more utilities and municipalities becoming increasingly proactive and catching onto the benefits of such products, the demand for condition assessment tools has ballooned.

“Looking back on the last 10 years, I think the market has come a long way,” says Holley. “When we first introduced these technologies in the late-1990s, we were presenting the benefits of condition assessment. There was not a significant focus on condition assessment-based programs and utilities had not yet adopted technology to help manage their infrastructure, so it was very slow in the beginning years. But recently we have seen increased momentum whereby utilities are becoming more proactive and they’re utilizing technology in their infrastructure management program.”

With a general consensus that the majority of water and wastewater infrastructure in the United States is in poor condition, the market has developed over time and will continue to grow in order to meet the needs of those who are serious about implementing a condition-based asset management program.

“The U.S. EPA infrastructure funding gap and the ASCE report card all document that there’s an infrastructure crisis in the water and wastewater industry,” says Holley. “So, it’s important for utilities and municipalities to manage the infrastructure they presently operate and avoid unnecessary capital expenditures. With that mindset, asset management and condition assessment of pipelines are becoming more of a standard operating procedure. This is a development we’ve seen come about in the last 10 years or so, specifically in the water industry — as a result of this, inspection monitoring tools are gaining a lot of interest and success in the market.”

To continue supplying top-notch condition assessment and inspection tools, Pure works with its clients in developing new technologies. By addressing the needs of its clients during the research and development phase of products, the company can create products that not only serve its clients, but the industry as a whole.

“As a company, we rely on collaboration with our clients to identify their needs and we work to create solutions for those needs,” says Holley. “Our company is market-driven from that aspect and we work very closely with clients in improving and advancing the current state-of-the-art in condition assessment.”

Being a leader of condition assessment tools for large diameter pressurized pipe and having an extensive R&D regimen gives Pure an advantage of marketing its products with customer support and quality behind them.

“Our research and development capability is a strong part of our company as a whole and it’s also something that distinguishes us from others,” explains Higgins. “We develop our own products and that gives us a unique ability to have the technical depth to provide the customer support and back these products up as we deploy them.”  

Looking to the Future 

With economic woes making daily headlines, municipalities’ budgets are getting tighter, even though the need for utility funding is growing larger. However, with aging infrastructure commanding attention, municipalities must allocate the money needed to keep these vital systems in tact — through proper condition assessment and smart management tools.

“As we all know, the markets are in a bit of turmoil and we’re not completely sure how that will affect us,” says Holley. “We know that water infrastructure spending will come under some pressure but should fair well when compared to other municipal spending. Our infrastructure crisis is not going away and will continue to get worse unless adequate funding is directed from all levels of government.

“Utilities are trying to do more with less, so they have to outsource a lot of the consulting and professional services requirements,” Holley continues. “Utilities are becoming more proactive and the cost benefit of condition assessment is being realized. The EPA is putting more pressure on utilities to maintain their infrastructure and consent decrees are an example of that. There are economic challenges; however, it is not wise to reduce spending on a program that establishes the remaining useful life of a critical pipeline. It is much easier to repair problems that are identified by the condition assessment program than respond to the costs associated with catastrophic failure.”

With the continued need to monitor, manage and keep up infrastructure, the company feels cautiously hopeful that 2009 will be another successful year. Through the introduction of new technologies and more utilities coming on board with these products, Pure expects further business growth.

“I expect our business will grow as we have in the last four or five years,” adds Holley. “Here in our U.S. office, we’ve seen about a 40 percent growth in our business year after year. I don’t know if we’ll achieve that next year, but that’s our goal. There are many potential clients who are currently evaluating the merits of technology and condition assessment. We are hopeful that more utilities will implement proactive programs and begin to realize the cost benefit of this strategy.”

To ensure a successful year and continue supplying important tools for condition assessment, Pure Technologies has a suite of new products to deliver to clients in need. Through the introduction of these new technologies, the company hopes to provide a solution to utilities looking to manage their water and wastewater infrastructure more efficiently.

“We’re researching other potential applications for SmartBall, including its use for condition assessment of ferrous pipe materials,” says Higgins. “Assuming the results from the research are favorable, we hope to provide qualitative information on the condition of metallic pipe materials. There’s a significant need in the industry for a tool like this.”

On top of the release of Smart Ball, Pure is also working on other products to enhance the assessment and management of pipelines. “We’re working on using our acoustic fiber-optic [AFO] cable to permanently monitor pipelines for leaks, so if the pipeline would develop a leak, this system would raise a flag and call an agency’s attention to a leak and they can go out and fix the leak appropriately,” says Higgins.

Pam Stask is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.

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