Mapping the underworld: Pipeline Location and Condition Assessment Event

Over £1.5 billion is spent annually on streetworks, and over 4 million holes are dug each year in and around our carriageways. It has been estimated that the social costs of such work in terms of disruption and delays adds a further £5.5 billion.  Mapping the underworld is a major research programme aimed at developing a robust suite of techniques for identifying the range of services that underlie our streets.  More accurate identification of this, often complex, network of pipes and cables has the potential to significantly reduce costs, delays and accidents. In this note, Mark Hamilton of Birmingham University and , Project Manager for Mapping the Underworld, provides a summary of an event involving some of the programme participants.

This year’s Mapping the Underworld (MTU) annual event was held at the Ordinance Survey, Southampton on the 8th of September and was supported by the Pipeline Industries Guild (PIG) and UK Water Industries Research (UKWIR).

The event attracted a hundred delegates including representatives from utility companies, those involved in delivering utility detection services, regulators, academia; indeed, anyone with an interest in locating buried infrastructure. Sitting alongside speaker presentations were select exhibits from companies such as OXEMS and JK Guest, who used the event to launch new to market products and services.

In the case of OXEMS, a commercial spin-out from the first phase of the Mapping the Underworld project, impact was clearly demonstrated through the launch of a new and cost-effective “underground cat’s eye” – the first ever designed-for-purpose, fully integrated underground asset management solution.  This solution demonstrates how research can successfully come together with practitioners to understand industry needs and develop a product for use in the field.  For more information please visit www.oxems.com

JK Guest, an industry leader in civil engineering and construction contractors, used this event as one of a series of three to announce that ground has been broken on the development of a new, national test site for utility detection.  This is an exciting development for the industry, as accompanying it is the development of a national certification scheme – something the industry has wished to see for some time.  See www.jkguest.co.uk

The main part of the event was a series of presentations.  The first of these brought delegates up to date on the research of the Mapping the Underworld project and its four sensor technologies (vibro-acoustics, low frequency electromagnetic fields, passive magnetic field technologies and ground penetrating radar).  The presentations focused on testing and the promising success of those results. The next stage for the project is full integration of the sensors onto one cart with accompanying data fusion and data integration to allow clearer and more concise interpretation of test results and to maximise the accuracy and interpretation of the information obtained. So what does the future hold for the Mapping the Underworld project?  Its Principal Investigator, Professor Chris Rogers of the University of Birmingham, would like to look at non-invasive pipeline condition assessment technologies and is currently developing a research proposal to take this forward. Further information can be found at www.mappingtheunderworld.ac.uk

One highlight of the event was the presentation from Jon Guest of JK Guest who has been working closely with the MTU team, in particular Dr Alexander Royal and Dr Nicole Metje, to develop an accredited national testing arena for industry personnel.  It is hoped that with continued pressure from industry members and Government lobbying new rules, strict monitoring and an accreditation system will be developed and introduced in the foreseeable future.  Nicole, who is the UK member of the CI/ASCE 38-02 Committee (the American standard), has also been working with James Lewis of Cardno TBE towards the establishment of a UK standard.  Their presentation scoped the path forward and the subsequent question and answer session reinforced the need for this work to continue.  The benefits would include better regulated surveys by qualified and accredited surveyors employing safer working practices and, in the end, reduced excavation requirements.

Kevin Gooding of OXEMS described in greater detail their underground asset management solution.  The OXEMS integrated solution, which identifies both PE and ferrous assets, is now available (initially for water utilities). It is a designed-for-purpose, integrated combination of: indestructible passive tags priced for network-wide use that are fixed directly to underground assets; robust, easy-to-use, state-of-the-science detectors for use in the field; and a comprehensive database that automatically updates with any intervention.

Another highlight was two presentations by Jo Parker of UK Water Industries Research (UKWIR) and Watershed Associates.  UKWIR provides a framework for the procurement of research for the UK water industry and have been supporters of the MTU project since its inception. Together with the Pipeline Industries Guild, they were joint sponsors of this event.  In her first presentation Jo reinforced the message that a UK standard is important to the future of the industry, but equally that this is not the first time such a standard has been attempted and its success is by no means ensured.  In her second presentation Jo demonstrated the impact of Scottish trial of the VISTA project, which uses utility records and complementary techniques to build a GIS map of the below-ground infrastructure.  The trial has been so successful that a full Scottish roll out is now under way. See www.ukwir.org and www.watershedassociates.co.uk.

Professor Kai Bongs presented on Gravity Gradient technology being developed at the University of Birmingham and how cold atoms and quantum physics can help to find underground voids and thus utility assets. This is a project in its infancy but if successful and integrated with other technologies, such as the four sensors developed by the MTU project, then this could have a significant impact upon how pipes and voids are located in the future.

Further presentations were given by the University of Birmingham on complementary research.  This included the DART project - Detection of Archaeological Residues using remote sensing Techniques.  The focus of this research is to find the best ways to employ different sensors (a multi-sensor approach) for the greatest heritage return (deploying techniques in a way that goes beyond replication and identifies complementary approaches).  In particular, how do we improve the use of different sensors in regional/national prospection programmes and what are the best conditions (e.g. environmental, seasonal, weather, crop) for deployment?  The University is also researching how to make buried water pipes smarter through the use of nano-sensors integrated into the pipes themselves.

Concluding remarks were delivered by Chris Rogers. The day had demonstrated that there is a clear desire from the MTU team, but also from industry, for the MTU project to succeed. It sits within a suite of complementary initiatives the benefits of which, to industry and the environment, are extraordinary. With time we hope to see these cutting edge technologies delivering further tangible results in the murky underworld of surveying and asset location.

For further information contact the Mapping the Underworld team:
Mark Hamilton, Project Manager, m.hamilton.3@bham.ac.uk, 0121 414 3544
www.mappingtheunderworld.ac.uk