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Artificial Intelligence based Detection of Pipe Bursts/Leaks and Other Events in Water Distribution Systems

28 July 2022

2 minutes to read

Artificial Intelligence based Detection of Pipe Bursts/Leaks and Other Events in Water Distribution Systems

A collaborative partnership between researchers at the University of Exeter and the largest listed UK water business has led to the development of the ‘Event Recognition in the Water Network’ (ERWAN) system. 

Ageing infrastructure (pipes and other equipment) is a significant challenge for water companies in the UK whilst meeting customer expectations and staying within tight budget limits. As assets get older, pipe bursts and equipment failures become a major issue in water distribution systems. The resulting leaks can lead to the loss of billions of litres each day and with climate change and population growth, the need for water is increasing year on year. 

A collaborative partnership between Professor Zoran Kapelan and United Utilities, the largest listed UK water business, has led to the creation of new technology based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect pipe bursts/leaks, equipment failure and other events in a water distribution system. 

The ERWAN system processes pressure and flow sensor data using AI to avoid a catastrophic event. The concept behind the system is based on the observation that pipe bursts and other events leave characteristic imprints on pressure/flow sensor signals. Two key research questions were addressed: 

  • Is it possible to detect pipe bursts and other events in an automated way by processing pressure/flow sensor data only in near real-time? 
  • Can this be done in a fast and reliable manner? 

When the ERWAN was launched it enabled three things. Detection of failures became quicker, enabling failures to be found within an hour rather than potentially days/weeks previously. Detection of failures are now more reliable with fewer unnecessary call-outs to ‘false alarms’. Finally, failures can be prevented in some cases as the new system can find problems before they result in further failures. 

The ERWAN system has resulted in major operational cost savings since its launch in 2015. ERWAN has also improved service to millions of people, avoiding poor water pressure and loss of service. Finally, it has also reduced negative environmental impact through saving millions of litres of lost water through leakages and also reduced energy usage by having to pump less water. 

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