Automating Your Pipeline Inspections

So why is wastewater inspection not as automated as the rest of our lives?

When the first commercial CCTV camera trucks set out to inspect US pipes in 1964, little in world was automated. You got your money from a real person when you went to the bank, cars were still being assembled and painted by humans, and you still had to vacuum you own floor. In the years since, increasing trends in automation have changed so much about the world. Today, I get cash from an ATM, my car was put together in an automated manufacturing plant, and a robot vacuums my floor.

But somehow, it’s not the same – yet – in wastewater inspection.

The Future is Now

There is no reason that our industry can’t be as automated as other industries. After all, the past five years in pipeline inspection have been marked by a dramatic influx of new technologies, in particular new sensor technologies. This movement to advanced inspection sensors is delivering more useful and accurate data than ever before. We are able to examine geometry above the flow with lasers, below the flow with sonar, measure the gas concentrations in our pipes, and look for leaks and voids.

At the same time that we have these new technologies, we at RedZone still see, every day, companies doing things “the old way,” depending on people to do repetitive tasks that  technology can do better (which would then free those human resources up to do more important work). For example, automation of equipment enables robotic “swarming,” which means that multiple units can conduct tasks simultaneously.  In addition to enabling increased productivity, swarming reduces downtime and increases predictability.  If one or more of those units encounters a problem, the rest of them are still working!  If four autonomous inspection units are operating and a problem is encountered, productivity will decrease by 25% rather than the 100%  that a standard CCTV truck would suffer.

Cross training is helpful in reducing the impact of absences and employee movement, for those companies who depend on humans to do repetitive tasks. However, it is more difficult when tasks are highly specialized.  And things that are operated and run by humans tend to be biased by the opinions, training, and motivations of the operator, while conventional real time items such as ‘live’ defect coding are impossible to verify without redoing the inspection.  Operators in one region might do things differently, with different results, than operators in another region.  This could happen just across two operators.  Quality and consistency suffer.

At RedZone, reporting processes are becoming more automated all of the time.  Even though humans are still critical in interpreting the information, much of the “heavy lifting” with the data management and processing has been automated.  We’re are preparing to launch a new, smaller, lighter robot for wastewater inspection that brings automation to the field.  We have been conducting pilot partnerships with many of the leading, innovative municipalities and private firms across the country to refine this product prior to commercialization. (Stay tuned!)

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