SINGAPORE – When Mr Ong Guan began working as a PUB technician in 1976, he made for an odd sight, with a tool that appears like a stethoscope in his ears, the opposite finish linked to 2 steel discs on the bottom.
This was par for the course on the time, because the gear he was utilizing – often called geophones – was essential to pinpoint the place of leaks in underground water pipes.
Educated technicians would first press a steel keep on with a disc on one finish, known as a listening stick, in opposition to the bottom to pay attention for faint noises generated by water escaping from the pressurised pipes.
In the event that they heard an irregular noise, they’d then placed on the geophones and slowly stroll alongside the size of floor above the pipes, making an attempt to pay attention for the place the sound was loudest.
However the gear would additionally decide up noises corresponding to these of passing vehicles and ambient sounds. So technicians must stand nonetheless and attempt to tune out the opposite sounds of their head, focusing solely on the faint noise of underground water.
“Generally my boss would inform me, are you able to go and (examine the pipes) at 2am, as a result of it could be too noisy earlier than then,” stated Mr Ong final Friday (Nov 6).
Now an engineer at PUB, the 66-year-old recalled that this was an especially tedious and time-consuming course of that relied on loads of trial and error, and took loads of manpower.
And whereas some might imagine that water leaks are a uncommon prevalence right here, PUB has recorded about 5 leaks per 100km of pipes yearly lately.
As Singapore’s pipe community stretches over about 5,700km, this makes for about 285 leaks a 12 months, or about 5 every week.
Mr Waseem Khan, 31, who leads PUB’s Leak Detection Unit, clarified that that is really one of many lowest charges on the planet.
The senior engineer added that it isn’t potential for there to be no leaks in a water system.
“As your pipeline ages, it undergoes put on and tear. (Additionally), with the soil situation you may need corrosion. You may need works ongoing, so third get together harm would possibly happen when somebody excavates and hits your pipe. So it is not bodily potential to attain zero leaks,” he stated.
PUB stated you will need to regularly detect and restore leaks – even the small ones – earlier than they escalate, with the intention to preserve treasured water.
Fortunately, expertise at present may be very totally different.
A community of 120 sensors line the massive water mains right here, monitoring and analysing noises within the pipes to choose up the presence of leaks.
These sensors are in a position to precisely determine and pinpoint the situation of a leak inside 3m.
Within the three years because the sensors had been piloted in 2017, they had been in a position to detect 13 leaks – together with a 13mm gap on the base of a pipe beside a significant expressway.
Following the profitable trial, the water company goals to deploy about 1,200 sensors islandwide earlier than the top of subsequent 12 months.
PUB has additionally began exploring using a SmartBall – a spherical sensor encased in a protecting foam protecting. It’s put right into a pipe and propelled alongside by the circulate of the water.
This permits it to detect any cracks or anomalies alongside the partitions of the pipe by selecting up noise signatures associated to leaks, and survey lengthy stretches of pipe in a single deployment.
Over 500km of pipes might be monitored by these sensors over the following 5 years, stated the company.
Lastly, PUB’s leak detection groups have been outfitted with smartphone sensors since final 12 months – the high-tech variations of the listening sticks of the previous.
One finish of the sensor is connected to any smartphone, whereas the opposite is positioned on a pipe becoming to choose up sounds from the pipe.
An app on the telephone will robotically digitalise and analyse the sounds picked up by the sensor, whereas filtering out any ambient noise, precisely pinpointing the situation of any leaks.
These complement the noise loggers and correlators, units launched within the 2000s which additionally assist to examine for leaks. Listening sticks are additionally nonetheless used to corroborate the outcomes of the brand new instruments.
Demonstrating a few of the new applied sciences on Friday, Mr Ong stated that issues have improved tremendously because the Seventies.
“Now with the (expertise), we’re in a position to analyse extra precisely… you simply must key in one thing, and it will inform you the place the following (leak) spot is,” he stated.
Utilizing expertise has additionally diminished coaching time for brand new technicians, stated Mr Khan.
“Beforehand, you’d want a couple of months, perhaps even years, relying on the individual, to have the ability to practice them up to make use of a few of these instruments for leak detection, whereas now with the implementation of expertise, the educational curve has shortened to perhaps a couple of weeks, a couple of months,” he stated.
The company’s director of water provide (community), Mr Ridzuan Ismail, stated: “PUB is at all times looking out for brand new applied sciences for early leak detection, in order that we are able to minimise water loss within the community and enhance the resilience of service that we offer to our prospects.
“With clever leak monitoring and detection expertise, we’re taking a extra preventive and predictive method and shifting away from a resource-intensive operation that requires very specialised expertise. This may deliver us nearer to our aim of reworking our operations by digitalisation to turning into a wise utility of the longer term.”