Digging up Solutions: Industry Benefits from Evolving Technologies, Innovation

Feb. 1, 2013
Too often in today's world, system personnel literally "dig up" a problem they have never before seen. Fortunately, technology and ingenuity to provide repair solutions is keeping up with these challenges.
Industry Benefits from Evolving Technologies, Innovation

Today's maintenance and repair of water and wastewater pipelines face serious challenges, the greatest being the aging of the American infrastructure. This challenge is compounded by the modern need of requiring uninterrupted service and the complexity of needed repairs.

Too often in today's world, system personnel literally "dig up" a problem they have never before seen. Pipelines that have been dependable for generations are failing and require repairs much more complicated than simple universal clamp couplings can provide.

Fortunately, technology and ingenuity to provide repair solutions is keeping up with these challenges. In less than one generation, the industry has changed from spending days on a pipe repair job site to taking a picture of the damaged pipeline with a cell phone and emailing it to a manufacturer. Hours at the drafting table have been replaced with a design engineer's inputting dimensions into a computer CAD system producing a generic drawing for product submittal. Returning the product submittal is as easy as pushing the email button to deliver the proposal to the pipeline system engineers — all in a day, every day. Once approved, the design information is transferred to computer-aided machinery that cuts materials to precise measurements and is then processed through the fabrication system and, if necessary, testing. Once processed, the fitting is completed and readied for shipment. Today these timeframes are most often measured in hours and days rather than weeks and months.

A recent application involved a large water system in the northeastern United States. The systems has an existing 48" steel pipeline reduced and welded to a 36" steel pipe with 6.11" differential between outside pipe diameters operating at 90 PSI. Due to leaking welds and the desire to seal the joint without additional welding, the system required a split-encapsulating coupling to span the welded joint between the 48" and 36" water mains. Along with the transition between the two diameters, the pipe joint was offset and the pipe wall ovated.

The fabricator that was awarded the job required specific and detailed measurements of all pipe dimensions, offset, and the topography of the pipe as well as pipe wall templates to indicate curvature locations. The company was then required to build the custom design fitting in four weeks so installation could be performed during a scheduled school closing. This story ends with a successful repair in the needed timeframe.

Just a short 30 years ago the success of this application would have been a much greater challenge on both ends — from hours of field sketches by system technicians that were snail-mailed to the manufacturer; the manufacturer devoting hours of drawing board time and returning proposed drawings via overnight mail services…and so the story would go. But because of the influence of technology in our industry, weeks are now compressed into days, and days into hours. Many times this influence puts all those involved to the test, but our industry benefits by more advanced designs and precisely fabricated fittings intended to last the life of the pipeline. Most important is the greatest beneficiary: us, the consumers of water and wastewater services.

As an industry, we must work together to encourage and embrace innovation if we are to overcome the many challenges facing our deteriorating water infrastructure. As a member of the Board of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA), I am encouraged to see greater attention being placed on the call for innovation by ours and other industry organizations and the need to remove the barriers to adoption of new technologies.

If you have any examples of how we can expedite acceptance of new technologies in the water sector, we want to hear from you. Send your thoughts to [email protected]. WW

About the Author: John Collins is vice president of sales for JCM Industries (Nash, Texas), a manufacturer of pipe fittings and fabrication for the repair, connection and branching of all types of pipe. Circle No. 268 on Reader Service Card