Smartball leak detection in high pressure networks

Big City Landscape View

Rand Water is the largest bulk water utility in Africa and one of the largest in the world, providing bulk potable water to more than 23 million people in Gauteng, parts of Mpumalanga, the Free State and North West – an area that stretches over 31,000 square kilometres. Rand Water’s distribution network includes over 3,300 kilometres of large-diameter pipelines.

In 2015 Rand Water embarked on the largest proactive bulk water pipeline condition assessment  investigation ever in South Africa. An important part of the assessment includes inline non-disruptive leak detection inspections covering just over 2,200 kilometers of Rand Water’s bulk pipeline network.

SmartBall in a case with the laptop used to control it.

SmartBall leak detection platform used for most inspections

The free-swimming SmartBall™ leak detection system is utilized to perform the majority of these inspections. The multi-sensor tool is used to detect and locate the acoustic signature related to leaks and gas pockets in pressurized pipelines. While the SmartBall is deployed, the pipeline remains in service, limiting disruption to customers.

Unlike traditional listening tools like correlators, which have limited success on large diameter pipes, the free-flowing SmartBall technology provides a high degree of accuracy, since as the ball rolls, it can inspect every inch of the main to detect leaks and gas pockets.

Big pipes

High pressure, high flow pipelines can make insertion and extraction difficult

Due to the vast transfer distances and varying topography within the supply area, the Rand Water system is characterized by pipelines operating under extreme pressures (higher than 16 bar [232 psi] and up to 40 bar [580 psi]) and high flow velocities (higher than 2 m/s), historically beyond safe operating limits of the standard SmartBall insertion and extraction equipment.

This rendered some of the pipelines unsuitable for inspection unless a solution could be found to safely insert and extract SmartBall from a high pressure/high flow pipeline.

Worker inspecting pipe

Pure works with SSIS PIpeline Services to help solve this unique challenge

Pure Technologies embraces research and development (R&D), with a strong design focus on continuously developing new inspection technologies and improve existing systems. SSIS Pipeline Services, which represents Pure Technologies in SA, challenged the Pure R&D team to find a solution for this unique high pressure Rand Water problem.

From this challenge, the Titan system was born.

Introducing Titan insertion and extraction system

Following extensive R&D and pre-delivery testing, the first-of-its-kind enlarged Titan insertion and extraction system was delivered to South Africa in May 2016. The system included a retrofitted high pressure LDEN (Large Diameter Extraction Net) kit capable for use in pressure environments up to 40 bar (600 PSI) and higher.

Workers with high pressure pipes

SSIS staff underwent shop training at the hands of one of the mechanical design engineers from Pure, followed by hands-on training on a number of high pressure, high velocity Rand Water pipelines.

To date, the Titan system has been used safely and successfully on pipelines up to 2900mm in diameter, operating at 2.5 m/s and at pressures up to 18 bar (261 psi). The system’s highest recorded operating pressure was at 23 bar (333 psi) on a 900mm diameter pipeline with 1.5 m/s flow.

Testing the waters, pushing the limits

The Titan system now enables SSIS to safely perform SmartBall leak and gas pocket inspections on high pressure pipelines previously off limits.

The latest successful test illustrates the SSIS commitment to the local water industry through innovation and dedicated support from Pure Technologies. It again proves that no problem is too big to solve, and every challenge can be overcome through dedicated teamwork and cutting-edge innovation.