Why is there a robot in that water main?

Today, crews tracked a six-foot long robotic device inside a large water main that was filled with water. The process is part of an ongoing effort to check the conditions of some of Louisville Water’s largest underground mains.

Louisville Water has more than 4,200 miles of water main to deliver water and 200 miles of the pipe is larger than 24-inches in diameter. In 2010, Louisville Water began working with Pure Technologies to use robotic devices/probes called “Smart Ball®” and “PipeDiver®” to inspect some of the largest water mains in our system. SmartBall® checks for leaks and PipeDiver® checks the strength of the pipe and the wires that wrap around it.

This morning, crews from Pure Technologies worked with Louisville Water to insert PipeDiver® into a 48-inch water main that was filled with water. PipeDiver® is free-swimming and needs the flow of the water to move it through the pipe. This is beneficial since Louisville Water can inspect its large water mains without interrupting customers’ water service.

We used PipeDiver® to inspect this 48-inch water main that runs from Thierman Lane to the Westport Road Pump Station. Louisville Water installed this pipe beginning in the 1970s. It delivers water from the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant to the eastern part of Jefferson County.

As PipeDiver® traveled nearly two miles along Westport Road, the device sent electromagnetic signals that recorded the strength of the pipe and identified potential weaknesses in the wires around the pipe. There’s also a camera on the device; crews watched on a monitor as PipeDiver® traveled in real-time. Louisville Water installed an extraction area at the Westport Road Pump Station where crews retrieved PipeDiver®.

There have not been large breaks on this 48-inch water main — today’s inspection is an example of using technology for preventative maintenance. Louisville Water expects a water main to be in service at least 100 years. Sections of this water main are more than 40 years old so today was a good opportunity to check the inside of the pipe.

Following the inspection, Louisville Water engineers and Pure Technologies will evaluate the data PipeDiver® recorded and determine if repairs are necessary to the water main. Louisville Water uses this information for short and long-term budgeting.

Using robotic technology to inspect large water mains is an important addition to Louisville Water’s plan to maintain what’s underground. These large mains are critical in delivering water, and it’s costly and sometimes not feasible to empty the water to look inside. Using tools like PipeDiver® allow engineers to inspect a pipe without emptying the water and stopping service for thousands of customers.