Acoustic sensing project to help Sydney Water prevent pipe breakage

The NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN), Sydney Water, SA Water and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) are collaborating on a acoustic sensing pilot project that aims to reduce leaks and breaks in water networks.

The project, which involves acoustic sensors monitoring a total of 13km of pipes across the Sydney CBD, is part NSSN’s existing collaborative smart sensing technology research project with Sydney Water that uses a variety of smart sensing technologies and methods for leak detention and break prevention in water infrastructure.

NSW water minister Melinda Pavey said the project to reduce water wastage due to pipe leaks and breaks was of high importance, particularly during the severe drought afflicting the state.

“We are in the worst drought on record, every drop counts. Some of the pipes in this area are over 100 years old and are understandably difficult to access,” Mrs Pavey said.

“This new technology will help predict and reduce leaks and breaks around the city by listening to the network. In three years’ time, it is predicted to reduce major breaks by 50 per cent in the CBD.”

Dr Don McCallum, NSSN development manager said that the fundamental engineering principles of the acoustic sensors are generally electrostatics, electromechanics or piezoelectric.

“They are just like little speakers in reverse, like your stereo speaker at home. In this case, the membrane vibrates first and sends an electrical signal back to the signal recording box,” McCallum said.

When water leaks it creates vibration due to the pressure differential between the inside and the outside of a pipe. The waves travel through both pipe material and water. Acoustics sensors measure the vibration inflicted on the material or directly in the water column.

“By using smart sensing and advanced acoustic technology not only we can sense leaks and do reactive maintenance but we will be able to predict leaks and be able to do preventative maintenance,” McCallum said.

Sydney Water managing director Roch Cheroux said that drought conditions were making detection and prevention water main breaks difficult.

“This acoustic technology allows us to listen to the ‘music’ of the network, using advanced algorithms to hear the ‘songs’ of a leak,” Cheroux said.

“Initiatives and partnerships like this across industry, provide us access to the best technology and innovations to proactively prevent leaks and breaks and improve our service for our customers and community.”

“From next year, we will install more of these sensors across our water network, including in Liverpool, Bankstown and Penrith.”