Balfour Beatty and LJU: revolutionising water security

Balfour Beatty and LJU: revolutionising water security

Balfour Beatty and a consortium including Liverpool John Moores University are working in partnership to transform water leak detection.

This case study orginally appeared on page 34 of the State of the Relationship 2014. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

Water security is an issue that has steadily gained prominence, especially as businesses are forced to react to new environmental realities. No resource is more precious than water, and waste through leaking pipes has long been at the top of the list of consumer complaints. A partnership led by Balfour Beatty and including Liverpool John Moores University, JD7 and Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions has the potential to completely revolutionise how companies find and work on water leaks.

Bringing a variety of different skills to the table, this collaboration is working on building the first complete in-pipe assessment vehicle which can perform optical and acoustic inspection of pipes without the need switch the mains supply of water off. This is likely to save time for road users especially and cut cost for companies needing to carry out essential maintenance. The project, known as the ‘Subaqua Assessment Vehicle for Water Infrastructure’ or the SAVE Water Project, has proved so innovative it has secured £200,000 from the Technology Strategy Board to enable further development.

"This project will certainly provide a vehicle for academics at Liverpool John Moores University to demonstrate the impact of their niche and unique sensor system in order to provide the water industry a step change in real time monitoring.”
Professor Ahmed Al-Shamma’a, Liverpool John Moores University

The grant is part of more than £2.5m of funding going to several projects and studies aimed at addressing water security challenges in the UK and overseas. Building on existing technologies developed by JD7 and already being deployed by Balfour Beatty’s Network Intelligence unit, the project will develop the first complete in-pipe assessment vehicle which will work in live conditions.

“What is so exciting about this new project is that it will give us a complete assessment capability in a single unit, allowing us to fully map the condition of a pipe without ever having to switch the mains off. This is obviously good for customers and road users as it minimises the impact of work on their lives, but it also has huge benefits for water companies, as it will deliver comprehensive intelligence about where and when investment in their network is needed,” says Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions’ Innovation Strategy Manager, Gas and Water, Mike Brockhurst.

Working in collaboration with technology suppliers is a key part of Balfour Beatty’s strategy of speeding up the process of getting innovations to market, something which on average takes 10 years in the water industry.

“This project will certainly provide a vehicle for the academics at Liverpool John Moores University to demonstrate the impact of their niche and unique sensor system in order to provide the water industry a step change in real time monitoring,” says Professor Ahmed Al-Shamma’a of Liverpool John Moores University.

The hope is that this project and similar ones will provide a working model which can be used throughout the water industry now and in the future. Larger organisations can take advantage of new technologies and drive this into their existing operations as well as looking at emerging opportunities which may previously have not been explored. Meanwhile smaller companies can benefit by moving quickly to develop and market new products while exploiting the gravitational pull big companies inevitably have.

Developing and exploiting technologies is a challenging process for any company, requiring innovative design coupled with a practical validation and trialling process. Collaboration between academia and the world of business will allow all phases to be addressed from as early as concept level and right through to implementation and marketing of the product.  

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