As one of the early pioneers of advanced acoustic technologies, products, and services that enable non-invasive diagnostics of water utility pipeline infrastructure, Echologics serves as a trusted advisor for water utilities, industrial, and institutional clients. In this interview, Marc Bracken, Echologics Vice President and General Manager, shares some insights into the company’s inception, its unique value proposition, advanced solutions, and a roadmap for the future.
What led to the establishment of Echologics?
Echologics was founded as a private company in 2003 to develop advanced acoustic technologies that enable non-invasive diagnostics of water utility pipeline infrastructure, including leak detection, pipe condition assessment, and water loss management. In 2011, Mueller Water Products, Inc. [NYSE:MWA], a leading manufacturer and marketer of products used for the management of water networks, acquired Echologics. Echologics water infrastructure diagnostic technologies are a key component in enhancing Mueller Water Products’ portfolio and ability to provide the essential products and services needed in the transmission and distribution of water.
What are the challenges associated with managing the water utility infrastructure?
To supply the nation’s homes and businesses with water, the U.S. depends on a country-wide network of aging underground pipes, many of which have exceeded the end of their useful life. The number of water main breaks across the country is a staggering 240,000 per year, resulting in over two trillion gallons of drinking water being lost to leakage and main breaks. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, an estimated $1 trillion is necessary to meet the water infrastructure needs of the growing population over the next 25 years. The average leaks in a municipal system can flow for up to 20 years, and such leaks can be a source of significant service disruptions and costly repairs. It is clear that the country’s water infrastructure needs an overhaul. Smart water management is the key to overcoming the ongoing water crisis that is affecting not only households but a long list of industries as well. It has the potential to revolutionize water service delivery and provide higher levels of system intelligence, visibility, automation, and control while enhancing customer service.
What are some of the technological trends in the water utility arena?
The emergence of smart water systems consisting of smart meters, advanced sensors, and software analytics along with the internet of things (IoT) related devices offer many opportunities to increase resiliency and enhance operational performance. These data-driven solutions help effectively manage problems associated with water networks—detect infiltration and inflow, prioritize actions, and quickly respond to system failures—both at the source and at the distribution level. Further, smart water technologies are increasingly being delivered via new business models like software-as-a-service (SaaS) or through the cloud. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being leveraged to modernize the way water plant operators perform their duties, track asset performance, and make optimized decisions. These technologies can also help proactively manage and avoid potential threats through real- time monitoring, enabling utilities to improve cost reductions, risk mitigation, asset utilization, revenue capture, and customer service.
Could you elaborate on your acoustic technology for leak detection and condition assessment?
We provide high quality and actionable data about buried water pipeline infrastructure to help water utilities prioritize capital spending, minimize water main breaks, and reduce water loss. Our core expertise lies in acoustic science technologies, and we have developed hand listening devices, correlator units for leak detection, next-generation continuous leak detection monitoring platforms, and user-friendly condition assessment technologies.
For utilities with aging pipeline, Echologics’ ePulse® condition assessment technology is ideal to understand the structural strength of buried assets and optimize rehabilitation and replacement programs. The ePulse technology uses acoustic signals sent by acoustic sensors attached to existing contact points on pipes, which are analyzed by proprietary computer algorithms to assign a grade of good, moderate, or bad for the pipe segment. This data is utilized to provide additional insights into the life estimate of the pipe and replacement timings. The condition assessment service helps maximize capital efficiency and reduce the operating risk of some of the old pipes since utilities are unable to replace every pipe due to financial constraints.
Early leak detection is vital for distribution systems to reduce water loss and extend pipe asset life. The Echologics EchoShore®-DX platform is a valuable tool that is changing the way water leaks are identified and repaired. It incorporates the latest generation of our proprietary acoustic sensors, with correlating leaks on a variety of pipe materials and large diameter mains. The sensors are capable of identifying extremely faint acoustic noises emitted by leaks before they become detectable by conventional methods. This early detection capability enables utilities to prioritize repair based on actual need and effective allocation of repair crews.
Our LeakFinder-ST correlator is a result of extensive research and input from global leak detection experts on the user interface and design of equipment to meet the needs of end users. LeakFinder-ST correlator introduces a completely new level of speed and accuracy in locating leaks with a wide range of materials such as plastic, pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe, asbestos cement pipe, cast iron, and steel pipe. It’s compact and easy for utility crews to operate, making it ideal for remote and hard to reach pipeline sections.
Could you cite a case study to showcase your innovative solutions?
When we first engage with utility clients, we try to determine their major pain points and challenges, and then we provide targeted solutions that best fit those needs. One of our clients, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), in Maryland was replacing their water mains at a rate of 1 percent per year, or about 55 miles of aging pipes at a cost in excess of $100 million per year. They were using a decay model for asset management (AM), which forecasts pipe conditions out to 30 years based on mathematical decay curves computed from variables such as asset type, maintenance and break history, construction year, and fire flow results. But, AM decay models can be problematic because you can’t actually see the pipe for yourself and industry estimates on pipe life are a guesstimate.
So, they brought us in to compare our findings using our condition assessment technology to get an actual assessment of the remaining structural strength of the pipe. Our results indicated that a majority . of their pipes were in much better condition than they thought and not in need of replacement. The advantage of our condition assessment approach is that it is non-intrusive, non-disruptive and provides an accurate assessment of overall pipe condition. These qualities can have dramatic impacts on a water utility’s CapEx planning and OpEx performance.
What does the future hold for Echologics?
Mueller Water Products is making smart water solutions easily accessible to all utilities. As the largest supplier of fire hydrants in the U.S., we have incorporated our acoustic sensors into hydrant caps, enabling utilities to easily upgrade to an affordable permanent leak detection solution. Echologics technology is also incorporated into the new “smarter hydrant,” that provides permanent leak detection and pressure monitoring in addition to 24/7 fire protection.
We are also concentrating on expanding into international markets, particularly in South East Asia and Europe. We have several initiatives aimed at enhancing and broadening our technology offering to help clients overcome their water infrastructure challenges.
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