Pressure is on for leak detectors

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Engineers from Sheffield University are looking for an industrial partner to produce a commercial version of a prototype leak detection system that can pinpoint damaged pipes.

Between 20 and 40 per cent of Britain’s water supplies can be lost through damaged pipes, according to water industry regulator Ofwat.

In the past, the best way of detecting leaks was to listen for pressurised water escaping from a pipe, using sensitive microphones – a time-consuming system that is prone to errors.

Now, a team from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, led by Professor Stephen Beck, has come up with a system that sends a pressure wave down a pipe and detects any anomalies when the wave is reflected back.

Tests on a prototype, developed by the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering and Yorkshire Water, showed it could detect leaks in cast iron pipes to within a metre and in plastic pipes to within 20cm. Dr James Shucksmith, from the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, said: “We are able to identify the location of leaks much more accurately and rapidly than existing systems, meaning water companies will be able to save both time and money in carrying out repairs.

“The system has delivered some very promising results at Yorkshire Water. We hope now to find an industrial partner to develop the device to the point where it can be manufactured commercially.”

Dr Allyson Seth, networks analytics manager at Yorkshire Water, added: “Driving down leakage on our 31,000 km network of water pipes is a high priority for us.

“Over the last 12 months alone, we’ve targeted leakage reduction and as a result we’re currently recording our lowest ever levels of leakage. But we want to do more, which is why, in addition to the existing technologies we use, we’re looking at new ways to help us to reduce leakage.”