Detroit Pilot Combines Smart Infrastructure Sensors and Lining Technologies, Monitors Water Pipelines

Researchers at the University of Michigan are working with the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) and Structural Technologies – an engineering firm – on a pilot project in Detroit that combines smart infrastructure sensors and innovative lining technologies to maintain and monitor water pipelines. Their goal is to strengthen the structural integrity of the pipelines and have the ability to alert the utility of line ruptures.

“Our research focuses on finding cost effective ways to identify when aging infrastructure systems are showing signs of breakdown,” said Jerome Lynch, chair of U-M’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems Technology. “If we can do that successfully, we’re able to identify distress before failure occurs. That way, the data can lead us to more cost effective intervention strategies.”

GLWA installed a liner made of both steel reinforced polymer and mortar composites inside a block-long section of pipeline. The liner, created by Structural Technologies, is expected to add additional structural capacity and increase pipeline durability.

GLWA also installed sensors that measure three factors:

  • Strain – which allows researchers to track the structural behavior of the pipe, leading to identification of damage or distress;
  • Water pressure – to provide an understanding of the actual water load on the pipe; and,
  • Temperature – as structures often physically react to temperature change.

Water main breaks are both costly and inconvenient. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the U.S. annually sees 240,000 breaks, wasting more than 2 trillion gallons of treated drinking water. Line replacement is a major project for any city due to service interruptions, traffic problems caused by construction work, and the expense. Identifying problem areas is a key factor in mitigating this replacement process.

“GLWA is committed to innovation at all levels of the organization to ensure system reliability,” said John Norton, GLWA’s director of energy, research and innovation. “Pilots like this with the University of Michigan help us as we work to understand and address potential failures in our water distribution system before they occur. Our overarching goal is to understand and improve our ability to select the proper technologies so we can maintain, and even improve, the level of service we provide to the people we serve in southeast Michigan.”