A research partnership between Scottish Water, the University of Strathclyde, and CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensors and Imaging Systems, could lead to a breakthrough in how utilities monitor their assets.

The University is collaborating with Scottish Water to develop a software solution which will help utilities identify signals generated from assets which could indicate potential breakdown events.

Current comparable software either monitors assets and raises an alarm when a fault occurs in one or more of these, or provides generalised estimates of expected failures without taking into account the full effect of combining the available data streams. This means that users can normally respond only after machines have stopped working, which results in maintenance work having to be reactive. This can place pressure on resources, decrease efficiency and result in a reliance on backup equipment. 

In this project, the software will monitor data produced by several types of water infrastructure assets and meters, including but not limited to temperature, flow, and pressure levels, in order to detect any precursor signals which indicate that maintenance work should be considered.

Scottish Water says the technology will help the publicly-owned company to better serve its customers, realise efficiencies in how it delivers the service, be more proactive in its maintenance, and ensure that plant and equipment is meeting suppliers’ performance specifications. Robert White, Water Operations North Team Manager at Scottish Water, said: “Prevention is always better than cure, and this piece of technology is going to act as an early warning system for potentially tens of thousands of our assets across the country.

“Planned repairs are normally significantly cheaper than replacements of the equivalent machine. We operate and monitor a large number of diverse water and wastewater assets across Scotland, a considerable number of which are in remote locations, underlining the scale of our operation and the challenges we face in maintaining all of these assets. This software has the potential to make proactive maintenance a much easier task. We will be in a position to schedule maintenance for when and where it is really needed, which will minimise asset downtime. We can then plan our resources more effectively. At the same time, we’ll be able to monitor the performance of all our assets to ensure each operates to their specifications.”

To develop the software, Scottish Water will work with the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Intelligent Dynamic Communications (CIDCOM), Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, which has a strong background in data learning.

Dr Alison Cleary, a senior researcher in the Strathclyde group, said the technology could be spun out to other utilities and a wide variety of other sectors. The potential commercialisation of the software will also be explored as part of the project. Dr Cleary said: “This is an exciting project for us which combines a hands-on approach with academic skills in data analysis. The initiative could have a much wider application than monitoring water pumps. It could be used by other utilities to monitor the data produced by generators and a variety of other types of devices. The software could be used by almost any business that uses a large number of machines which require maintenance. This is an exciting project that could lead to significant efficiencies and savings for businesses in many sectors.”

CENSIS contributed £50,000 of funding towards the project, which will begin at the end of September. Its chief executive, Ian Reid, said the initiative demonstrated what could be achieved when the expertise of academia and businesses were combined.

Ian said: “This project between Scottish Water and the University of Strathclyde is a great example how the business and academic worlds can come together to the benefit of all. While this project is expected to have a benefit in the short term to an organisation which has an important role to play in the Scottish economy, the results could have a much broader global impact. With potential widespread application, this could save a lot of time and money that would normally be spent on repairing machinery. We’re excited to see the results of this initiative and how it can be adapted to other uses.”