Leaking pipes and sewers might soon be a thing of the past, thanks to innovative new technology that can detect the slightest crack or defect. Electro Scan CEO Chuck Hansen shows off his tri-electrode probes and explains the advantages of Electro Scan’s technology over traditional CCTV methods.
The New Economy: Electro Scan is said to be 3-5 times better at detecting leaks than CCTV, which is traditionally used. This is quite a statement. How does it work exactly?
Chuck Hansen: TVU can find defects, you can look at cave-ins, you can see protruding taps, you can see alignment problems, but what you cannot see with television inspection are leaks. Unless you’re right there when water is coming out through a crack, through a joint, through a fissure, you’ll never see where leaks are. And that’s the great thing about Electro Scan, we find every defect, every leak in the pipe.
We find every defect, every leak in the pipe
The New Economy: Well this might be a stupid question, but why are leaks bad in sewers?
Chuck Hansen: Number one, you don’t want it leaking out into the domestic drinking water. But more importantly, and I think being here in England with water companies and AMP6 that’s coming out, when it rains, if you’ve got all of these cracks in sewers, the water will just percolate down into the pipe. What happens is, rainwater really should just go back into the rivers and the streams, and out into the ocean. But if it gets into the sewer pipes, what happens is you’ve got to build larger and larger, spending billions of dollars and pounds on treatments plants, to build those at the end. So it’s very expensive. So looking at the treatment and transportation costs of every litre, of every gallon of water going in the sewer, is very critical right now.
The New Economy: Well you’ve brought two of these devices here, these are actually what goes into the sewers?
Chuck Hansen: Yes. So if you take a look at the larger probe, this will be for pipes anywhere from 250mm, or eight inches, all the way up to two metres. And it’s quite interesting, there’s not a lot of moving parts, but inside we’ve got customised proprietary boards. This is what’s known as a tri-electrode array, so we’ll have electrodes coming out of the back end, electrodes coming out of the front end, and what they do is they’re sacrificial and so they create a tightly bound electrode around the middle that will interrogate the pipe. It will go up against the wall of the pipe all the way down. The critical element that we have, that TV doesn’t have, is we require this to be surrounded by water. By water surrounding the probe, what happens is the electricity then can conduct to the wall of the pipe and detailed inspection can happen all around the pipe.
It’s automated, there’s no visual interpretation, so the consistency is just fantastic
The New Economy: Well as a very successful entrepreneur – you sold your last business in 2007 for a reported $100m – what made you believe in the Electro Scan concept so much to become the major stakeholder?
Chuck Hansen: I first heard of the technology about 10 years ago and it looked like it had promise, but no one had really taken it up, it looked like there were some deficiencies. And what I saw was a potential for being a really disruptive technology. We’ve done the same techniques to do the condition assessments of sewers for so long before. With this technology it was so unique, and it was an automated approach, not a visual approach. I knew that if I could put the team together, have the dollars, it could really take off.
The New Economy: So compared to CCTV, what are the advantages?
Chuck Hansen: You can take a look at it: there’s no moving parts. So all the things that can go wrong with the CCTV camera generally do go wrong. The second thing is, it’s automated. There’s no visual interpretation, like you do when you look at a picture, it’s always in the eye of the beholder. When you have two people looking at the same video, sometimes, they see different things. This has consistent results, we’ve had tests, that the US EPA has done, testing a pipe one day, sixty days later coming back, the exact same readings. So the consistency is just fantastic. But the most important thing that this device does that CCTV doesn’t, is it produces the holy grail of the sewer business: it will actually calculate the gallons per minute, or the litres per second, of how large each individual crack or leak is in the pipe.
Electro Scan will calculate the litres per second of each individual crack or leak
The New Economy: This is quite a change from CCTV in terms of technology, so how easy will it be for clients to adapt to?
Chuck Hansen: One of the things that I think was missing before was, in earlier versions of the products we had seen, it wasn’t a very familiar process to the workers. So we actually looked at a TV truck and we asked the question, how could we adapt the technology and actually put it inside of a TV truck? And if we take a look at the bottom of this, we see this cable at the very end. If there was a TV camera that was sitting side by side, we would literally unplug the TV camera and plug it directly into ours. So we wanted to make it very familiar. So within five minutes, a team that has been televising using cameras can change out, plug and play, and be electroscanning.
The New Economy: Finally, no pun intended, what’s in the pipeline for the future?
Chuck Hansen: You know, we’ve been expanding sizes, so we’re going to be handling all the sizes for sewer. But another huge market is of course water pipes. Now, in water, water’s a clean water and those pipes generally are under pressure, so having leaks there, it’s kind of the reverse. So we have these large treatment plants producing water and it’s not uncommon, even in developed countries, to lose 30 percent of the water going out to the distribution system and to the homes. So we’re adapting the technology a bit, changing up the software, so our probes can go inside. We’ve already done our first successful trial. We’re also preparing for our largest trade show, which is coming up in May, that’s going to be the IFAT show, May 5-9, in Munich, Germany. So a lot of great things on the horizon for us.
The New Economy: Chuck, thank you.
Chuck Hansen: Thanks.