North West water engineers are in talks with experts working on behalf of NASA to help inject a bit of ‘rocket science’ into the way they maintain the region’s treatment works.

The fact that mankind has sent so many people safely into orbit proves that the space agency is out of this world when it comes to maintaining its equipment.

Now United Utilities is hoping some of the same star dust will give them the edge when it comes to looking after the vast array of mechanical and electrical kit it uses to supply the North West.

Seven million people from Carlisle to Crewe rely on United Utilities for drinking water and sewage disposal every day.

It’s a job which involves more than 670 treatment works and literally hundreds of thousands of vital assets which need regular inspection and maintenance.

It’s all part of a new project the water company is carrying out to make sure its maintenance regime is best in class.

As well as experts working on behalf of NASA’s Langley programme, United Utilities specialists are interviewing other world-beating companies, plus celebrated specialists like Ramesh Gulati who wrote the ‘bible’ of maintenance & reliability best practices.

“We are really good at keeping our equipment running but we want to be up there with the best. We owe it to our customers,” said United Utilities head of work management Tony Denny.

 “Langley is NASA’s original field centre and has overseen the development of some of the most game-changing breakthroughs in mankind’s modern history. That’s why the award-winning NASA Langley team was one of the organisations that we wanted to speak to. For them, failure is not an option.

“The team went through some similar challenges a number of years ago on their journey towards maintenance excellence, which saw them win UPTIME magazine Best Reliability Program of the Year award in 2017. We got to talk to a programme manager for NASA’s services provider Jacobs, who helped the Langley site win the award.”

Head of Maintenance Phil White said the large transformation programme would eventually involve ten areas of maintenance best practice and 600 engineers and would incorporate the use of innovative digital technologies to monitor and analyse asset health.

“Becoming one of the best organisations in the UK for maintenance and reliability means finding out how the world’s most successful organisations can predict breakdowns and take steps to prevent them from happening. It might mean we do more regular non-invasive inspections or we get generally smarter about how we use equipment, running it more efficiently, or in a different way, so that we don’t look after each asset in isolation but consider everything as a whole so we can reduce the strain and improve our asset health,” he said.

For Tony, talking to the biggest names in the field was unlike any other day at the office.

“It is quite an experience. When you get the opportunity to speak to people working at NASA and experts like Ramesh, ultimately you are going right up there to the pinnacle of achievement to pick their brains and put our services in a much better position so there are fewer breakdowns and less time when things are out of service,” he said.

United Utilities’ maintenance excellence programme has been developed in collaboration with Jacobs in the United States, who are experts in assessing maintenance regimes.

The company’s first foray into new ideas will be piloted in Manchester and the Pennines, where colleagues are being re-equipped and re-trained in new proactive maintenance processes starting in December.