Leak detection is big business, writes HELEN COMPSON. Literally billions of pounds are draining out of the economy each year as a result of undetected leaks and the unnecessary replacement of pipelines, roof membranes and geosynthetics.

But when it comes to leak detection, one particular technology is so niche only a handful of companies in the world have mastered it.

Simon B Dobson CEng MIMechE MSc, managing director of one of them, Buckleys (UVRAL) Ltd, said: “In our experience, corrosion of steel or ductile iron pipes, caused by coating failure, is a key issue”.

According to NACE International, pipeline corrosion costs represent 3.1% of GDP for an industrial economy, and for the UK that figure is in excess of £70 billion, which, as Simon says, is “a staggering sum and a dreadful waste!”

Pit corrosion, often caused by nothing more than a pinhole in a coating, typically costs a disproportionate amount to repair, and if it isn’t done in time the result can be the catastrophic failure of a pipeline or other valuable asset.

Buckleys’ niche market is the detection of the tiniest of failings in pipe coatings, flat roofs, geosynthetics and geomembranes.

“Our instruments can detect and locate the tiniest of pinholes in the factory, on site at assembly, and crucially prior to burial,” he stated, exclaiming “Prevention is better than cure!

“But, yes, the area in which the use of Buckleys instruments and technology is growing most rapidly is in the field of geomembrane testing – our portable, high-voltage test equipment can test large areas effectively and efficiently to ensure that potential leak paths are located quickly and easily.”

Although originally focusing on flat-roof leak detection, Buckleys have developed electronic leak detection kits, not just for geo-membranes and reservoir linings, but for a myriad of other construction processes, including waterproofing systems used in car park construction, and even swimming pools.

Buckleys is a family business, founded in 1926 by the Buckley brothers to sell ultra-violet ray arc lamps, hence the UVRAL part of the company’s name.

Fifteen years later, the Hoveman family took over, and remain at the helm today. They moved the business base from Putney to Hythe, and then in 2010, to the Shearwater Business Park in Folkestone, Kent.

Simon said: “From those early days of producing ultra-violet equipment for water purification and photographic purposes, the business has evolved to produce a range of products based on our expertise in high- voltage equipment, such as non-destructive testing equipment for the plastics welding industry, and the high-voltage pinhole and leak detectors which are the core of our business today.

“Our range still includes high-voltage power supplies for ozone generation, so there is still some synergy with our roots.

“However, we have also specialised in corrosion protection and detection, with a range of underwater and underground electrodes, and the associated electrical and electronic products to support these activities, and advanced, low voltage leak detection equipment and techniques as well.”

The day Simon spoke to the Water Industry Journal, he had just signed a six-figure sum purchase order for a brand-new CNC lathe to allow Buckleys to produce bespoke machined components in-house to meet their exacting standards.

Ongoing investment in the best production technology available has enabled Buckleys, in turn, to provide the very best in detection capability to its customers. Needless to say, research and development are key to meeting the market’s needs and maintaining a competitive edge.

“We make world-class products, beginning with a high-end CAD system in our state-of-the-art machine shop, and some very skilled, long-serving staff,” he disclosed.

Buckleys first gained BS5750 accreditation, the precursor to the ISO 9000 quality standard, way back in 1991, long before it was de rigueur, and remains committed to the quality management system today.

“It is fundamental to the way we work to maintain our world-class standards,” Simon said. “We are also members of the British Standards Institute, and we recently joined the ASTM (American Society for the Testing of Materials).

“We are currently working with customers and industry colleagues towards creating a new standard for the electronic leak detection industry in the United States.”