Innovative technology, which does for water pipes what fitness tracker wristbands have done for people, could spot water bursts before they happen.

The Critical Infrastructure Pipeline Protection System® (CIPPS®) dynamically tracks pipeline deterioration, using data from sensors strapped to the outside of water pipes, to work out how ‘healthy’ a pipe is. It does this by monitoring the expansion and contraction of a pipe in real-time.

Pioneered in the North West by Datatecnics, in conjunction with water firm, United Utilities, results from early trials in Lancashire and Liverpool are already attracting industry interest.

Steve Quarmby, of United Utilities, said the tech was the latest breakthrough in the company’s drive to create ‘smart’ networks using tools, like Internet of Things and AI, in ever more inventive ways.

“United Utilities has tens of thousands of miles of underground pipes made from a mix of materials that have been used over the years, from cast iron used by the Victorians to the plastic that’s common today,” said Steve.

“When they burst they cause inconvenience and disruption to our customers. When you put water under pressure in any pipe, it’s the pressure itself that can cause the damage. It makes pipes swell and contract. These stresses and strains over decades weaken the pipe and it’s the classic cause of failure.

“Datatecnics’ uses a set of tiny permanent sensors which are strapped to a pipe to deduce how it’s flexing in real time. By interpreting the data we get insight into whether it’s becoming brittle and how long it has got until it needs to be replaced. When we’re prioritising our pipes for maintenance and repair, it’s very important we know we’re spending our time and resources in exactly the right place,” he added.

Suhayl Zulfiquar, Chief Executive of Datatecnics, noted how big a step forward this achievement was not just for Datatecnics but for the water sector. He said: “Really, what we’ve achieved here, with the support of United Utilities, is as much about cultural innovation as it is technological. Datatecnics is transforming the visibility that water companies have on the most complex system that they manage – their pipelines.

“In doing this, we’re helping water companies predictively manage their assets.”

Manchester-based Datatecnics is one of a number of new, or new-to-the-water industry, companies whose pioneering potential was spotted by United Utilities and incubated in its respected Innovation Lab. Previous Lab technologies have won awards.

The three plastic pipes, of various ages and burst histories, being used in the Datatecnics trial are the first fully digitised pipes in the world.

The greatest value from the technology is most likely to come from monitoring mains of critical or strategic importance where CIPPS® can enhance the resilience of the water supply.

Datatecnics is working on developing new models which will allow asset management teams and operational staff to not only forecast failure on pipelines where CIPPS® is installed, but to make much more accurate assessments of the wider networks healthiness.