The United Kingdom Water Industry Research (UKWIR) recently launched its first Challenge, Detecting the build-up of blockages in complex fluid networks. This $15,000 Ideation Challenge is seeking innovative solutions to stop blockages on the networks which can result in spillages from sewers that lead to troublesome property flooding and to contamination of waterways. We recently spoke with Steve Whipp, Project Manager at UKWIR, about the Challenge.
Hello Steve, thanks very much for speaking with us. For those not familiar with UKWIR, can you tell us a bit about your work?
UKWIR was set up by the UK water industry in 1993 to provide a framework for the procurement of a common research program for UK water operators on 'one voice' issues. UKWIR's members comprise 21 water and sewerage undertakers in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
What are your key objectives for this Challenge? Can you tell us more about the problems you’re addressing and the goals you’ve set for this Competition?
Sewerage networks were built starting over 100 years ago and have served us well. In the UK there are over 500,000 kilometers of pipes. Periodically we experience blockages on the network which can be due to a number of reasons. For example silt or fat deposits can build up and these cause the pipes to become partially or totally blocked. So next time it rains we can see flooding because the system is blocked. What we want to do is develop a system that can detect when blockages are starting to build up and then we can send in crews to make sure they are kept clear.
What was your primary motivation for crowdsourcing this Challenge to InnoCentive’s Solvers (as opposed to using more “traditional” means to solicit ideas and solutions)?
The UKWIR program group considers this as a key strategic challenge that has to be addressed. We typically work with consultants, suppliers and universities to carry out work but we’re not seeing new ideas that will address the problem. So we’ve decided to see whether an open innovation approach can provide some fresh thinking and suggest some new ideas that will lead to a solution.
What are some of the key attributes you’d like to see in a winning solution?
The main features of a solution would be that it can provide alarms to an operations center to advise when blockages are occurring. It will be a monitor that can be installed on existing networks probably at manholes. It should be able to reliably and accurately detect when blockages have built up to 50% of the pipe diameter. The system will be robust and capable of operating in sewer conditions and will be self-powered and capable of communicating into SCADA systems. Ideally the system will need little maintenance and should provide a cost effective solution to enable real time on-line monitoring.
Thank you for your time, Steve. Any final advice to Solvers as they tackle this exciting Challenge?
Just to say if you think you have something we should look at but are not sure about putting it forward please do so – we’d love to hear from you about your idea. There could be a massive market for any system and it’s all about providing excellent customer service in pre-empting problems before they occur.