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Media Centre Latest News Pioneering drones used to survey Welsh Water assets

Pioneering drones used to survey Welsh Water assets

08/11/2016
  • Drones used to survey remote and difficult to reach assets such as outfalls and river crossings
  • Pilot project with University of South Wales proved successful
  • Reduces Health and Safety risks and cuts cost to the benefit of customers

They are used by the military, documentary film makers and the news – and they might soon even be delivering your parcels. Now Welsh Water has followed suit and has begun using drones to help monitor and inspect assets.

A successful pilot project has been completed in partnership with the University of South Wales to use drones to survey assets on four of Welsh Water’s sites, including a Wastewater Treatment Works and Pumping Station in Cardiff, a Combined Sewer Overflow Outfall and a River Crossing.

The technology, currently operated by the University of South Wales on behalf of Welsh Water, is being used for the first time to allow the not-for-profit company to inspect the condition of assets that are often expensive and hazardous to reach through regular means.

Welsh Water currently contributes around £1 billion a year to the Welsh economy and the company has invested almost £9 million in science and innovation projects over the past 12 months, that will help improve services for customers, protect the environment and lower bills.

The drone project, which has been driven by Welsh Water’s Innovation forum, brings health and safety benefits as well as cost and time savings.

Andrew Bowen, Head of Wastewater Assets said: “ This is the first time we’ve used drones and we’ve established that they are very useful at providing us with evidence of how our assets are performing, as well as allowing us to view complex and vast areas such as coastlines.

“We’ve used the drones to carry out inspection surveys on critical assets such as outfalls and sewer crossings to help spot signs of failing components, joints, pipework and beams. This helps to avoid the use of costly scaffolding and provides a safer alternative to manually accessing structures. As well as bringing health and safety benefits, the use of drones brings a quicker and more efficient solution to inspecting our assets, which in the long term helps us to provide a better service for customers at a lower price.”

The pilot project has highlighted the quality of drone footage and demonstrated the potential to reach assets previously inaccessible or where cost or health and safety hazards would have prevented inspection being undertaken.

The idea to use the drones for monitoring purposes was first proposed by Welsh Water colleagues and the idea won an award in the ‘ideas’ category at last year’s Institute of Water Wales Awards.

Welsh Water now aims to continue to use the drones to monitor similar assets across their operating area.

Professor Steve Thomas, of USW’s Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Science, said: “We were delighted to continue our long-standing association with Welsh Water through this collaboration.

“The team at Welsh Water originally attended one of our ongoing courses - Owning and Operating a Drone – but discovered, as do many of those who attend, that flying a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is much more complicated than anticipated.

“So we were happy to offer our expertise, providing the drones and skilled pilots to support Welsh Water’s work.”