City workers might always seem to be repairing or replacing underground utility lines, and it is never convenient. Traditional repair work requires trenches and road closures to ensure public safety. Businesses and homes may be without service for several hours so that maintenance crews can safely make the necessary repairs.

With the use of robotic pipeline repair methods, however, there are no trenches and road closures. In fact, some of these robots are designed to go into areas humans can't access. (Read also: Understanding the Differences Between Pigging and Robotic Pipeline Inspection.)

What is Robotic Pipeline Repair?

Traditional pipeline repair requires a technician to go into the pipe to identify damaged areas. After diagnosing the problems, the maintenance crew repairs or replaces the line of pipe. For older sewage lines, sending someone in is not an issue. These lines are large enough to accommodate an adult, but not all pipelines have a diameter large enough to accommodate someone physically entering the line.

To accomplish inspections of pipes too small for a human to fit through, technicians use robots with cameras attached. Technicians operate them from above ground and watch the live feed on their closed circuit television (CCTV) to see where the pipes are damaged and where they will need to make repairs.

Certain types of pipe crawling bots are also able to make the necessary repairs immediately. The bots can patch and seal cracks in the line without technicians having to dig up the pipe in question to do the repairs themselves. Using the robot to repair the line saves time and money as it does not have to be excavated. In some situations, the robots can complete their work without taking the pipeline out of commission to make repairs.

Robotic pipeline repair requires a wireless robot designed to crawl through substances such as water, waste, and gas. The robot has a control module that allows the operator to monitor and manipulate the robot from the surface.

The robots use sensors to send readings from within the pipeline that records the pipe wall's integrity and thickness. The information helps the operators to know if the line is salvageable or needs to be replaced. Repairs are made using a rotating nozzle that applies sealant from any angle. (Test yourself: Quiz: All About Robotic Crawlers.)

Types of Pipelines Repaired by Robotics

Robotic pipeline repair can be used in almost any type of pipe. Commonly, technicians focus on utilities such as gas, water, and sewage.

Gas Transmission

Gas transmission lines are difficult to repair due to the gas that flows through them. If the pipe is easy to access, generally, they are fixed with welding on the outside. Pipelines that are not easily accessible have to be taken out of service and trenched for technicians to make repairs.

With robotic repair services, the line doesn't have to be out of service for it to be fixed. The bots crawl the lines allowing the technicians to see an issue and inject the sealant into the cracks. Previous versions of robotics were larger and effective at doing their job. Newer models being developed in England are much smaller and crawl the lines like an insect.

Water

Old water pipes are a pressing issue for most municipalities. A leak in a water line can waste thousands of gallons of water each year. It also allows contamination into the flow. For issues of public health and safety, it is crucial to ensure leaks are sealed.

To fix these pipes, experts place the robot into the water line and allow them to assess the damage. Using the camera mounted on the robot's "head", they can determine what tools are necessary to fix the issue. Once they know what needs to be done, they remove the robot and equip it with the necessary devices. The robot then reenters the line and makes repairs.

Sewage

Like water and gas, robotic pipe repair is common in sewage lines. Older municipal sewage lines are made from cast iron, which does last decades without fail. Despite being heavy-duty and perfect for long term projects such as city waste management, cast iron can still crack and leak if not properly maintained. (Read also: Trenchless Sewer Repair and Cleaning 101.)

Like with water and gas lines, there is no reason to take the sewage line out of service. Robots used in sewer line repair add sealants to cracks and help cities determine any infiltration from roots and tuberculation.

If tuberculation is growing in the sewer line, robots can help clean and remove the obstructions. Water jetting robots help to remove tree roots, grease, and fat. It also helps to remove scaling and mineral deposits.

Benefits of Robotic Pipeline Repair

Robotic pipeline repair can save hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of water each year. It can also stop hazardous gas and oil leaks from damaging the surrounding areas. The use of robots saves time and makes it simpler to fix damaged pipes. These devices require access to fewer resources to make the repairs.

Using robots is safer than requiring construction crews to dig trenches. It also keeps them out of hazardous material that may be found in some pipelines.

Robotics are continually being updated to make pipeline repair more effortless and more efficient. Repairing water, sewer, and gas lines with robots is an option that allows technicians to maintain extensive lengths of the pipe without having to dig it up or come into contact with hazardous substances.