Pipe restoration requires the existing pipe to be unearthed to correct any damage. This technique is a costly, time-consuming task. An alternative to traditional trenching is robotic pipe repair.

Throughout the country, large diameter cast iron pipes are the core construction material of pipelines. The benefit of using cast iron is it is not as susceptible to corrosion and fracturing. However, the joints connecting a series of pipes can leak over time. Some areas are replacing their cast iron gas pipes with plastic. However, robotic pipe repair almost eliminates this costly procedure.

With robotic pipe repair, workers use robotic tools to go through the line and monitor its condition. This advanced technique makes it easier for the repair of lines without the added expense of digging up pipes. The big advantage? Workers no longer must wait until the plumbing fails to determine the problem. Robots can enter currently in-use lines to make the inspections beforehand.

How Does Robotic Pipe Repair Work?

As the name implies, robotic pipe repair uses robots in the line. These small creatures roam the line until they find the leak. There is minimal soil disruption to place the unit in the pipe. However, gas does not have to be turned off, so there is no disruption to the surrounding customers either.

While these robots do not require a human to be in the pipe with them, they do require human interaction. A control pad moves the machine back and forth along the tube. When the robot reaches the leak, the operator controls the placement and the amount of sealant.

Other robots have sensors on them that help to determine the health of the pipe. These machines roll along the pipe and read the overall thickness of the walls looking for graphitic corrosion. The devices relay the measurements back to the operator. Gas companies then use the readings to determine the health of the pipe and if replacement is necessary.

What Technology Does Robotic Pipe Repair Replace?

Robotic pipe repair allows technicians to view and access the pipes without digging the pipe up entirely. Instead of deep trenches, the use of small openings allows insertion of the robot into the area. Water and gas lines do not have to be taken out of commission for the repair to take place.

The need for heavy construction equipment is not the only thing robotic repairs replace. While the machines do require a crew to operate them, they replace the need for a human crew to go into the line itself. The number of workers reduces from twenty or thirty to around four or five. There is no risk of life by going into a gas line. Additionally, the line does not have to go out of service for the repair.

Essentially, robotic pipe repair replaces traditional construction trenching for the exposing of the pipe, reduces the workforce needed and the risk of loss of life.

What Issues Are Solved Using Robotic Pipe Repair?

Robotic pipe repair allows construction workers to repair gas and water pipes without taking the line out of service. By sending in the machines, service providers seal seven or eight leaks in the same work day period that it would take a manned crew to complete two of the same repairs. By completing more work in a fraction of the time, municipalities using this technology see a decrease in their operation costs.

Leaks are only one of the many issues resolved by robotic pipe repair. Robots equipped with sensors tell operators the thickness of the tube wall and the overall flow rates through the line. Cameras on the robots allow workers to see the conditions of the lines to help determine which lines to replace before leaks occur. In many cases, robots contribute to maintaining the larger diameter cast iron pipes to keep them operational, and cities avoid the cost of replacements altogether.

Repairing leaks in natural gas and water lines are only two areas where robots work. In fact, robotic pipe repair is an essential part of oil companies’ pipeline maintenance. The technology, known as smart or intelligent pigs, monitor most lines. The sensors continually check the line for integrity and leaks. However, older lines, which are more fragile, were not designed for this type of monitoring. By employing specialized robots which can conform to the shape and diameter of these lines, technicians can prevent dangerous leaks. While these robots are expensive to operate, the costs are significantly less than having to clean up an oil spill.

What Technology Does Robotic Pipe Repair Use?

Each robot has a control module that allows an operator on the surface to monitor and control the device while it is in the tube. The radio response on the robot can vary, depending on the manufacturer, but most can go up to 3,000 feet away from the controller. Cameras allow operators to see where the robot is going and physical inspection of the pipe.

Robotic pipe repair utilizes sensors to take readings from within the tube. These readings indicate the wall thickness and integrity of the plumbing and tell the operator about soil conditions in the area. Data taken by sensors help utility workers determine if the cast iron pipe is salvageable or if it needs to be replaced by smaller diameter plastic lines.

Robots used to repair pipes have a rotating nozzle that allows them to apply sealant at any angle. Once the robot is in place, a servo rotates the nozzle and extrudes sealant directly to the crack. In the event the leak is from a hole instead of a crack, the nozzle flexibility covers the entire hole and surrounding area with sealant.