By Dan Pelton

When it comes to municipal affairs, infrastructure maintenance hardly qualifies as a sexy issue.

Such functions as sewer and water lines barely get a second thought until, of course, there’s a blockage or a pipe burst. Then all hell breaks loose.

Operating on the premise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, municipalities are increasingly deploying robot technology to inspect their pipe networks , and monitor potential problems like tree-root infiltration, seismic activity and wear and tear caused by age.

Among the purveyors of this technology is Inuktin Services Ltd. in Nanaimo, B.C.

Describing itself as the “Multi-Mission Modular robotics company,” Inuktun has developed IM3technology for the remote visual inspection and non-destructive testing of confined spaces and hazardous environments; wherein separate, yet interactive, modular components can be fitted together to build a robotic crawler, or inspection camera system, that is ideal for a specific task.

“Like any modular building set, the potential applications of such systems are limitless,” said Inuktin’s Priscilla Johnson. “(IM3technology) means significant time savings, cost efficiencies and risk mitigation for customers and end users.

“Plug-and-play equipment saves dollars and makes sense.”

The advantages of robotics are obvious. Inuktun’s IM3technology offering, for example, can traverse more than two kilometres of pipe in a single run.  It can be easily adapted for client-specific data collection with NDT tools and sensors that include sonar, laser profiling and chemical sensors.

Prep-free IM3technology

A notable and important aspect of IM3 is there is usually no cleaning and preparation required for the robots to navigate pipe that is often dirty, silty and containing various obstacles.

“Our crawler systems employ Microtracs and Minitracs tracked transporter modules that offer increased traction in particularly challenging municipal pipes,” explains Johnson.

Options for increased traction are also offered with the adaptation of an OnSpec custom solution. Inuktun’s Versatrax pipe inspection crawlers employ an adjustable chassis for varying pipe sizes, as well as a motorized camera apparatus that allows the vehicle to negotiate obstacles. Inuktun offers an optional manipulator arm that’s used to remove obstacles and can handle the deployment of other tools.

Like any technology that is relatively new on the scene, robotics can be a little intimidating to those unfamiliar with it. Yet high-tech is consistently becoming more user-friendly and these robotic inspection devices are no exception to the rule.

Inuktun’s plug-and-play camera and crawler systems require minimal operational training and produce data analysis that is easy to read. This robot technology has been successfully used in a number of municipalities, including Toronto.

Global Asset Management Engineering (GAME) successfully performed a remote visual pipe inspection of main transmission lines leading to and from a Toronto water pumping station.

With the help of an OnSite  Versatrax 150 crawler and Inuktun’s Spectrum 90 camera, GAME inspected century-old cast iron pipes –750 and 900 mm in diameter –and was able to discover silty substances on the pipe, as well as minor cracks in the cement mortar and joints.

In conclusion, maintaining municipal infrastructure pipes may not be as glamorous as, let’s say, a new community auditorium.  One thing for sure though, auditorium patrons will be grateful that technology such as Inuktin IM3 is ensuring they will be unimpeded when they go about their business at intermission.