Finding leaky ducts with the Internet of Things

Finding leaking water pipes with IoT: A noise logger measures acoustic signals along water pipes in Puglia, Italy. © DTAG/Gutermann; montage Evelyn Ebert Meneses.

  • Precise leak detection via acoustic profiles
  • Deep penetration from ducts thanks to NB-IoT
  • Solution reduces water losses and supports supply reliability

Gutermann, a Swiss specialist in leak detection, and Deutsche Telekom are networking water supply infrastructures. The solution identifies leaks using acoustic signals – early, precisely and with minimal installation effort. Data is transmitted from the pipe shafts via the NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) machine and sensor network, which is particularly suitable thanks to its deep penetration.

Intelligent networking for water pipe networks

Water is becoming an increasingly valuable resource. But public water supply pipelines are experiencing high losses worldwide. According to data from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety from 2020, these amount to up to ten percent in the German drinking water supply network alone. Causes include leaks due to material fatigue or bursting due to pipeline pressure. It is essential to locate the leakage points precisely, repair the damage quickly and keep water leakage to a minimum.

Acoustic leak detection by Gutermann in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom helps to quickly detect and precisely locate leaks in the pipes. For this purpose, Gutermann installs so-called noise loggers in the pipe networks at regular intervals. At the same time each year, the robust devices measure noises in their environment and send the noise profiles to the cloud. An analysis software automatically filters out ambient noise that only individual sensors show. The noise profiles of the devices are then compared with each other. If there is a leak, the noise profiles of adjacent sensors are identical.
Deep penetration is required for such radio networking of loggers in underground pipe shafts. The energy-efficient NB-IoT mobile radio standard reliably sends the acoustic data to the cloud. A radio module including a Telekom SIM card is integrated into the loggers for this purpose. The loggers adhere magnetically to the metal pipes or are mounted on shut-off valves. Additional devices such as an above-ground signal amplifier are not necessary. For the leakage specialists and their public water supply customers, this means minimal installation effort without bureaucratic hurdles: They do not need permits for mounting additional devices on lampposts or other infrastructure.

International and economical: can be used worldwide thanks to NB-IoT.

“Thanks to NarrowBand IoT, which is available in more and more country networks of Telekom and its partners, our solution can be used worldwide,” says Gutermann CEO Uri Gutermann. “Telekom supports us not only with the infrastructure, but also with permanent contacts who advise us on international projects. This is enormously important for us as a small but global player that is active in over 100 countries. Because we can’t build relationships with local telecom providers in all these countries.” Other benefits of the NB-IoT solution: “The cost per measuring point has dropped; we only need one device, no more repeaters, and we don’t have any installation costs. This has made it much more economical to roll out our solution on a large scale.”

“Networking water pipe networks for acoustic leak detection shows the full potential of NarrowBand IoT. No other standard would allow such reliable penetration from underground manholes,” said Dennis Nikles, Managing Director of Deutsche Telekom IoT GmbH. “In times of climate change, the application thus makes an important contribution to greater sustainability in water management and to the security of supply of clean drinking water for cities and communities.”

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