Transferring Minimal Excavation Technology to the Water Industry

March 21, 2022 Categories: Latest News

Applying technologies for safe and efficient pipeline excavations to ensure a leak-free future

WRc is delighted to announce the finalisation of an important project commissioned by United Kingdom Water Industry Research (UKWIR) to identify and transfer minimal excavation technology to the water industry. Outcomes delivered by this project will facilitate the advancement of current water industry approaches in order to meet UKWIR’s ‘Big Questions’, specifically BQ2 Zero Leakage by 2050 and BQ3 Zero Interruptions by 2050. The unique nature of this work, in transforming how the water industry interacts with supply chains, paves the way for a new approach to a leak-free future.

Delivering the water industry’s leakage ambitions to safeguard future supply-demand balance is a key commitment for the water industry. Safely and efficiently repairing leaks and the associated excavation activities are a key part of the challenge of reducing leakage, however current processes for excavating buried pipes are, slow, disruptive, labour-intensive and can lead to unintentional damage to neighbouring assets.

Performing global literature reviews and expert interviews, the project considered all aspects from pre-excavation asset location through to reinstatement, to identify current and developing technologies for minimal excavation. An industry-wide workshop clarified critical issues to ensure widespread adoption of these technologies.

These outcomes, together with the expertise of the WRc, SGN and the water company representatives of the Project Steering Group, enabled development of a functional specification promoted by the water industry as the main guidance for defining the requirements for the application of this technology.

A clear route map has been set out to overcome the associated challenges, adopt new processes, and meet challenging leakage targets while also reducing disruption to customers. Key identified future projects include improvement of pipe location accuracy and repair methods, as well as the potential for, and guidance of, robotic roadworks and excavation.

Jeremy Heath, UKWIR Programme Lead, comments “‘The leakage innovation heatmap, completed just before lockdown, clearly demonstrated that there was a lack of research and development into repair solutions. The swift repair of leaking water pipes is a key requirement in reducing leakage, and therefore as an industry we have refocused our attentions into this neglected area. This report is an important milestone in surveying useful repair techniques used by other utilities which we can look to adapt and adopt.  The UK Water Industry is rising to meet the challenging leakage reduction targets we have set ourselves, and it is only through wide ranging research and innovation projects, such as this one, that we will be able to successfully implement sustainable and cost-effective water leakage reduction.’

Jo Parker, Project Manager for UKWIR, comments “I am really excited to share a project that worked closely with the supply chain to deliver a clear route map to make excavations more efficient.”

Leo Carswell, WRc Project Lead, comments “This project really sets the foundations for change and the collaboration with the gas sector via SGN provided a vision for what is possible.”

Considered evaluation and the provision of accurate and relevant technical information delivered by this project enables efficient transfer and application of minimal excavation technology for leak repairs. In order to achieve challenging targets, this project encourages active engagement by the water industry to maintain collaboration and remove future barriers to ensure significant long-term benefits of innovative technologies.

Setting this project apart is the opportunity it provides for future progression of leakage strategy. It not only provides technical guidance but encourages continued communication with supply chains through events and workshops to keep the conversation going.

Those lucky enough to secure attendance at the Annual Leakage Conference on Thursday 17th March can hear project details first-hand from Jo Parker and Leo Carswell. Also lined up are the UKSTT online workshop on 30th June and the seminar at No Dig Live on 14th September, which will promote collaboration and outline future steps to ensure delivery of UKWIR’s zero leakage roadmap.

A report of the project will be available soon from UKWIR. For project enquiries or to get involved in the solution for a leak free future, please contact Leo Carswell at WRc (

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