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UTA team brings robotic main inspections to Ennis

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office: 817-272-7075, Cell: 214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

News Topics: engineering, research, sustainability

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A collaboration between UTA and the city of Arlington using an underground robot to view sewer mains has now spread to a neighboring city.

Use of the robotic system in Ennis could signal signs of commercialization of the system.

Arlington, UTA project in Ennis

Workers help inspect Ennis' sewer pipes with the help of a robot in a UTA-city of Arlington collaboration.

An Arlington Water Utilities and University of Texas at Arlington team recently used robotic technology to give Ennis city officials an eye-opening look at their sewer system. Public Water Solutions, a Texas-based utility resource provider, coordinated the examination of Ennis’ critical underground assets. The results will provide community leaders the ability to prioritize millions of dollars of future infrastructure spending. 

Ennis City Manager R. Scott Dixon says his community is facing a tremendous backlog of sewer line improvements totaling tens of millions of dollars and resources for expensive replacements are limited. Like other public utilities, increased spending by Ennis would result in increases in water and sewer rates. Arlington’s team is now preparing a full assessment on a section of sewer main that carries most of Ennis’ sanitary sewer flow.

“It is our hope that the outcome of this project will help the city to minimize the amount of investment required to prevent a major failure on one of its primary sanitary sewer lines,” Dixon says. “If we are able to reduce the number of linear feet of the line that has to be replaced and identify areas where failure is imminent, we can better allocate our funding and address other equally high priority lines elsewhere in the system.”

Since October 2016, Arlington has been using the MSI HD Profiler, a multi-sensor robot that gathers information using a high definition camera, lasers and sonar, to examine large diameter sanitary sewer mains 24 to 72 inches in diameter under an exclusive agreement with the equipment supplier.

The program is a partnership with the UTA Department of Civil Engineering. Data from the MSI HD Profiler and another smaller robot helps UTA and Arlington Water pinpoint areas for further structural evaluation, repair or possible replacement. More than 150,000 feet of Arlington sanitary sewer main have been inspected since the inspection program began.

UTA President Vistasp Karbhari said the Ennis project – more than 50 miles away – signals the beginning for this technology and others being developed at the University.

“The maintenance of sewer lines can cost cities millions of dollars in taxpayer funds,” said Dr. Karbhari. “This technology is an example of how our faculty demands excellence and research that can be impactful to the communities we serve and those around the world.”

Ali Abolmaali, chair of the UTA Department of Civil Engineering said he believes this kind of technology could be used nationwide.

“UTA and Arlington Water were able to cut the costs of the evaluations for Arlington residents and now Ennis residents by establishing this unique partnership to use the MSI HD Profiler and performing the work with in-house crews,” said Abolmaali, who also is the Dr. Tseng Huang Endowed Professor in civil engineering. “The project has already gained national attention – with the American Society of Civil Engineers naming the project a ‘Game Changer’ in the area of public infrastructure in 2016.”

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams recognized how the technology has benefited Arlington and its residents.

“The partnership with The University of Texas at Arlington has created many valuable opportunities over the years that have benefitted our residents and business community,” Mayor Williams said. “The sanitary sewer inspections and infrastructure research being done with these multi-sensor robots are just the latest examples of how Arlington and UTA are tapping innovative technology to make a real difference.”

-- The City of Arlington contributed to this article.