Robots, artificial intelligence and sewer systems

UTA civil engineer leads projects with city of Coppell to inspect sewer pipelines

Thursday, May 14, 2020 • Herb Booth :

Ali Abolmaali, professor and chair of UTA’s Civil Engineering Department" _languageinserted="true

The University of Texas at Arlington and the city of Coppell in Dallas County are collaborating on robotic inspections of sewer pipelines and material testing of core samples from those pipelines to predict their service life.

Coupled with nonlinear finite element analysis and a developed machine learning algorithm, this project will lead to informed predictions of the remaining service life of the pipelines. The Energy-Dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, or electron microscope, analyzes chemical properties of the pipes that help predict their strength and service life.

Ali Abolmaali, professor and chair of UTA’s Civil Engineering Department, will lead the $895,100 project, which will inspect about 149,000 linear feet of sanitary sewer pipe.

Arash Emami Saleh and Maziar Mahdavi, two UTA faculty research associates in the Center for Structural Engineering Research/Simulation and Pipeline Inspection, are co-principal investigators. Ron Lusk, the president of Public Water Solution, will manage the field robotic inspection data reporting.

This is the fifth city in which Abolmaali has used the robotics system to inspect pipes, with the intent of prioritizing which ones needs to be replaced and which can be refurbished.

“This project also will use artificial intelligence to predict life of the pipes,” Abolmaali said. “From the cores, we’ll do scanning electron microscope analysis, which will give the chemistry and property specifics of the pipes. That will give us a great determination to estimate the strength and life of the pipes.”

In 2015, Abolmaali—a renowned pipe expert in structural pipe systems using material testing and finite element analysis—was awarded a grant to evaluate the conditions of some of the city of Arlington’s pipes. He’s performed similar projects in Ennis, Waxahachie and Frisco.

“This is another step forward for the North Texas community,” said Peter Crouch, dean of the College of Engineering. “Professor Abolmaali’s research builds even stronger ties between municipalities and the University. His work is a tremendous example of putting the practical side of research to use in something that is so beneficial and cost-saving to those communities.”

Mike Garza, Coppell’s assistant director of public works, said the project will give the city valuable information to inform future decisions about its infrastructure.

“We’re excited to partner with UTA on this project,” Garza said. “We want to make the best decisions for our residents and businesses. This project allows us to do that.”

The work will be done through UTA’s Center for Structural Engineering Research/Simulation and Pipeline Inspection. Abolmaali is its director.

In a separate project, Abolmaali recently designed a fiber-reinforced pipe and developed two American Society for Testing and Materials specifications for the first time. Using his leading-edge research in this area, he worked with industry associations and colleagues around the globe to establish that new standard.

He was recently awarded a $653,000 contract by the Texas Department of Transportation to test longer-lasting concrete pipes embedded with polypropylene fibers for strength and durability.