Opportunities to improve the UK pipe inspection standard (MSCC5)
If you work within the UK water industry, you will be very aware of the MSCC5 (Manual of Sewer Condition Classification Fifth Edition). The first edition dates back nearly 40 years now, and in that time, many hundreds of thousands of miles of sewers and pipes by thousands of different contractors of all shapes and sizes have used the code to create a standardised output.
Is history holding back the future?
The Water Research Centre (WRC) first published MSCC back in 1980, and since then, other countries have adopted the idea behind a standard. This led to the creation of the European Standard BS EN 13508-2:2003+A1:2011, which has allowed the different codes to use a common language.
This alignment now presents a challenge with updating MSCC so it can keep pace with the technological changes. The need to align with the European Standard means many stakeholders will need to agree to any changes. However, there is a real need to update the standard, given that the current manual is still referring Cathode-Ray Tube (CRT) screens and their calibration. Is there anyone out there using these screens now?
MSCC5 references the calibration of Cathode-Ray Tube screens. Does anyone else still use these screens?
The first opportunity to improve the standard is to consider what the future of pipe inspecting coding might look like and how MSCC can support the future. We feel that using AI and modern software techniques is the first step in modernising a sector that has not changed significantly in the last 40 years.
Can the pipe inspection industry be modernised to deliver the benefits generated by the latest manufacturing plants?
How could we look at things differently?
So, what could a new coding standard look like in 2022 if we were designing it from scratch? If you look at computer software these days, it is a lot simpler than it used to be. Less is more now, and even the most complicated programmes have simple user interfaces to help speed up workflow and productivity. Gone are the days of needing to install desktop software and then updating it physically.
So how can this be applied to sewer surveying and classification, given that there are different types of users, from Water companies to small drainage contractors?
We need to think about why we are doing the survey and what is the result we want. The purpose of the standard is all about making an informed decision about investment in repair, maintenance, or renewal in line with its condition, serviceability, and budget available. Does the current coding standard meet the requirements? If yes, does it do it with simplicity in mind? This factor is essential when training people on how to code and survey? With so many codes and conditions to learn, this can extend training requirements and take years for operatives to gain all the experience needed to code the surveys to the exacting standards. Are contractors doing this, and is it possible to audit it accurately – probably not!
By simplifying and determining the key elements that make up the investment decision, we could remove a lot of unnecessary work and time and use enhanced technology to fill in the gaps speeding up workflow and productivity and saving money. The delivery of this outcome could start with a single document containing the coding and scoring requirements. Currently, MSCC5 includes the codes, and the Sewer Risk Manual holds the scores to determine the condition grades that typically drive the investment need.
Do the current set of codes consider all likely defects on the network? Is coding of infiltration, H2S attack and Hydraulic overload accurate and in a way that informs decisions on the action necessary. We don’t currently have a condition grade that reflects the degree of infiltration associated with an asset.
Abandoned surveys require a comment in the remarks section to explain the root cause for the survey being abandoned. This approach is not helpful when you own a survey company and are looking to minimise the number of abandoned surveys and increase your productivity. How do you determine the value of providing the crews with longer cable lengths to minimise the number of ‘out of cable’ abandonments? In other countries, they have specific abandoned codes related to the defect before. For example, the Australian manual has ‘Survey Abandoned Collapsed Pipe’.
How many abandoned surveys occur due to insufficient cable length?
Open and displaced joints always cause much debate and can be confusing 5-10% of diameter gets a score of 40, but 1.5 pipe wall thickness receives a score of 2. Typically, a pipe wall thickness equals 10% of the internal pipe diameter, so how can this be made more consistent?
We have a situation where we have two different types of condition assessment criteria in the UK. There are two scoring systems; the DRB Drain Repair book grades A, B & C (for domestic properties) and the SRM (Sewer Risk Management grades 1-5) on some software systems. Whilst they map against each other, it seems questionable to have two different approaches. It is essential to have accurate data to make informed decisions, and having one standard will make that accuracy more consistent. This further help simplify the training and reduces the costs for survey company owners.
Furthermore, is it also possible to be more scientific about the likelihood of further deterioration or collapse? Given that we have years of data, is it possible to develop a more accurate way of assessing risk on specific pipe lengths? Could this allow us to plan repair and maintenance more productively and head off issues at an earlier stage with a more cost-effective repair? We suspect the disparate data storage capability of the incumbent software applications for pipe inspection coding means this will be difficult. However, VAPAR’s central database of pipe condition assessments allows this type of data to be easily accessed and could be the key to unlocking a faster and more cost-effective solution to surveying and condition assessment.
Technology plays a massive part in all our lives; whilst CCTV camera technology has advanced exponentially over the past ten years reporting systems have remained static. The traditional processes are still heavily manual and require extensive training and experience to keep the data collected consistently. But are we now at crossroads in terms of the old and the new?
VAPAR‘s AI platform is now able to generate MSCC5 compliant outputs. The development work to comply with MSCC5, plus the standards used in Australia, the United States and New Zealand, has provided us with a unique perspective.
VAPAR’s modern and unique capability to combine AI and human inputs to produce a fast and accurate output provides an opportunity to match the latest CCTV camera technology. Updating the MSCC standard is one part of the puzzle that will significantly improve how we do things for the customers using piped networks.
Vapar provides the capability to combine AI and human inputs to produce a fast and accurate output and provides an opportunity to match the capability of the latest CCTV camera technology.