United Utilities & VAPAR - Case Study
The Challenge & Opportunity
United Utilities is one of the largest water companies in the UK, with a wastewater network of 78,000 kms, which is approximately three times the size of the largest water utilities in the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney Water.
With such a vast network to maintain, United Utilities are challenged by a manual process to make assessments of which wastewater or drainage pipes to repair and when. United Utilities review over 500 kms of footage per year, and this increases each year as more and more properties are connected to the growing reticulation network.
This massive amount of proactive inspection activity creates a large amount of rich data that needs to be centralised, organised and stored. Furthermore, since condition data is determined manually and can be subjective, objective comparison between data sets involving different operators is difficult to establish. In addition, this manual process is time-consuming – causing unwanted delays between inspection and assessment dates.
As one of the world’s largest utilities companies, United Utilities are continually searching for innovative new tools and platforms to improve their processes and enhance their service offering to customers. As part of this proactive approach to business improvement, United Utilities funds and hosts an Innovation Lab initiative, offering companies from around the world a chance to offer innovative value-add solutions and technologies, prove the concept and value – leading to accelerated roll-out and adoption.
United Utilties and VAPAR - Working Together
In September 2019, from hundreds of applications, VAPAR was selected as one of eight companies to take part in United Utilities’ Innovation Lab.
The Innovation Lab followed a 10-week structure, which saw a VAPAR team member temporarily co-located with the other participating companies at the United Utilities offices in Warrington, UK.
Based on numerous extensive observations of the end-to-end process delivered by United Utilities and their independent contractors, VAPAR delivered a comprehensive report to the United Utilities Transformation team detailing actionable improvements which could be made to reduce time and increase efficiency of their end-to-end processes. Emphasis was placed on how VAPAR’s automated defect detection system could be integrated to provide objective third-party assessments in a fast, scalable, centralised and standardised way to benefit both United Utilities and their contractors.
Working together through the Innovation Lab, United Utilities and VAPAR were able to establish proven accuracy of AI models for CCTV Pipe Inspections, and also make significant improvements to the accuracy of these models. Crucially, United Utilities and VAPAR also worked collaboratively to align these models with UK Water standards, creating profound future implications for not only United Utilities, but the UK water industry as a whole.
Since the Innovation Lab, VAPAR and United Utilities have continued to work collaboratively. With United Utilities providing regular user feedback, VAPAR has continued to customise their platform, adding features to optimise its usefulness to users.
United Utilities have also undertaken software trials in three key areas for business improvement to ascertain current business-as-usual (BAU) readiness and map a plan for implementation into their operational processes. The two organisations have also worked together to develop and deliver documentation and training for use of the VAPAR platform.
United Utilities believe that VAPAR can act as an effective, innovative value-add to their service offering. United Utilities believe that the core operational benefits of the VAPAR platform involve:
● Time saved compared to a manual CCTV review process, allowing inspectors to allocate time to other priorities
● Standardisation in the identification and classification of sewer defects, allowing for consistent recommendations to be made.
● Significant reduction in the turnaround time for surveys submitted by clients
Since the Innovation Lab, United Utilities has since taken the lead on driving the UK water industry towards software accreditation as a standard. During this period, United Utilities have also since completed platform trials with VAPAR, with the two organisations now partnering to develop a pathway towards Business-As-Usual (BAU) implementation. United Utilities have partnered with VAPAR to build upon the accuracy of the VAPAR platform through training models, develop new platform capabilities, and ensure that VAPAR is meeting current and future requirements and integrations.