United Utilities - Latest Case Study
Like all water and sewerage companies in England and Wales, United Utilities Outcome Delivery incentives (ODI’s) relating to flooding and pollution in AMP7 are challenging, and it is recognised the delivery of this outcome will not be achieved without implementing new ways of working and technologies. This is why innovation has been a core value at United Utilities for many years. The company’s Innovation Strategy is multifaceted, and one element involves engaging with early-stage innovation start-ups. Establishing the water industry’s first ‘Innovation Lab’ provided the mechanism for the United Utilities to present customer challenges and allowed for the submission of ideas from around the world.
One of those successful submissions was from VAPAR, whose service offering uses Artificial Intelligence to speed up the repairs of pipes by automating fault detection from CCTV inspection footage. VAPAR successfully completed the Innovation Lab in December 2019 and was then put to the test as part of the United Utilities routine maintenance inspection programme – and the results were impressive with VAPAR reducing survey processing times from 10 days to two days – an 80% improvement.
Katy Bevan, Programme Delivery Manager for United Utilities’ Wastewater Network said: “VAPAR has truly transformed the way that we work, it provides us with a consistent method of defect coding that equates to a consistent decision-making process on investment.
“It has also massively reduced timescales of both the time need to review footage and the turnaround time from footage being recorded on site to decisions about cleaning and remedial activities being made. In addition we are also benefiting from lower costs, and the generation of performance management tools to support our targets.”
The complex nature of pipeline inspections makes it impossible for AI to be used as a stand-alone tool and the outputs still require review. VAPAR uses a ‘Collaborative Intelligence’ approach which sees AI being used to support human expertise.
VAPAR is now being rolled out more widely across United Utilities for use across the entire inspection program. It is also being integrated with United Utilities’ Dynamic Network Monitoring (DNM) platform. The platform contains feeds from thousands of monitors, plus other datasets that allow the business to take a proactive approach to how it manages its network.