Utility Week

UTILITY Week 30th January 2015

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

Issue link: https://fhpublishing.uberflip.com/i/453394

Contents of this Issue


Page 9 of 31

10 | 30th January - 5th February 2015 | utILIty WeeK Game changer Tunnel vision could see robotic connections In the first of a series championing innovation, Jane Gray looks at a pioneering technology that National Grid is on the verge of commercialising. I t sounds fanciful: completing under- ground utilities connections without dig- ging holes. Yet, thanks to a new product from National Grid and technology partner Synthotech, achieving this engineering uto- pia may be far more than a pipe dream. The Tier One Replacement System (Tors) is a "mechatronic snake" that can perform mains-to-service connections from inside an existing mains pipeline. National Grid hopes the technology will make a major contribu- tion to its target of halving all excavations in the UK by 2017, as well as increasing produc- tivity in the gas distribution part of the busi- ness by 20-30 per cent by slashing the time it takes to complete replacement connections. Since it will significantly reduce the number of excavations needed to complete replacement connections for any given street or business site, the platform is also being hailed as a means of achieving a gas cus- tomer experience revolution. The modular, flexible platform has been in development since November 2012 and has received about £2 million of funding from National Grid's innovation allowance under RIIO (Ofgem's new regulatory regime). Tors made its public debut at the Low Car- bon Networks and Innovation Conference in October 2014 and attracted attention from visitors to the National Grid stand. This year it is due to begin field testing at sites across the UK and there is an ambition to see it become fully operational by early 2016. While engineers have dreamed of using robotics to achieve remote subterranean connections for years, the capabilities of Tors have only recently become possible thanks to a concatenation of technological advances, many centring on the ability to miniaturise the sensors, motors, tools and processing power on board. The University of Leeds, a centre of excellence for robotic design, has been a valuable partner to Syn- thotech throughout the development of Tors. "This is a world first," says Darren White, innovation portfolio manager at National Grid. "Ofgem's funding has allowed us to exploit Synthotech's potential and create something that is really cutting edge. With- out the Ofgem funding mechanism, this kind of partnership could not take place." November 2012-January 2013: Synthotech works on initial proof of concept for Tors in large scale (250mm). The concept is devel- oped from an existing platform called Synthotrax but adds the capability to identify service con- nection points from within a polyethylene inner and then drill a new connection. Project timeline January 2013-November 2013: Further proof of concept work under the new RIIO funding regime (April 2013). Synthotech explores the viability of miniaturising the platform and its ability to successfully perform all necessary tasks for a remote service-to-mains connection. November 2013-April 2014: Having demonstrated the Tors concept at Nat- ional Grid's Hinckley centre for gas distribution, Synthotech lays the foundations for development of a commercially viable prototype. Synthotech conducts a global technology and patent search and works collaboratively with a wide range of potential stakeholders at National Grid to under- stand how Tors will have to work for the business. "Our investment in Tors shows our commitment to working with innovative companies to create solutions which will radically improve customer experience." "Since the 1970s people have been saying, 'if we could do this using a robot, wouldn't it be great'. But the technology didn't exist. They couldn't work out how to physically do it." Wez Little, innovation director, Synthotech Game changer: Tors Darren White, innovation portfolio manager gas distribution, national Grid

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Utility Week - UTILITY Week 30th January 2015