Buried utility networks (such as water mains, gas pipes, electricity cables and sewer pipes) form essential elements of cities and modern civilisations, and play a significant role in the quality of life of citizens, growth of the economy, and health and well-being of society. A greater understanding of their behaviour in their particularly complex context and being able to more accurately predict the residual life of these utility assets would enable designers, asset managers and decision makers to plan their resources more efficiently and operate more proactively in their maintenance and management, resulting in multiple economic, social and environmental benefits. However, the complexity of the streetworks environment and numerous (inter)dependencies – influenced by physical factors (such as pipe types, strength, diameter, and burial depth; ground type and condition), social factors (such as land use change, myriad people and vehicle movements at the surface and traffic loading) and environmental factors (temperature, weather, and accommodating street trees) – affect their performance.

The development of an advanced methodology to predict the remaining safe life of assets would help to eliminate scenarios where, for example, a pipeline collapses unexpectedly or is replaced unnecessarily on the basis of age rather than functional competence. 

This workshop aimed to create a unique opportunity to discuss and explore ideas from those in industry and academia interested in addressing the above issues in relation to the rapidly-changing expectations and ambitions of the 21st century city. The workshop used the opportunity to investigate and discuss other common difficulties in modelling and predicting the behaviour of buried utility networks raised by the workshop participants. In addition, the workshop focused on exploring potential methodologies and opportunities to develop advanced models to understand deterioration and predict incipient failure of buried utilities using machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence, identifying constraints, key parameters, modelling space and industrial needs. 

Attendees included utility asset owners, managers and designsers, council, local authorities, highway authorities and academia. 

The objectives of the workshop were to:

  • Identify common challenges and difficulties that industry and in particular owners, managers and designers of utility assets are facing when they plan, repair and maintain buried infrastructure and in particular utility pipelines

  • Discuss the important physical and social factors that influence the behaviour and life of buried utility pipes in rapidly changing contexts

  • Discuss the challenges which exist when modelling long-term behaviour of underground utilities

  • Understand the need for development of advanced models to predict pipeline-ground deterioration, residual life of buried utility pipes and points of incipient failure

  • Develop a cross-institutional and industrial network and common understanding and ultimately preparing funding bids

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