The new test rig pipe network here at the Intelligent Water Decisions research group is under construction. Here is a bit of a walk through of the development of the lab, its history, and how we will be using our new rig.

The existing test pipe network is functioning and works well.  So why are we building a new one? To expand our research capacity. Our research has evolved, and so have the materials used in water pipes.

The new rig will give us the ability to test a much longer pipe network. The new pipe network will also give us the ability to test larger diameter pipes, and newer materials like high density polyethylene. High density polyethylene is increasingly being used for more water pipes.

Reinvigorating an old lab

Many years ago (7+) the labs here were set up for coastal engineering work. You’ll see in Photo 1  a very large, shallow tank that was used originally. The tank was used to simulate a seabed coming up to a marina. It included an installation driven by a power pack that was used to create waves in the model, so that we could simulate waves and the effects that marina designs might have on a coastline.

This experimental work was infrequent for us. It meant that the lab was not being used for anything else that was worthwhile and driving our research direction. Eventually, it was decommissioned. We still have this tank, but it’s packed away. For future research in this area, all we would need is some warehouse space where we could set it up. In its packed-down state, it only takes up a shipping container, which is a much more efficient use of space than the installation taking up a lab that we could otherwise use.

Photo of the old coastline/marina test tank

Photo 1: The old test tank

Before designing the new test rig, the school examined other labs around the world, particularly in Italy, the UK, and Asia. There were two approaches to test rigs. One had the pipe network on the floor and the rig continuously got bigger – but getting air out of a system like that is hard. The other was to have the network on the walls of the lab; that had its own risks.

Pipe network test rig: From concept to build

It turned out that one of our students had a background in architectural engineering. Because we wanted to involve students in the work as much as possible, we were able to get him involved in developing concepts.

conceptual drawing of the new test rig

Photo 2: Conceptual images of the new test rig

This new concept is a pipe network with a minimum number of points where there is tapping or inlets. It gives us a pipe network of over 200m – perhaps up to 300m in length. The network always goes up, which is essential for getting air out of the network without having to add more valves. It was important to have a very clean pipe to get a good baseline in tests.

The way it is use to that we will have a pressure tank to elevate pressure in the network. Then we can discharge water and close the valve – which will create a water hammer event in the rig.

Benefits of this test rig design

One of the benefits of this construction is that at 5m across and 10m long it creates space inside the pipe network that can be used for neat storage. But it also means that identical networks can be built inside the frame separately; or that it can t-junction into this one, or that cross-networks can be built. It’s highly expansible.

Just below this lab is a sump that can hold 100,000L of water. An advantage of this design is that if there’s a leak, it just goes straight into the sump.

Water use, retention, testing, and re-use in the lab

The pump out of the sump drives water through 8″ – 9″ diameter pipe, so it gets massive water flows. The water is pumped up to a tank that is higher up, so that we can have water flowing out of it. We monitor the water quality in the sump constantly, which means it’s quite good. Every one to two years, the sump is drained and cleaned. The water taken out is pumped into water re-use systems around the university.

Given the Intelligent Water Decisions Research Group is highly focused on climate extremes (e.g. droughts) and what this means for conservation, we are working on better understanding water infrastructure to maximise efficiency. We are working to provide best practices for maintaining the state of water infrastructure, so that leak detection methods are improved, and that we don’t loose too much of our most precious resource by not understanding pipe networks more effectively.

The new rig means our research keeps pace with industry

The Transient Research Group within the Intelligent Water Decisions Group is well aligned with industry. As you may remember from this article, our testing technology that has emerged from our research is commercially licensed and available. The new test rig ensures that our research continues to have commercial application, as it allows us to keep pace with the needs and demands of industry.

We would love to hear what you think about our new test rig! We are happy to answer any questions about how it works, and the types of research that will be coming out of this lab. Leave a comment and let us know.