Blacktown City Council has partnered with intelligent engineering software platform, VAPAR, on a project to automate condition assessments of stormwater and sewerage pipelines using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The project comes as part of the council’s efforts to more effectively use data to drive smarter decision-making, and in preparation for a projected population rise to 560,000 by 2050.

As part of the council’s review of the Asset Management Strategy and Support Services in 2018-2019, the Council’s Better Practice Review (BPR) Program identified the management of drainage infrastructure as a key area for practice improvement.

Specifically, the council was interested in engaging technology that enabled more efficient use of data to drive planning and decision-making for its asset management plans. Due to their labour-intensive nature, visual pipe inspections had not previously formed part of the data collected for asset management condition assessments. Instead, they had relied on ‘estimated useful life projections’ in asset management plans for pipes.

Blacktown City Council partnered with VAPAR on an initial trial inspection of 3km of pipe CCTV footage, with a view to finding a solution to proactively manage the council’s 1,160km of pipe infrastructure and make data-driven decisions moving forward.

Manager Asset Planning and Support at Blacktown City Council, Adam Cowell, said, “Innovation is one of council’s core values and we are always looking for ways to improve our service to the community. 

“VAPAR’s solution stood out for its proven results with other utilities companies and councils, and its innovative approach to using artificial intelligence and machine learning made this pilot project a success.”

By project end, the pilot project had demonstrated an overall success rate of 84.6 per cent in the identification of pipe defects. Most importantly, the council had taken steps to adopt a technology-based approach to their service delivery, allowing them to inform drainage asset management plans with standardised asset condition data.

By seeking a technological solution to address a key area for practice improvement highlighted by the BPR Program, Blacktown City Council were able to greatly improve their service delivery, creating a proactive approach which utilised data to drive decision-making. Blacktown City Council were able to implement this change whilst also circumventing weeks of labour resources that would have been normally required.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the Blacktown City Council team on their journey to lead the way on innovative service delivery for their community and their commitment to ‘Building the Best’ Council in Australia,” CEO and Co-Founder of VAPAR, Amanda Siqueira, said.

“AI and machine learning present enormous opportunities for councils to drastically save time and costs on managing and monitoring pipes, and we’re thrilled to see forward-thinking organisations embracing the capabilities of these technologies.”

Blacktown City Council recently received a ‘Highly Commended’ status in the ‘Service Delivery Initiative – Population Over 60,000’ category of the Local Government Excellence Awards for 2020 for the Blacktown City Council VAPAR Pilot Project.

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