The public water supply industry is one of the United States’ oldest industries. Its history can be traced back to the Colonial times in 1652 consisting of wooden pipe and conduit used to convey water from wells and springs to a wooden tank from which people could fill their water buckets. Fast-forward over 350 years and the same industry has now evolved into one of the most essential and largest, serving over 160 million people. (The Water Utility Industry)
SUEZ, based in Paris, eclipses $15B EUR in revenue a year through water services and wastewater activities spanning 5 continents. SUEZ North America owns and operates 15 water utilities, and operates 70 municipal systems through public-private partnerships and contract partnerships. Harnessing the culture and strategic endeavors of their French parent company, SUEZ in North America has partnered with Sky Scape Industries (SSI), a leading drone service provider in an industry first; to implement drone technology into water utility operations. This partnership will incorporate safe and efficient drone technology solutions into the maintenance and construction of one of the country’s most valuable utilities.
Integration of Drones (sUAS)
Sept. 26, 2017 - SUEZ entered into an agreement with Sky Scape Industries (SSI) to integrate small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) technology into their water services. Sky Scape, which specializes in sUAS applications for critical infrastructure, will begin integrating the technology in multiple capacities throughout multiple verticals of SUEZ operations from inspections to asset management and advanced sensing detection.
“We are excited to work with such an innovative and progressive utility company like SUEZ. The applications for the water utility are endless. We are looking forward to helping SUEZ increase safety and efficiency in their maintenance and construction procedures.” - Nate Ernst, President, Sky Scape Industries
The agreement sets the stage for ground-breaking sUAS work in water utilities. While the more popular use-cases like visual inspection and documentation will be implemented immediately, future initiatives include the use of long-endurance UAS and advanced sensing technology to allow us to minimize the SUEZ footprint.
“We strive to be innovative. Working with Sky Scape will help push our vision further and we are excited to begin utilizing the power of this valuable technology.” - Eric Gernath, CEO, SUEZ North America.
A Complimentary Fit
SUEZ is no stranger to innovation. They boast the largest water R&D budget among their United States competitors. To highlight a recent development, SUEZ has installed over 200,000 smart water meters, leak detectors and turbidity sensors in North America. Armed with its Aquadvanced™ toolbox, SUEZ continues to blaze a trail within the water industry and is making strides towards the ambitious goal of reading every meter, every hour, of every day.
Innovations like these contributed to SUEZ winning the Smart Water Company of the Year award, one of the honors recognized by Global Water Intelligence in 2017. This award recognizes the company that has contributed most to the advancement of digital technologies in the water sector. Each year, the Global Water Awards are presented at the Global Water Summit, the world’s largest global event for the water industry.
Incorporating drone technology in the water industry, while considered unorthodox by most, fits seamlessly with SUEZ’ strategy goals. “Drones help us accomplish vital tasks to perform our core functions. If this method is a safer, more efficient, and environmentally friendly way to perform a task than there is no question, we must do it,” says David Stanton, President - Utility Operations and Federal Services. SUEZ continues to lead the “Resource Revolution” in water innovation by being one of the first water utilities in the country to utilize sUAS technology integration.
Dec. 6, 2017 - The first sUAS use-case was executed with SUEZ. SSI performed a complete surface inspection of an elevated, multi-leg, 1 million gallon, water tank. Through advanced flight planning and innovative data processing, SSI was able to safely and accurately inspect the tank and deliver final analysis in less than half the time of traditional methods.
“Typically it takes a crew of 2 or 3 people spending at least 8 hours climbing a tank to inspect the components for issues. It’s very time consuming and the fall hazard is very imminent,” says Michael Assante, Project Manager - SUEZ, New Jersey Operations.
The target tank underwent a multi-million dollar paint overhaul in 2016. SUEZ and SSI designated this tank for an initial use-case to get better insight on how the UAS technology will work as well as coming up with better, preventative maintenance, schedules for inspections. Sky Scape’s mission planning streamlined the data acquisition portion of the inspection by collecting 472 images covering 100% of the tank’s surface and support legs in a total time of 2.5 hours.
It didn’t take long to see the benefits of incorporating this tech into a relatively old-world industry. The successful inspection proved the value sUAS brings to a company like SUEZ. Working hand in hand, SUEZ and SSI are planning to continually improve upon and constantly seek ways to improve the safety and effectiveness of sUAS and water utilities. “The results exceeded my expectations. The report data from Sky Scape provided better quality data than previous methods, accessed the previously inaccessible, and showed potential issues of interest for future concern.” - Emad Sidhom, Director of Engineering, SUEZ
“We are looking to embrace the future. The relationship between Sky Scape and SUEZ will ultimately result in safer, greener, and more efficient operations for SUEZ and we look forward to diving into more applications for sUAS technology.” - Nate Ernst, President, Sky Scape
Sky Scape Industries provides unmanned data acquisition services using advanced sensors and UAS (drone) systems in the critical infrastructure sector. Such services include mapping capabilities and inspection in multiple capacities. Learn More