Solid Waste & Recycling


Pipeline Physicals

It's common knowledge that an annual medical exam can help extend your life expectancy through early detection of health problems. Government guidelines recommend that healthy adults begin examinations at the age of 40.

It’s common knowledge that an annual medical exam can help extend your life expectancy through early detection of health problems. Government guidelines recommend that healthy adults begin examinations at the age of 40.

What’s not as commonly known is that in Canada, like many other regions of the world, a large percentage of water pipelines have a much older average age. Based on a number of reasons — from inadequate design to improper installation to years of service — pipes are failing and the problem will only increase over time.

In the United States alone, it’s estimated that a $1 trillion investment is required over the next 20 years to replace aging water and wastewater infrastructure; pipelines represent just over half of this figure. This cost is calculated on replacing entire systems based on an estimated useful life rather than the actual condition of the asset.

As a result of this massive infrastructure upgrade figure, a growing number of municipalities are turning to the Pressure Pipe Inspection Company (PPIC) to help diagnose the condition of their pipelines and to extend the life of their buried assets.


PPIC was established by Dr. Brian Mergelas after he received his Ph.D. in Physics at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. During his time at the University, he studied under Professor David Atherton, who worked closely with, and mentored, Dr. Mergelas. Professor Atherton is recognized as a global expert in pipeline inspection technology and is credited with the development of Remote Field Transformer Coupling (RFTC) technology. This technology was a true breakthrough as it was able to provide accurate information about the location, distribution and number of wire breaks in pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe (a common pipe material for large diameter water transmission mains).

With the RFTC technology as a base, Dr. Mergelas founded PPIC in 1997 to help utilities assess the condition of their pipelines, to help optimize infrastructure investments, stop water loss due to leaks, reduce risk of rupture and ensure environmental compliance.

Just like a medical exam would start with the major organs of a human body, Dr. Mergelas believes that municipalities should take the same approach and focus more attention on establishing the condition of large mains, ranging in diameter from 12 to over 250 inches. Large diameter mains are vital to local economies, can cause millions of dollars of damage and liability in the event of a rupture, and have the potential of losing massive volumes of water via undetected leaks. The bottom line is that there is a much greater ROI to regularly examine these large diameter mains versus small diameter network lines within residential areas.

The technology

Today, PPIC is capable of inspecting a variety of pipeline materials, including concrete, plastic, iron and steel using two core technologies, RFTC and Sahara® leak detection.

RFTC technology has come a long way since it was first wheeled through a pipe on a red wooden wagon in Texas. The technology can best be described as an MRI for pipelines as it identifies areas of distress within the pipe structure. It functions much in the same way as a radio transmitter and receiver. The “transmitter” produces an electromagnetic field. The pre-stressing wires in the pipe amplify the signal that’s recorded by the “receiver.” If there are broken wires, the signal is distorted. A measurement of the distortion quantifies the number of broken wires and the “health” of the pipe. Because of the accuracy of this technology, the client base quickly expanded throughout the Southern United States and Middle East.

As a direct result of federal support through the National Research Council’s Industry Research Assistance Program and through PRECARN and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the RFTC technology has been further evolved and a new, free swimming RFTC inspection tool called PipeDiver™ was developed. Pipe­Diver™ represents a significant step forward as it reduces the cost of inspection by allowing the utility to perform the inspection at any point in time without shutting down the pipeline.

PPIC is also a global leader in the application of leak detection technologies for large-diameter water mains. Identifying leaks is critical for municipalities to control water loss, ensure integrity of pipe bedding and to optimize production costs; there is no reason to expand a water plant if a large volume of water is being lost via distribution mains, not to mention the cost of treatment chemicals or energy to move the water over long distances. Sahara™ technology uses a tethered acoustic device at the end of a cable which can be deployed up to 1,800 meters into an operating pipeline. The technology is used by major cities around the world including London, Sao Paulo, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Toronto. Sahara™ technology has identified over 300 mega liters per day of water leaks to date and has recognized very high rates of return for these major cities.

The majority of the company’s business comes from either regions of the world that require the transport of large volumes of water over great distances or from large cities where the age of pipelines is becoming a significant infrastructure factor due to ruptures. Mayors, city councils, public works departments and citizens need to remember that water main breaks don’t need to be a fact of life. Advanced condition assessment technologies such as PipeDiver™ and Sahara™ are proven to reduce ruptures and extend the life of pipeline infrastructure. This helps to make the trillion dollar investment more manageable by not wasting money replacing assets that are in good condition, while extending the time period under which critical investments must be made from 20 to 30 or even 40 years. All of this is possible through a simple annual “pipeline physical.”

Project examples

The City of El Paso is the fifth largest in Texas with a population of approximately 700,000. To meet the water needs of the residents, the utility operates over 3,500 kilometers of water transmission mains. The utility was concerned about the condition of a 24 inch water main which experienced a rupture and was situated near a natural gas pipeline. Prior to simply replacing the water main, PPIC was called in to conduct an RFTC inspection of the main and found it to be in good condition. As a result of the inspection, the utility had confidence that the asset was in good condition and was able to avoid replacing the line with an estimated cost savings over $3 million.

In the Philippines, PPIC recently signed a long term Sahara™ leak detection contract with Maynilad Water Services. The Water Utility is committed to modernizing its infrastructure and reducing non revenue water (NRW) loss. Since 2007, Maynilad has brought down its water loss level from 66 per cent to 59 per cent through an aggressive NRW management program. For every one per cent reduction in NRW level, Maynilad recovers around 23 million litres of water a day that it allocates to areas that need additional supply. This project is expected to have short-term ROI and build on the success of Sahara™ operations in other major global cities such as London, England. Thames Water has found over 960 main leaks representing 130-200 mega liters per day of water during a multi-year deployment of Sahara™ technology.

Michael Stadnyckyj is Director of Communications for The Pressure Pipe Inspection Company in Miss­issauga, Ontario. Contact Michael at

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