Connecting Manhole Covers & Managing Sewage Systems

IoT & Smart Cities

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Across the globe, urban populations are growing rapidly, climate change is an increasing threat, and global sewage and wastewater management systems are ageing. In combination, these three factors are putting enormous pressure on sewage and wastewater infrastructure, and if something isn’t done to mitigate the threat many municipalities are facing a ticking time bomb. Two companies, CThings.co and NID ApS , have joined forces to address the growing threat posed by inadequate infrastructure, introducing a deceptively simple solution – connected manhole covers – in order to monitor what is going on below ground level.

Cities and municipalities have long tried to monitor sewage lines but because they’re underground and access points have massive manhole covers it’s been very challenging. Very often, a connected device has been put down in the sewer and after two weeks someone has had to go down and manually take the SIM card out, put it in the system, and analyze it. They might have done this at a handful of locations for a few weeks, then moved the devices to a new location. This type of operation is labor intensive and doesn’t offer real time information or the kind of overall data that helps optimize a system in a real way. It isn’t very effective or streamlined, because there’s a big difference between collecting data samples and having data all the time in real time – it’s the difference between crawling and running.

Now, imagine a manhole has been connected for eight or ten months. You’ve been getting data and now you’ve got enough to do some real analysis. You can co-alate that data with information from the weather service and very soon the municipality can get an alarm days before the rain comes. You’ve got information that tells you rain is coming, that this particular area is going to be affected, which means you might well face flooding or other issues. With your connected manhole covers and the data generated you can now address the challenges before they happen, such as emptying the reserves at the wastewater plant to prepare for the overflow. The historical data allows you to create plans for what is coming, rather than just reacting in the moment.

Denmark’s NID ApS is the largest supplier of composite manhole covers in Scandinavia and has a very simple mission: offer the best manhole covers in existence. CThings.co brings very sophisticated and advanced technological know-how to the table, designing and developing cutting edge end-to-end IoT solutions. By combining their particular strengths, the two companies are able to offer a modern connected manhole cover that can sense what is happening below street level and relay that information to authorities in real time.

“Today, hydraulic systems and theories and models are used to understand what is happening in the sewage systems, but these leave a lot of unknowns,” says Niclas Rønne, CEO at NID ApS. “Connected manhole covers tell you, in a very simple and easy way, when the water rises, where it is rising, and potentially how it’s rising. This is great value in terms of the environment because when you have big rainfalls and thus overflow. Right now, we accept the fact that there actually will be overflow because it would be too big and expensive to design systems differently. As a result, we accept that when it rains the sewage water will flow into fields or lakes or our city streets.

Municipalties have been reacting to problems – this solution is an instrument for being proactive.

“There’s also the ‘what the heck is actually happening down there’ part. Basically, nobody knows. Imagine you’re working at a municipality and it starts raining. All you do is basically wait until you can see where the problems are. You might be able to take an educated guess, but it’s not backed up by facts. Connecting the manhole covers gives you actionable data and lets you get ahead of the problem in the short term and then plan in the longer term.”

The solution

Traditionally, manhole covers have been made from cast iron and weigh 50-60kg. They’re very heavy and if you have to remove them to get into the pipelines to clean out blockages or address any other challenges – something that commonly happens maybe 20 times a day at various locations in a city – that’s half a ton of lifting that needs to be done by workmen.

Our starting point was to make a lighter, more manageable manhole cover that still does the job but that also doesn’t rust or throw out someone’s back. Even more importantly, we needed to use a material that would allow a device to get a signal so we could connect these manhole covers.

Niclas Rønne CEO NID ApS

Once the new lightweight manhole cover was successfully developed, NID needed a partner that could attach a connected device to the manhole covers so they could send a signal and gather data in real time. This is where CThings.co expertise came into play.

“NID’s modern composite covers are tough but lightweight and they don’t block the signal, making it possible to install a connected a device. We’ve installed very sensitive devices in the manhole covers that are operating with a 60 GHz signal,” says Arnold Wierzejski, Founder at CThings.co. “The device has a sensor, a radio modem, and Tele2 IoT SIM cards, and is able to sense in real time everything from water levels or the density of what is blocking the pipes to the build-up of steam and whether the cover has become dislodged as a result. If any of these things happen an alert is immediately sent, allowing the customer to address the problem proactively, rather than reactively, saving time, money, and manpower.

The two companies piloted their solution in a suburb of Copenhagen, where in 2011 there was extensive flooding after 150mm of rain fell in two hours. Despite sitting on the water, Copenhagen has ageing and poorly maintained sewage and wastewater management systems.  and the city knows it has to do something because the cost of doing nothing will cost between 50 and 85 million Euros annually.  The pilot conducted by NID and CThings.co monitored several locations and during the testing phase 2500 measurements were gathered.

“Normally, you send data once per day,” explains Arnold Wierzejski. “But if the weather forecast says there’s going to be rain, the system adjusts and responds in real time by increasing the frequency of measurements and reports, so that flooding and other complications can either be avoided or so authorities can react to changing conditions

Essentially, the connected manhole covers allow us to understand sewage and water flow. We can remotely monitor for about ten years, which is the device life, and this means people don’t have to visit each manhole to check for obstructions, measure water, or anything else.

Arnold Wierzejski Founder CThings.co

Real time monitoring also means municipalities can use predictive maintenance on the hole and the sewage system, saving money, being more efficient, and also more sustainable. And long-term data collection means planning for the future.

An end-to-end solution

The NID-CThings.co is an end-to-end solution. CThings.co’s dashboard is fully operational and can be integrated into any other system that either currently exists or that might exist in the future.

“Whatever you build, whatever you expand, you will have the same access,” explains Arnold Wierzejski. “That means that if there is an existing system that customers are used to using, we can expose the data gathered to those systems. And it also works the other way around: we can pull data to enrich the analytics and give more meaningful insights. So, we can broker the data if the customer wants, and we have all the best practices and standards you would expect.”

The data generates real time information as well as reports that give a longer-term analysis. These periodic reports can be on a timeline that suits the user, whether that’s weekly or monthly or some other iteration. This helps them understand that this sewage line carries the most water, that line has the most problems, and you need to either clean up all the ones around them or maybe build a new one. The reports help prioritize workflows, what is most urgently in need of attention, and also understand domino effects within the system

“All the statistics and all the areas of extensive challenge detection are gathered to help define the problems, because different systems and different manholes face different challenges,” says Arnold Wierzejski. “It’s important to understand that in order to address challenges effectively.

When the devices are installed and the data gathered and analyzed, whomever is in charge, such as the city planner or city manager, can do a risk analysis and understand the risk threshold and the safety threshold for different parameters, allowing them to protect their communities and make more effective use of resources.

IoT & connectivity

The NID-C.Things.co solution is the first of its kind in Europe and uses Tele2 SIM cards. LTE-M is the technology of choice because it is specifically designed for remote places in need of long-term battery life/low power consumption.

“Some municipalities are having a romance with Lora or other technologies that don’t offer the capabilities of LTE-M,” says Arnold Wierzejski. “I think that romance will be short-lived once they realize it doesn’t have a long-term relationship possibility.

“There are any number of cities around the world with ageing sewage systems that are difficult to reach and that are in dire need of better ways to maintaining them. Without Tele2 IoT’s connectivity and the real time data it allows us to collect, they’re just cooking spaghetti. The lines look like spaghetti and cities are just trying to update and upgrade the system by adding more lines, which doesn’t really fix the problem. Our solution changes that, allowing them to monitor multiple locations and address problems earlier, before they become overwhelming.”

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.