Mapping the World Beneath Our Feet

RedZone Robotics
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

As major cities and large corporations know, asset management is critical to maintaining success, functionality, performance and productivity. For cities, this includes the ongoing monitoring of visible assets, such as buildings and roads, and those deep below ground, like wastewater and storm sewers.
Only thorough inspection using advanced technologies can determine which assets are in good shape, and which require cleaning, repair or replacement.

RedZone Robotics Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, realizes that for many major cities, budgets are tight and funds are scarce. To address defects with underground sewer collection and water systems too far in advance can be a waste of money; to let problems linger past the point of repair or replacement, waiting until pipes crack, can be a costly catastrophe. Thankfully, RedZone Robotics provides customers with options that are not only highly-efficient and cost-effective, but which will help cities and companies better manage their budgets. Through the use of highly advanced robots, state-of-the-art software, and decades of combined experience, RedZone has earned the trust of clients worldwide, and remains the leading provider of sewer collection asset management solutions.

Evolving over the years to keep pace with industry need, RedZone Robotics is active in three key areas: as a manufacturer; as a provider of field service teams who deploy equipment; and by customizing a program where RedZone’s field trainers integrate with cities and consultants to utilize their own staff to deploy equipment to obtain the data.

For the company’s many customers, it all centers on asset management, particularly data, which is vital when it comes to decision making. Through the use of RedZone’s sophisticated ICOM3℠ Asset Management Software program, decision makers, owners, and engineers receive the accurate data they require in order to make educated, informed choices, which results in less money spent, simpler regulatory compliance, and betterment of the environment by avoiding unnecessary construction work.

“ICOM3℠ is a web-based asset management program,” says Sam Cancilla, Vice President of Business Development at RedZone. “Out of the millions and millions of feet of pipe data we collect, it goes into decision support software, where clients can query search results.” Following the industry standards of the National Association of Sewer Service Companies (NASSCO), pipe is coded through a recognized rating system one through five: one being in good shape, five being pipe that is at imminent risk of failure. “So if you see a Level 5 pipe, it indicates something is going wrong, and it’s color-coded red, which is danger. The software takes a map and lights it up, based on the severity starting from green, to yellow, and to red.”

Preventing catastrophes
Working on a range of old construction, new construction, and a combination of pre-and post-construction, RedZone’s advanced pipeline robots collect data to provide invaluable baseline assessment for customers and reveal potential dangers, such as thinning of pipe walls, cracks, and obstructions which can impede flow. Through ICOM3℠, Asset Management Software, RedZone provides decision support which integrates inspection services, maintenance, and asset management solutions to enable clients to strategize and perform maintenance or refurbishment if needed. “We are the folks who get all the detailed information and pass it along to the consultants and the cities, so they can decide which pipes to repair or replace,” states Cancilla.

Conducting thorough, detailed inspections of pipe and collecting data is integral to safeguarding the integrity of pipe. Manufacturing different robotic platforms based on pipe size, RedZone robots are able to inspect mile after mile of underground pipe. Unlike some other companies who offer only one or two forms of detection such as visuals only, units from RedZone Robotics have multi-sensor inspection platforms (MSI), which collect a combination of digital Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), sonar, laser, and gas detection. Utilizing extremely high-tech, advanced sensors, RedZone robots go through pipes of varying size still in service, and often half-full of water, sewage, and debris. Where many products from the competition only collect limited data – or that which can be seen on CCTV – RedZone robots go beneath the surface to collect valuable data to reveal defects, bends, breaks, thinning of pipe walls, and more. With this information for more involved projects, RedZone’s technology can provide advance reports and drawings for consultants with As-Built Models, Bend Geometry, Virtual Mandrel, and Alignment.

One of the worst destroyers of pipe is Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S). Colorless and extremely flammable, H2S is responsible for the ‘rotten egg’ smell often detected in and around sewers and wastewater pipes. Through the use of technologies like laser and LIDAR – which stands for Light Detection and Ranging – RedZone is able to accurately measure and quantify corrosion and wall loss resulting from H2S. “It’s almost like a diagnostic tool used by a doctor,” says Cancilla of the data, which is then provided to clients, usually cities, to determine how they wish to proceed. “The pipe wall may be 12 inches thick, but we find out that half the pipe wall is missing because it corroded away. If not treated it could, over time, lead to a collapse known as a ‘Sink Hole’ with devastating results.”

With some of the longest-reaching multi-sensor robotic systems in the industry, RedZone Robotics is widely acknowledged as a pioneer worldwide. Joining the company 13 years ago, Cancilla remembers RedZone’s transition from serving the nuclear energy sector in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, a reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979, and 1986’s Chernobyl disaster near Kiev, Ukraine. The name of the company, RedZone, comes from the nuclear danger zone, or the hot zone. Formed in 1987, RedZone was a spinoff of widely respected Carnegie Mellon University and world-renowned roboticist and research professor of robotics, Red Whittaker. In fact, RedZone was one of the first companies to enter Three Mile Island and conduct inspections.

Shifting its focus from the nuclear industry to wastewater, RedZone’s team of over 80 highly trained staff members continue to set numerous firsts. In 2004, the company – working with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, ALCOSAN located in and around the City of Pittsburgh with 82 surrounding communities – invented the 600 lb. responder platform to investigate the high velocity flow large pipe, and conducted the industry’s first Multi Sensor Inspections. In 2009, keeping with a progressive approach for the industry, the company launched SOLO, an autonomous inspection robot for the vast quantity of pipe ranging from 8” to 12”, which was named one of the top new technologies by Popular Science magazine. Later that year, RedZone acquired the ICOM3 software company for a complete integration of the collected data into an asset management program. To complete the equipment range of the mid to large diameter pipe, RedZone also acquired CleanFlow systems in Auckland, New Zealand.

Having a full offering of equipment and services unknown to any company in the industry, RedZone offers to cities a program known as YES, Your Entire System. As a result, from this proactive management program, cities have a highly-efficient and cost-effective sewer collection system. The benefits include eliminating underground uncertainty, a reactionary managed approach to ongoing failures in the system, lower overtime, and greater transparency amongst the staff and management.

Utilizing much of the robotic technology developed for the nuclear industry and bringing it over to the wastewater sector, RedZone continues to stay far ahead of the competition in inspecting underground pipe across North America and internationally. With many pipes 100 years or even older and still in service, cities count on the company and its service to create valuable data to assist with sewer asset management. Much like Google Earth, RedZone collects data which is inputted into a Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping system. This can then be overlaid on a map, so engineers and technicians can be aboveground at a particular street location and know the exact coordinates of sewers and deep underground.

With its main office in Pittsburgh and an international location in Auckland, New Zealand, RedZone Robotics is able to serve the needs of clients worldwide. Manufacturing units to order, the company has worked in over 200 major cities in North America, and recently completed a large project in Bangkok. No matter the location, RedZone saves all customers time and money, especially through its Y.E.S. program. “We call it a smart spend,” says Cancilla. “With our clients sometimes spending millions of dollars, you want to make sure you are fixing the right pipes. Through Y.E.S., which is a nationwide program, the goal is to get a baseline of the whole entire system to find out where all your good, fair, and poor pipe is, and to put together a program to put your money towards your poor pipes first,” he explains.

“A lot of people will go out and do little segments, but they have no idea. It’s like when a doctor gives you a complete physical exam and checks your whole body out, they are looking at your whole body versus just looking at one little part of your body every year. So we go to the baseline assessment, do the evaluation, come back to our clients, and say, ‘here are the areas of concern,’ so they can focus their money on fixing the right pipes.”



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