Flood gate

Tests being carried out at a remote pumping station aim to remove the need for manual checks on flood-prevention systems. Berenice Baker reports


Condition monitoring systems based on piezo-electric crystal technology are being tested by the Environment Agency (EA) in a bid to keep flood-prevention pumps in continuous working order even in remote locations.

A pumping station in the Humber estuary that helps protect local villages and farmland from flash flooding is being used for a trial installation, which could, eventually, remove the need for laborious manual checks.

Winestead pumping station, located on the outskirts of the village of Partington, houses two 240kW flow pumps that can each transfer up to 3,700 litres of floodwater per second back into the nearby river and out to sea. The pumps were installed in 1976 to prevent tidal flooding, but are now used increasingly frequently as a reduction in agricultural land use. This means that natural drainage and the soak-away of regular rainwater is reduced.

The pumps were designed to start automatically when floodwaters reached a certain level. However, if they stood idle for some time, EA engineers started to worry that they would not know if the pumps were in good working order until called upon. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that some stations had previously been run by other authorities and little historical maintenance data was available. Often, a breakdown would occur before a field engineer was called to carry out refurbishment.

Alerted by recent flash floods, the agency called upon Corus’s plant condition monitoring division, part of the Schaeffler Group, which suggested a trial system installation.

Ian Taylor, condition monitoring business development manager at Corus, said: ‘We used six piezo-electric crystal vibration sensors per pump connected to two FAG DTECT X1 online systems. When the crystal vibrates, they produce electricity, which is detected by the monitoring devices. The sensors were looking for vibrations that could indicate defects and abnormalities related to the condition of bearings inside the pump.

‘Each is linked to a simple traffic-light system where green indicates that everything is working normally, yellow indicates a minor change and red a major change. The level of vibration that indicates normal versus abnormal is based on a combination of Corus’s experience and an existing set of British standards,’ he added.

Corus’s condition monitoring business came out of an internal group founded to monitor the company’s own plant. This developed into a consultancy for both internal and external customers and was incorporated into the Schaeffler group.

According to Taylor, Corus has developed systems for similar water pumps before, including installations for Barmby Barrage on the River Derwent. What was new was a solution for such a remote station that was completely dependent on regular manual checks. The preliminary system is standalone and still depends on engineers inspecting the station and checking the traffic-light status of both pumps. However, Corus plans to enable remote monitoring.

The EA is responsible for around 100 pumping stations across the region and plans to install monitoring equipment into other sites. It also plans to integrate data from the DTECT X1 device into its programmable logic controller (PLC) equipment to continually monitor which equipment is in good working order and which requires attention.

In the meantime, the site’s remoteness is causing problems in gathering the data from the system. ‘There are longer-term plans to transmit data via modem or other means, but it is almost impossible to get a signal out there,’ said Taylor. ‘In a factory, it is easy to network systems to a computer and for similar off-site installations you’d normally use a mobile phone or WiFi links. This is a special case — Winestead is so far out of town; even the nearest house is five miles away, making it the epitome of a “not-spot”.’