Built for the Field

InfraMAP software uses a GIS platform and a simple architecture designed to make it easy for mobile crews to inspect, locate, document and report
Built  for the  Field
Figure 1. The software overlays sewer and water infrastructure layers on service area maps or aerial photos. (Photos courtesy of iWater)

Interested in Cleaning?

Get Cleaning articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Cleaning + Get Alerts

Infrastructure software is a powerful tool for municipal managers and engineers, but what about field crews? Software tools can make their work easier, too.

That’s the idea behind infraMAP software from iWater, Inc. The company describes the application as “by field crews, for field crews.” It is a GIS-based application that work crew members can use to support water valve exercising, hydrant fire flow testing, hydrant flushing, pipeline tracing, and numerous other maintenance tasks on water, sewer and other municipal and utility systems.

The software provides forms that crews can use on laptop computers to display and enter maintenance data. It is designed to help agencies automate work processes, eliminate paperwork, and reduce work hours.

According to iWater, the software is the only mobile GIS system that can directly control hydraulic valve machines: It interfaces with all automated valve exercising equipment from E.H. Wachs. Kevin Koshko, software architect with iWater, demonstrated the software by way of an Internet meeting on Aug. 18.

 

Walk-around

Koshko notes that the software was designed to be “extremely user-friendly” for use by work crews in the field. It is designed for use with laptop or tablet computers and is optimized for pen-based and touchscreen systems. Handwriting recognition makes it easy for crews to transition from paper-based forms to the computer.

The software has a fully functioning GPS navigation system. Real-time vehicle location is displayed on the map of the infrastructure, and turn-by-turn directions can be generated for any asset in the system.

As a GIS-based application, the software uses maps or aerial photographs on which a variety of infrastructure can be overlaid. It uses an ArcMap MXD file to configure symbology and visible layers.

Any feature on the map can be displayed and identified. Maintenance history can be displayed from the office or in the field. Every inspection form has a detailed activity history, and users can click on each entry in history to see what was done and when.

The software can automatically synchronize field computers with the master SDE database. Field units can sync all changes with a single button click. Easy-to-use forms allow users to input data. An intuitive “follow the yellow” format highlights the required fields on each data form, making it easy for technicians to input complete data for each type of maintenance activity.

 

Operation

Koshko opened the software and revealed an aerial photograph of a city with maps of valves, hydrants and pipelines overlaid. Down the left side of the screen and across the top were icons to click for the software’s various functions (Figure 1). He demonstrated the basic map functionality, zooming and panning, and rotating and dragging the map.

Clicking on a satellite icon, he activated the GPS function. With the GPS active, a cursor follows the location of the service vehicle on the map. Koshko then clicked a check box to turn on the water system overlay and demonstrate use of the software with E.H. Wachs valve exercising equipment.

When he clicked a valve icon on the map, a map tip popped up showing basic information about that asset — valve identification number, diameter, function and status (Figure 2). He noted that utilities can customize all map tips to show the information they consider the most pertinent. A click on a link at the bottom of the map tip brought up complete details on the valve.

From a Select Activity drop-down menu, he chose valve exercising, and a data form appeared with several fields highlighted in yellow — the fields the work crew would need to complete as part of the exercising process (Figure 3). Another click on a Valve Machine button brought up a controller screen for the valve exerciser (Figure 4).

If the system had been connected to a valve exerciser, a click on a Start button would have activated the machine to exercise the valve. The controller would show the torque, the high limit, the number of turns, and the turning direction.

After exercising, a click on Save would load the data from the procedure into the software, and the system would display a torque chart of the valve’s performance. If not using a valve exercising machine, the crew would manually enter the number of turns and other data into the software.

The valve data screen also included a Comments box where crews could select frequently used comments from a drop-down menu or type in any comment. From the data screen, crews could also access the valve’s maintenance history, update its GPS location, and link a document or attach a photo.

Next, Koshko demonstrated the use of the system for fire flow testing a hydrant. He brought up a hydrant from the map, displayed the detailed data, selected the fire flow test activity, and entered the parameters for the flow test. From this data, the system automatically calculated the flow velocity and gallons used.

“Instead of technicians being out in the field with calculators or flow charts, the software does all that work for them,” Koshko said. Again, all information is recorded in history. Koshko noted that utilities can use cumulative data from fire flow tests to help account for non-revenue water.

Koshko also demonstrated the software’s reporting functions. A click on an Answers and Reports icon brought up a dashboard on the status of the water system (Figure 5). From a drop-down menu, he selected Water Operations and brought up a list of reports, such as total valves, total hydrants, total backflow devices, main breaks in the past year, broken valves and closed valves.

A click on Closed Valves brought up a water system map showing all the closed valves as reddish circles, including a cluster in one area. “This kind of information helps agencies make better decisions,” he observed. “If we have been receiving low-pressure complaints from this area of town, perhaps here is the reason.”

Koshko showed how users can color-code assets for reporting purposes. He brought up a map of the system showing all valves that had been exercised (in green) and those needing to be exercised (in red).

Next, he demonstrated how the system automatically generates printable reports in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

Switching to a view of sewer operations, Koshko unchecked a box to turn off the water system map layer and make the sewer system more visible. He brought up a map of a quarterly pipe cleaning schedule, showing pipes already cleaned as green and pipes still in need of cleaning as red.

Clicking on a red pipe, he brought up a data screen with a look and feel similar to those for valve exercising and hydrant flow testing. Here, after cleaning, crews would enter data on factors such as root intrusion, the presence of fats, oils and grease, flow characteristics, and structural issues. From the same screen they could access video from any previous TV inspections of the pipe.

The software also enables crews to access as-built drawings of sections of infrastructure from the map, interacting with them just as with the map itself, zooming in and out and rotating the image.

Two other capabilities of the system were noteworthy. A redlining function enables crews in the field to mark and describe corrections to GIS maps (Figure 6). Once the redlined feature is stored in memory, it is marked on the map with a red circle for later review by GIS personnel. A list of redlined items is automatically downloaded to the GIS department when the infraMAP data is synchronized with the database at the end of the workday. GIS staffers then actually make the changes to the official map.

The software also includes a locating function that is useful especially in emergencies. Koshko illustrated the feature with a hypothetical water main break at 186 Rowland Street. He clicked on a binoculars icon and entered the address; the system found a match and placed an X on the map at that location. He then clicked a compass icon and pulled up turn-by-turn driving directions to the spot.

A click on another button brought up a tool for pipeline isolation. A click on the affected pipe then brought up buttons for valves that would need to be shut down to isolate the pipe and the hydrants and services affected. Selecting the Valves to Close button caused those assets to flash on the map.

Selecting Services Affected caused those meters to flash on the map and generated a list of the names of the customer who would be affected by a shutdown of the pipe. From there, he generated an Excel spreadsheet listing contact information that staff could use to notify customers of the service interruption. “We have seen utilities use this in a reverse 911 system, in which the software takes the Excel spreadsheet information and automatically dials the customers,” Koshko said.

 

Observer comments

The infraMAP software appears to be an effective tool for helping field crews record and document their work and to help municipal departments track the progress of maintenance, inspection and rehabilitation programs. It includes a variety of tools that crews can use in caring for a wide range of underground and aboveground infrastructure.

While the software interfaces with specific valve exercising equipment, enabling control of the machines from a laptop or tablet computer, it would be interesting to see whether it could be adapted to interact with other devices, such as waterjetters, inspection cameras, or fire flow testing equipment.

 

Developer comments

Software architect Koshko notes that the infraMAP application is being used by about 60 water and wastewater utilities in North America, ranging from small municipal departments to large metropolitan agencies.

The developer, iWater, got its start as a contractor with crews providing services like valve exercising, hydrant flow testing and meter changeouts for utilities. The company developed the software for its own work crews in 2002 and turned it into a commercial product in 2004.

“The system allows a high degree of customization,” says Koshko. “The forms within the system are fully customizable, and customers have used it for purposes beyond water and sewer infrastructure service. For example, we have customers who use it for purposes like street sign maintenance and potholing. It does a great deal, and yet it is very simple and easy for crews to use in the field.”



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.