Aquacheck Engineering is celebrating the graduation of the first student to be awarded a PhD via its partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).
Dr Dario Chiantello’s research initially aimed to develop an acoustic modelling device to detect potential transient surges generated from standpipe valves, but became more focussed on the potential to train models from the data collated. He took part in a graduation ceremony on 24 July 2023.
Transient surges give out distinct sounds, which help engineers identify and locate them using specialist equipment. Capturing these acoustic footprints helps indicate and classify events on the network, including leaks and bursts, illegal connections, and devices connecting to pipes.
However, gathering audio data from buried infrastructure, private premises and harsh environments can be difficult and expensive. Machine learning (ML) provides many opportunities to speed up the process and make it more efficient and effective, but developing new ML algorithms depends on the availability of training and test data.
Through his research, Dr Chiantello sought to maximise the data yielded from small sets of real recordings and demonstrate how to extract useful features for machine learning. His research was completed alongside his work with Aquacheck on the commercialisation of the smart standpipe.
Aquacheck Engineering has manufactured high quality mechanical standpipes, used by most UK water companies, over decades. The equipment connects to the water network for temporary water uses like street cleaning operators and construction companies, as well as the utilities themselves for certain operational works.
The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) has helped create a new internet-of-things (IoT) connected standpipe to address multiple industry-wide water network issues through the integration of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). This enables water companies to monitor real-time data for the location, volume, flow and pressure readings for every standpipe in use.
Multiple benefits include better network management, faster location and detection of leaks, and accurate billing of third party users of the network. The initiative won Innovate UK KTP Awards’ Best of the Best category for the Smart Standpipe technology in 2020.
Dr Chiantello said, “This was a new experience for Aquacheck and for me, as this was their first PhD too, so it has been a learning path for everyone.
“It has been especially challenging to do my research whilst working on the commercialisation of the Smart Standpipe as often the goals are very different. For academia, there is a need to create new knowledge, which might not be immediately relevant to industry, so balance has to be found.
“For anyone else intending to combine research with a role in industry, I would recommend putting a lot of thought into planning ways to align research priorities and industry outcomes right from the start.”
Chiantello was initially employed by Manchester Met as a KTP associate in 2016, joining Aquacheck Engineering in 2019. He said the pandemic gave him an unexpected opportunity to focus more keenly on his doctoral research, which was completed in March 2023.
He is now finalising preparations for the production of the Smart Standpipe and rollout to the global water industry, before setting out on a 2,500km bike journey from Manchester to his native Sicily.
Dr Chiantello’s supervisor, Professor Bamidele Adebisi is head of the smart infrastructure and industry research (SIIR) group in the Department of Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University. He said, “It was a great pleasure working with Aquacheck Engineering and Dario to complete his PhD programme.
“Outputs from Dario’s doctorate research are a good addition to the successes already recorded in our joint KTP project with Aquacheck. It demonstrates that research and commercialisation are two sides of the same coin. Congratulations Dario and Aquacheck!”
Paul Carrington, managing director of Aquacheck Engineering said, “I couldn’t be more proud that Dario has completed his doctorate at Aquacheck. He has worked tremendously hard both on his research and on development of the Smart Standpipe.
“The experience of working with Dario, along with Professor Adebisi and the engineering department at Manchester Met, and the Innovate UK KTN, has pushed Aquacheck to a new level of innovation. We are now combining our specialist engineering skills with a much broader range of knowledge and expertise to develop even more transformational technologies for the global water sector and other markets.”
KTPs aim to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills within the UK knowledge base. The project was Government-funded by UK Research & Innovation through Innovate UK.
Ceri Carr, KTP manager at Manchester Metropolitan University said, “Many congratulations to Dario on his graduation, he couldn’t deserve it more. The partnership with Aquacheck and the Knowledge Transfer Network has been a very positive experience for the University.
“For me one of the highlights was winning the Innovate UK KTN’s Best of the Best Award for the Smart Standpipe technology. This was a first for Manchester Met and we were up against some very tough competition.
“As an institution, we’ve developed a much better understanding of water sector challenges, and through introductions from Paul and Dario, our industry networks have strengthened and grown, and we’ve discovered many more partnership opportunities. I have every expectation that we will continue working together on a wide range of innovative ideas.”
Paul Carrington is already building on the successful KTP, with Aquatech taking on a new doctoral candidate from Manchester Met.
“Our PhD programme is continuing,” he says, “and we are now sponsoring Jessica Pimlott, a specialist in electrochemistry, to help develop our in-field sensors for lead detection.”