February 2019 saw the launch of our second innovation lab.
We set out a challenge against five priority areas where we wanted to be better at what we do. These included; ‘Right Information, Right Place Right Time’; ‘Empowered and Knowledgeable Colleagues’; ‘Connected Customer’; and the catch all ‘future of water’. Advertising to 1,500 suppliers the aim was to reach out to people working in other sectors and countries.
We received 82 applications, 36 of which were from organisations new to working with us. The list was narrowed down to 20, with people being invited to pitch their ideas.
Eight successful finalists, named our Innovation Lab Partners who impressed with their pitches were then selected to join us in our Warrington headquarters’ Innovation Centre.
Out of the Eight to join the lab, two had never worked in the UK water industry before, and the companies came from worldwide including Australia, Denmark and the UK.
In the 10 weeks we delivered nine field trials. The successful ideas have led to supply agreements and or further development in the technologies.
Kieran Brocklebank is Head of Innovation at United Utilities and he said the energy and enthusiasm of the lab 2 suppliers has been “infectious”:
“Interestingly, all the suppliers we are working with would label themselves as small or start-up and five of them had never worked with a UK water company before They all have a completely different energy to a large corporate like United Utilities, which is exactly what you need to disrupt the status quo.
"Of the eight companies we are working with, four already had a market-ready product. The other four had concepts or prototypes, but in the space of ten short weeks we have taken all those prototypes to the next level so they are also market-ready. It can only be good news for our customers that innovation is going to be adopted faster.
“Before April we will be publishing the Lab results, after sharing with some of the UK water companies first. We want to promote the fantastic work that these eight suppliers have done, we want to endorse them, make introductions for them, help them get equity investment – all the things that they are going to need to grow and meet the demand of the sector, here in the UK and globally. So watch this space in 2020!”
The suppliers involved in the second Innovation Lab were:
AJEA Products Ltd - AJEA is a product design and manufacturing company based in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Their core aim is to bring new and innovative products to a range of global markets. Working with United Utilities they have been testing their new concept in flood resilience - Quell™ - A passive barrier system, that doesn’t require any power source or human interaction to deploy.
Aqua Consultants - Aqua Consultants are specialist engineering and technology consultants operating across the Water, Energy and Environment sectors. Using the right mix of data analytics and water industry subject matter expertise, Aqua can help its clients secure savings by identifying minimum build solutions for Capital Investment and real time monitoring of assets. To ensure OPEX savings are identified, quantified and materialized through actionable intelligence
FIDO - FIDO (Free Inserted Data Objects) sees the insertion of three free-floating spheres that travel in any pipe size through the water network, first collecting, then uploading and analysing the data in the cloud using FIDO’s differential analytics algorithm. Analysed data is sent back to the engineer’s phone or tablet clearly identifying pipe anomalies such as leaks (size and location), air pockets and chokes to within one metre.
Emu Analytics - Emu Analytics provide software designed to ingest, analyse and visualise geospatial and temporal data assets, for the purpose of creating visual insights that are accessible to all within an organisation.
Headlight AI - Headlight AI is a sensory artificial intelligence (AI) company with a diverse team of scientists and engineers developing software and integrated solutions for robots and vehicles operating in harsh and complex environments. Their multi-sensor cross-learning technology provides improved perception and is currently being used for infrastructure inspection and monitoring within the water and rail markets. It is also being used to help develop autonomous vehicles (ground, water, and air based systems) that can operate in dark underground locations and in adverse weather conditions.
Introdus - Introdus is a mobile, cloud-based Pre and Onboarding solution which enables companies to create custom content to share with new starters, with the aim of improving employee time to performance, encouraging them to stay longer and making them feel part of the team from day one.
Neptune Solutions - Neptune Solutions has developed a system for retaining and containing water. This patented invention consists of a metal structure/frame which is built from box sections and machined bars. The metal structure rests on four screw piles. Side plates and clamps are fixed to the sides of the barrier to allow more barriers to sit next to each other, forming a retaining wall of individual barriers.
VAPAR - VAPAR helps water utilities speed up the repairs of their underground pipes. VAPAR's cloud platform automates the fault detection directly from inspection footage of sewer pipes turning a 2 week manual process into a 2 minute job.
The 2019 Innovation Lab built on the success of the 2018 scheme, which resulted in three long term contracts being awarded in the fields of artificial intelligence, chemical free treatment and asset condition monitoring.