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Townsville assets need unique management

Regional councils must meet the challenge of keeping assets maintained and renewed to provide the same levels of service often with smaller budgets than their urban counterparts, but one Queensland council has been taking a carefully considered approach to making the most out of managing its infrastructure.

As part of the Water Source asset management series, we spoke to the Australian Water Association Asset Management Specialist Committee member Sen Vigneswaran, Asset Management Services Manager, to gain insights into how Townsville City Council is meeting the challenge.

Predicting the asset’s future

Vigneswaran said the council faces some particularly unique issues when it comes to asset management due to the urban make-up of the Queensland town.

“Townsville City Council provides up to 55,000 megalitres per annum, to around 85,000 residential and commercial customers. We also collect around 26,000 megalitres per annum of sewage,” he said.

“We have a couple of unique challenges. Our geographic area spans more than 60 km north, 50 to 60 km south and about 50 km west, as well.

“About two decades ago, urban planning allowed for sprawl. Townsville became a lot more spread out. This means that we now have to provide the infrastructure for essential services to a population that is quite dispersed.

“For this size town, with a population of 195,000, we have 2600 km of water mains, which is one of the high ratios of person-per-pipe compared to other utilities and councils.

“This is definitely a challenge for us in terms of how we manage our assets. Because of this previous urban planning, when the time came to replace the assets, we didn’t have a lot of funding for these works.”

As a cascading effect of this issue, the council let some water assets degrade more than usual based on risk profile, Vigneswaran said, but the issue has led the council to consider smarter ways of managing asset works and replacements.

“As a direct result of this challenge, over the last two years we have been doing a lot of work to better predict water asset investments,” he said.

“We were not able to replace assets based on age. We really needed to maximise our asset utilisation and limit disruptions of failures as well. It’s a balancing act of risk, cost and performance in service delivery.

“We started to collect our asset’s failure data. Based on this failure and condition data, we were able to predict the assets by investing in Tignernix Asset Prediction Technology that would likely be failing within the next 10 years.

“We knew that if we were to take the traditional approach to replacing assets, we would need about $60 to 70 million per annum. But when we start to replace assets based on their condition and risk profile, rather than their age, we only need about $10 to 15 million annually over the next 10 years.”

Vigneswaran said this Tigernix Asset Prediction solution has been successfully used for the council’s water mains, and that the asset prediction approach is now being applied to wastewater mains now, too.

Finding value

Aside from lowering the budgetary pressure on asset capital works, Townsville City Council has also been busy aligning its Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP) to ISO55000 — the international Asset Management Standards.

“Last year was our first year of having our ISO55000 aligned SAMP. We focused on the asset lifecycle management framework, and the link between council’s physical resources — infrastructure assets, funding and works delivery — and business enablers — people, process and technology,” Vigneswaran said.

“Previously we were doing asset management without focusing on levels of service or the value we were providing to the community, and ISO55000 has shifted this paradigm.

“This work of aligning SAMP to ISO55000 has been about ensuring we are linking the value that we offer to our community through our people, our processes, the technology we utilise and the assets that we manage.

“We have linked everything that we do through the asset management system model. That includes our stakeholders, leadership, organisational and asset management objectives, decision-making by managing risks, performance monitoring and improvement.

“This has helped us add value to our different levels of service, with the line of sight between community, enterprise, technical and delivery.

“Linking all of the ISO55000 focus areas through asset lifecycle management framework into our value proposition has taken a lot of work, but I am very proud of what we have managed to achieve.”

Twinning up

Moving forward, Townsville City Council will be focused on developing its asset management capability delivery model to further align with ISO55000 as well.

Vigneswaran said the team was also working towards launching its first digital twin with Tigernix, which is a digital replica of the council’s Ross River Dam.

The digital twin will help the council manage the effects of algal bloom, which can cause disruptions to treatment processes and provision of services.

“We live in a tropical climate here in Townsville. We are having more and more blue-green algae issues and treatment issues associated with these outbreaks,” Vigneswaran said.

“We have established Ross River Dam as the first part of our catchment-to-consumer digital twin model and we are about to finish our digital twin of this asset.

“We will have real-time monitoring data of flow, pressure and catchment parameters, which vary with algae. This will help us greatly with detection and management of algae blooms.”