Elmwood Park uses robot to repair sewers
This photo snapshot from video shows the inside of a sewer in Elmwood Park. The video is shot by a robot sent into the sewers to look for breaks. | Courtesy of Insituform Technologies USA
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:15AM
The water that leaves homes and businesses in Elmwood Park through a drain ends up in the countless miles of sewer pipe that run through the village.
It’s the job of Elmwood Park Public Works Director Dino Braglia to make sure that water and waste that goes down the drain doesn’t come back.
Sewer pipes in the village vary in size from 12 inches in diameter to 6 feet.
The majority of the sewer pipes feed into the trunk line along 78th Avenue before it heads off south to be treated at the sanitary district. The sewer pipe, which is used by the majority of municipalities, is made of vitreous clay, which has been subjected to a vitrification a process that fuses the clay and makes it very hard.
He says the condition of the village’s sewers varies and every year they take a certain area in the village and check the sewer lines.
“You may have one (section of sewer) that is absolutely perfect then the next is cracked,” he said.
Braglia brings his 32 years of experience in the department under his new position in the public works department.
He said the problems that occur with sewer pipes, besides wear and encroaching tree roots, date back to the original workers.
“Guys in the 1920s or 1940s were digging by hand,” he said describing how the sewer pipes were initially installed in the ground.
During those times they would dig the hole from the home or business to the main sewer pipe along the street and break out a segment of the main sewer pipe to make a hole for the connection. Braglia said the workers would seal the connection with concrete, but depending on the worker, the quality of the seal varied.
If a sewer pipe connection was made on a downward angle, the same process of making sure the connection was sealed needed to be done, but in both instances the shoddy seal work, angle of the sewage flow in a downward angle or both eventually led to leaks or cracks in the pipe.
Braglia believes getting the work done quickly and easily was sometimes considered the best way back then.
Today, with new technology, repairing sewers is done more efficiently. To find out if a pipe needs to be repaired the village contracts with a company that uses a small robot that travels through the pipe with a camera on it showing what the inside of the pipe looked like.
What the camera sees is displayed on a screen at another location outside the pipe. Engineers then determined where repairs are needed.
Instead of digging up and replacing the pipe, they’ve been using another technique to repair most sewer breaks in the village, Braglia said.
The process is called cured-in-place-pipe (CIPP). He described it like pulling a tight rubber glove that comes off your hand inside out.
The epoxy-based polyurethane lining is pumped inside out into the pipe that needs to be repaired sealing in all the cracks in the pipe.
“A hose travels through and releases steam helping it (lining) contort to the pipe,” Braglia said. “You wait for a few hours for the pipe to harden.”
He said once it has hardened a robot with a camera on it is sent back down into the pipe — this time with a cutting tool on it. Where the connections to the main sewer line were covered by the lining the robot cuts it open again allowing sewage flow to the main sewer line.
Braglia said the process is like playing a video game because the process is controlled by another person on the outside operating the robot’s movements.
The process was used last year to fix sewer lines n 2900 block of 73rd Avenue, 72nd Court and 3000 block of 77th Avenue. The village contracted with Carylon Corporation of Chicago.
Braglia said to repair the three sections cost the village about $100,000.
Braglia said this year they will focus on a portion of the sewer line along 78th Avenue.
“You don’t know how bad a sewer is until you televise it,” he said referring to the robot’s recorded images.
“We’re going to do a certain amount of repair and have it lined,” he said.
Braglia knows that nothing lasts forever and that includes sewer pipes, but he’s glad that technology is on his side.
“I’d like to see as much of (village’s) sewer get lined as possible,” he