Posted on July 2, 2020 by staff

Meet robot working quietly under Manchester’s busiest streets

Cisbot checks and seals joints in gas mains as supply continues to flow and traffic remains undisturbed

Look what’s hard at work under the Mancunian Way. 

A robot working unseen, underground, to check and seal joints in Manchester’s older gas mains. 

Cadent, which manages the North West’s 21,000-mile gas distribution network, has deployed Cast Iron Sealing Bot – or Cisbot, for short – under the city’s streets for the first time. 

Motorists and pedestrians are just metres above as it works inside mains that stay ‘live’ – so gas continues to flow safely around the robot and there is no interruption to supply. 

Cisbot is operated remotely by engineers working from a special vehicle to the side of the carriageway so there is minimal disruption to road users. 

Measuring 12 inches by 35 inches, the robot sends live images back to the team in that control vehicle, as it checks every joint and applies a special sealant. 

This technology was first used in New York and Boston, and later in London and Edinburgh. 

Cadent arranged two North West trials late last year, in Oldham and Salford. Impressed with the results, it has now deployed Cisbot under central Manchester. 

In recent weeks, the robot has sealed 62 joints in a 240-metre section of gas main under Higher Cambridge Street and 40 joints on a 145-metre section under Loxford Street. 

Cadent has identified dozens of similar jobs, in total around 4km of mains, for Cisbot to work on this year. This includes the Mancunian Way and other city centre streets. 

Mark Berry, Head of Customer Operations, Cadent, said: “This is amazing technology, allowing us to extend the life of our older gas mains, without disrupting our customers or road users. 

“Over time, the joints in these ageing mains naturally start to degrade. If they ever developed a leak and we had to repair them, that would mean digging down and possibly being in situ for weeks at a time. For a road like the Mancunian Way, that would be hugely disruptive. 

“Cisbot checks all of these joints, one by one. It drills holes into them and injects a special sealant. This can extend the life of the main for many decades. Everyday life and travel carries on as normal above it and the gas network stays safe and sound, as it must be.” 

Developed by US company ULC Robotics, whose specialist engineers are carrying out this work in the North West, Cisbot is also being used by Cadent in London and Norwich. 

So how does it work? 

The robot enters and exits the gas main each day through a sealed launch tube. There is no risk of a fire or explosion, as the pipes have no oxygen inside them. Using three wheels, Cisbot is able to rotate 360 degrees around the main, drilling into the joints and applying the sealant. 

In New York City, the robot was reported to have found a number of foreign objects inside the gas mains, including a baseball and stiletto shoes. It found a 1939 edition newspaper under Boston.