WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently awarded a grant to California-based Fibrwrap Construction Inc. — construction arm of the Fyfe Group, manufacturer of fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) — to generate a prototype robot enabling the application of carbon-fiber reinforcement inside water transmission pipes. The goal is to facilitate trenchless repair and rehabilitation — even in small-diameter pipes.

In December, NIST announced as much as $71 million in funding through its Technology Innovation Program (TIP) for 20 new cost-sharing projects that will support innovative, high-risk research in novel technologies that address critical national needs. Fibrwrap was awarded more than $8 million by the NIST TIP to develop a robotic platform that will repair and retrofit deteriorating water mains nationwide.

In partnership with San Diego-based Fyfe Co. LLC, and the University of California, Irvine, Fibrwrap’s prototype robotics will be used to apply high-strength FRP to the inside of aging water transmission pipelines. Tyfo Fibrwrap FRP is designed to prevent pipes from bursting, collapsing, or further deteriorating. If implemented, this new technology reportedly could contribute to saving communities $245 billion in lost opportunities and rebuilding of critical underground pipelines.

The Tyfo Carbon Fiber System has been used to strengthen pipelines for the past decade, but the TIP plan will permit the system to be applied as much as 10 times faster than manual application. When the robotic prototype is complete, it will adjust to a variety of pipe sizes and apply advance composite fiber more rapidly than human workers — even to problematic surfaces that are uneven and oddly shaped.

Thus far, the robotics approach has been attempted, but to no avail.

“The difference in this approach is the patent-pending technology and the strong team of joint-venture partners, along with supporting members such as San Diego County Water Authority, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, District of Columbia Water and Sewer, and renowned engineers Simpson, Gumphertz and Heger,” said Heath Carr, CEO of Fibrwrap. “The combination of expertise and cutting-edge robotics is taking the standardization of carbon fiber for advanced pipe retrofitting — including extended runs — to the next level.”