THERE will be no more water supply disruptions during Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd’s (Syabas) scheduled cleaning of water reservoirs and tanks, thanks to a new underwater robotic cleaner.
Known as the Underwater Tank Cleaning Robot, this machine sucks out sludge and sediments at the bottom of reservoirs and water tanks without having to cut off water supply to consumers.
“The robot operates inside the tank and cleans without disrupting water supply,” said WQ Enterprise Sdn Bhd owner Mai Thean Loon.
The inventor of the robot assures the public that even if the cleaning takes months, water supply will continue uninterrupted under normal circumstances.
Equipped with a light, camera, brush and a suction system, this locally designed-and-made robot moves only on the floor of the tank.
“So far, the robot can only move on a horizontal surface and not on the walls yet. That feature is still a work in progress,” he said.
The 52-year-old engineer invented the underwater robot with the help of Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) students, and finished the first prototype in 2004.
Over time, he improved the model and sold it to other countries such as the Philippines.
The Johorean then worked with water concessionaires in Johor, offering them his cleaning services.
Slowly, Mai expanded his business to other states including Sarawak, Pahang, Penang and Selangor.
In Selangor, Mai has helped water concessionaires Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd and Syabas clean and maintain water reservoirs, dams, treatment plants and tanks.
“This cleaning method is effective and easy. It does not require much power or manpower,” he said.
Mai said the duration of the cleaning process would depend on the size of the place.
For a tank holding about one million gallons of water, cleaning will take up to five days.
However, for bigger areas such as water treatment plants or water-holding areas, cleaning can take up to months at a time.
“It depends on the sediments as well. If it is thick and has never been cleaned for over 20 years, then it will take months to clean even a small reservoir,” he said.
He explained that the plastic robot was hooked up to a vertically suspended hose, which would channel dirt and sediments out of the reservoir.
“We do not use metal, only plastic to prevent bacteria or rust from polluting the water,” he added.
The machine is washed thoroughly with chlorine before putting it in through the manhole opening.
For eight hours a day, operators will be on hand to control and monitor the cleaning process via a screen synced to the built-in camera on the robot.
Operators control the machine using only a simple joystick, moving it around the tank to ensure it cleans thoroughly.
“Hourly checks and water sampling will be carried out to ensure the water is not contaminated,” said Syabas water quality department senior manager Roskhandi Kamaluddin.
He explained that water sampling would be taken at three different places; first at the reservoir or tank, second at water outlets and third at sampling stations found in residential areas.
“So far, everything is working well, and there are no complaints from consumers about water disruptions during our cleaning process,” he said.
Syabas engaged Mai’s company in 2010, where discussions on how and where to clean lasted for two years.
In 2012, Syabas started using the underwater robot cleaner and has cleaned 10 reservoirs so far, which had been identified as critical.
One was in Klang, one in Shah Alam, four in Kuala Lumpur and another four in Hulu Langat.
“This is definitely a better way to clean as it eliminates the risk of contamination as compared to manual cleaning,” said Roskhandi.
He said Syabas would continue using this robotic method of cleaning, starting with the critical areas first.
After that, a schedule will be drawn up for their annual maintenance called Air Scouring Prog-ramme where the company will also conduct occasional sampling and analysis on the water quality.