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  • Writer's pictureDavid Pointing

Non-Destructive Testing for Power Poles: Innovation in the Australian Power Sector

Updated: Jun 4

In the rapidly evolving landscape of the Australian power sector, maintaining the integrity and reliability of infrastructure is paramount.


Wooden power poles, a critical component of the distribution network, face challenges from environmental stressors and wear over time.


To address these challenges, the Australian Power Institute (API) partnered with Energy Networks Australia to spearhead research projects focused on innovative solutions.


One such initiative is the Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) for Condition Assessment of Wooden Poles Project, which seeks to enhance the evaluation and maintenance of wooden poles without compromising their structural integrity.


A working group composed of industry representatives and researchers from the University of Queensland, Chaired by Craig Savage,m Head of Strategic Projects at CitiPower, Powercor and United Energy, have been working together for approximately 2 years.


The NDT Workshop: A Collaborative Effort


In July 2023, Essential Energy hosted a comprehensive workshop in Port Macquarie, bringing together vendors, industry professionals, and researchers to showcase and assess various NDT technologies. This workshop aimed to provide a platform for learning about different NDT devices, generate comparative data, and ultimately identify the most effective methods for assessing wooden pole conditions. The devices were tested on a number of buried wood poles taken out from the service and full-scale breaking tests were later conducted to assess the accuracy of these devices.


NDT Technologies Explored


The workshop featured a diverse array of NDT devices, each utilizing distinct technologies and methodologies:

Mechanical Devices:

  • Micro-drills: Measure drilling resistance to estimate wood density and wall thickness.

  • Pin Penetration Devices: Gauge material strength and moisture content through resistance measurements.

  • Mechanical Load Testers: Apply a small load to measure pole deflection and estimate strength.

Acoustic and Wave Interpretation Devices:

  • Acoustic Signal Devices: Interpret acoustic signals from nails hammered into the pole to create a cross-sectional image of wood integrity.

  • Vibrational Analysis Tools: Analyze vibrations induced by hammer strikes to assess pole stiffness and strength.

  • X-ray Densitometers: Use x-ray technology to measure wood density and moisture content.

Key Findings from the Workshop

The workshop's rigorous testing and analysis yielded significant insights into the efficacy of various NDT methods:

  • Strength Predictions: Most devices did not accurately predict pole strength (when compared to actual breaking test values), with many overestimating by a significant amount. However, some methods showed promising accuracy for specific poles.

  • Wall Thickness and Section Modulus: Devices measuring drilling resistance showed promise in estimating wall thickness, crucial for calculating section modulus. Acoustic signal devices also demonstrated high accuracy in specific cases.

  • Material Properties: Some devices exhibited limitations in accurately measuring fibre strength and moisture content, particularly for high-density Australian hardwoods.

Implications for the Power Sector

The findings from the Port Macquarie workshop underscore the importance of selecting appropriate NDT methods tailored to specific conditions and pole types. By leveraging accurate and reliable NDT technologies, utility companies can enhance their maintenance strategies, reduce operational risks, and extend the lifespan of wooden poles.


Conclusion

The collaborative efforts between the API, Energy Networks Australia, and research teams across Australian universities highlight the critical role of innovation in addressing practical challenges in the power sector. The NDT for Condition Assessment of Wooden Poles Project exemplifies how industry-academia partnerships can drive technological advancements, ensuring a robust and resilient power infrastructure for Australia.

On behalf of the API, we extend our sincere thanks to the working group and University of Queensland team, Essential Energy (workshop hosts), and the participating vendors, industry professionals, and researchers who contributed to the success of this workshop. Your collaboration and dedication are vital to our ongoing efforts to innovate and improve the Australian power sector.


More information: For more information on this project contact Dr Monaaf Al-Falahi, Technical Program Coordinator at Energy Networks Australia (malfalahi@energynetworks.com.au). Note access to the full report is only available to organisations that are members of ENA.


Discover more about the ENA/API's Australian Strategic Technology Program.


Collaborate with the university research team:

We encourage links between industry and university researchers - the key university contact for this project is Dr. Chandima Ekanayake, School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, The University of Queensland (chandima@eecs.uq.edu.au).



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