New ‘Smart Hammer’ technology proves a hit with SSEN engineers

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) is trialling 'Smart Hammer' a tool which provides quick and accurate assessments of the health of critical network infrastructure. The £498,200 trial will take a place across its north and south networks over a 20-month period to explore how this innovation could deliver a new cost-effective approach to network maintenance.

SSEN is responsible for operating and maintaining the electricity distribution networks supplying over 3.8 million homes and businesses across central southern England and the north of Scotland. As part of this network, SSEN engineers and linespersons are responsible for maintaining over 925,000 wooden overhead line poles and the thousands of kilometres of overhead lines they support.

The current assessment procedure for overhead line poles involves a linesperson striking a pole with a standard hammer and using the sound created as an indication of the state of the pole. This long-standing process, however, does not provide a detailed assessment and relies on the tester’s discretion to provide an indication of the pole’s state.

With Smart Hammer, any overhead linesperson can quickly capture consistent and specific data, resulting in a more complete understanding of a pole’s health and a consistent testing process. Data captured by Smart Hammer is then added to an online internal database, which will alert crews when a replacement is necessary.

The advantage of Smart Hammer is that it provides consistent and low-cost assessments and drives efficiency in inspections. More timely secondary inspections methods are then only used when required, allowing for more efficient planning of capital programmes. Data provided by Smart Hammer is made available to all overhead assessment teams through the internal database, enabling a more complete and accurate assessment of pole health throughout SSEN’s network.

Kevin Dennis, Project Manager for Smart Hammer said:

“Smart Hammer provides an innovative opportunity to improve on a process that every network operator experiences. More detailed, accessible and consistent data will allow overhead linesperson and line inspectors to better assess overhead line poles in a cost-effective manner.

“If the trial across our north and south distribution areas is successful, we hope it will lead to widespread adoption of Smart Hammer, allowing for more efficient testing procedures throughout overhead assessment teams.”

Smart Hammer is a 20-month project that secured £498,200 in Network Innovation Allowance funding from Ofgem. The trial will run until April 2021 with the goal of being fully operational across SSEN’s network areas by November 2021.