In today's rapidly evolving landscape, the resilience and sustainability of infrastructure are more critical than ever. From bridges to roads, water treatment plants to energy grids, ports to mass rapid transports - our infrastructure assets form the backbone of modern society. Ensuring their optimal condition is essential for sustainable management, to deliver efficient service, for economic stability, for public safety and regulatory compliance. This is where asset condition assessment (ACA) emerges as a pivotal practice.

Observations from an Industry Expert


With over 30 years of experience in building new water and wastewater assets, a career change transitioned Pak Lum Lee, Technical Principal of Water Infrastructure at SMEC into an operational role, where he was responsible for aging and end-of-life assets and renewal planning. In that role he observed reasonably good assets being replaced while failing assets are only renewed reactively. A lack of knowledge about asset failures, resulted in decision paralysis and poorly funded renewals where critical assets are being run to failure.

It became clear to him that improved understanding of asset failures, annual funding, better tools, technology, and predictive models are essential to de-risk near end-of-life assets.


Following years of honing these skills in real-world environment, field testing technologies and through collaboration with research universities and testing labs on innovative trials, Pak Lum shares his insights on the challenges and opportunities in this field and outlines why every asset-rich organisation should “embed condition assessment into their daily operations.”


In this article, Pak Lum will focus on pipeline assets, however, most principles are applicable to other asset classes.



The Importance of Asset Condition Assessment


Asset condition assessment is the systematic process of evaluating the current state of infrastructure assets. This practice involves inspecting, testing, and analysing assets to determine their operational status, performance levels, condition and potential future risks. The insights garnered from ACA are invaluable:


Infographic 1 – The Importance of Asset Condition Assessment



Key Components of Asset Condition Assessment


An effective condition assessment exercise involves several key components, each contributing to a comprehensive understanding of the asset health:

  • By conducting due diligence and analysis of asset and operational data, the asset can be characterised in its unique operating environment.
  • Visual inspections provide insights into the assets condition, such as subtle signs of corrosion, delamination, the smell and sound or other forms of defects or deterioration.
  • Utilising special tools and advanced technologies such as drones, sensors, and IoT devices, data collection and processing of complex datasets has become more efficient and accurate. Some technologies provide real-time information, enabling swift responses to predict emerging issues before they occur.
  • Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) technologies allow for assessment of assets without damage, which are crucial for detecting hidden faults that could compromise structural integrity or asset performance. For failed assets, Destructive Testing (DT) provides critical forensic data that may inform the likelihood of the next failure.
  • Failure models are critical links between data and knowledge. By understanding pipeline degradation rate (Figure 1) for example, renewal timing and budget could be appropriately planned and funded

Figure 1 – 5 stages of asset decay


  • Leveraging the advancement of machine learning and AI, predictive analytics can forecast future asset conditions based on historical data. This allows for more accurate planning and risk management.
  • Documenting assessment findings supports decision-making processes and ensures that all stakeholders are informed.



Challenges with ACA


While the benefits of ACA are clear, the implementation of an effective assessment program is not without challenges:

  • Ageing infrastructure assets presents a significant challenge for utilities. In Australia, water utilities manage approximately $170 billion worth of urban water assets, where extensive network were installed post-WW2 are now nearing end of typical service life of 70 years. Despite an annual expenditure of over $4.5 billion on capital renewals, an estimated 19,000 water mains break each year, resulting in the loss of 265 gigalitres of potable water (The University of Adelaide, 2018). For example, Sydney Water reported 6,797 mains breaks for 2019-20 (Sydney Water, Water Conservation Report 2020-2021)
  • Unpredictable and Extreme Weather Patterns are occurring worldwide. According to the World Meteorological Organisation’s State of the Global Climate report, 2023 broke every single climate indicator, becoming the warmest year on record with global surface temperature of +1.45oC ( This includes the lowest Antarctic Sea ice, the highest global sea level, and the highest ocean temperature in 65 years (Davis, 2024) “The era of global warming has ended, and the era of global boiling has arrived,” emphasised UN Secretary-General António Guterres after scientists confirmed that July 2023 was on track to be the world’s hottest month on record (UN News, 2023).
  • As of January 2024, the Australian population has exceeded 27 million people (Bureau of Statistics), 18 years earlier than predicted. With unprecedented population growth, there is increased demand placed on ageing infrastructure assets with higher flows, increased discharges, and increased pumping and treatment rates (Flemming, 2024).
  • Following decades of low renewal spend, a sudden need to increase CAPEX requires strong business justification, robust financial and procurement systems, a paradigm shift from running assets to fail and bold leadership.


Opportunities arise from the ACA


  1. Innovation: Water leaders are challenged to do more with less – to innovate, to “sweat their assets”, to optimise asset efficiencies and maximise assets’ capabilities. To build a stronger and more resilient utility, we need to prioritise people and assets while ensuring effective processes. From an asset lifecycle viewpoint, utility companies need to plan long-term, consider low carbon footprint materials, quality builds, and well-maintained assets.
  2. Advanced tools and technologies: Numerous tools and technologies are now available for asset condition assessment, ranging from purpose-built, to adapted technology and custom-built. Organisations must be willing to invest in new technologies. The assessor needs to embrace technologies and to apply the right tools for the right job.
  3. Environmental Sustainability Goals: At the heart of Environmental Sustainability Goals is the principle that companies should “meet the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” “By embedding asset management into our daily operations, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-set our legacy in how we manage waste, impact communities, and conduct our business practices and ethics.” Pak Lum shared.
  4. Workforce development: As the skilled aging workforce retires, it is crucial to cultivate a new generation of talent by investing in training, skills development, use of technology and phased retirement options, whilst re-building capacity.



The Path Forward


The future of asset condition assessment lies in continued innovation and collaboration. As technology evolves, the integration of AI, IoT, and big data analytics will revolutionize how we assess and manage infrastructure assets. Moreover, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and proactive maintenance will be key to maximizing the benefits of asset condition assessment.


In realising the benefits of asset integrity and sustainability, utility stakeholders must work together, enact policies that encourage regular asset assessments and provide funding for necessary technologies and training.


In conclusion, asset condition assessment is not just a technical necessity but a strategic imperative.

“What cannot be assessed cannot be managed effectively,”
———— Pak Lum emphasised.

Embedding condition assessment into daily operations can help utilities better manage their assets, ensuring sustainable service delivery and compliance with regulatory requirements.


Davis, J. (2024). There’s a glimmer of hope after the year that broke every single climate record. Retrieved from

Flemming, T. (2024). Australia’s population hits 27 million, nearly two decades ahead of forecast. Retrieved from

The University of Adelaide. (2018). Pipe dream: in-use pipe assessment technology saving time and money. Retrieved from

UN News. (2023). Hottest July ever signals “era of global boiling has arrived” says UN chief | UN news. Retrieved from