Ice Pigging™: From ‘ice in a bucket’ to a highly-efficient and effective innovative pipe-cleaning solution

Ice Pigging™: From ‘ice in a bucket’ to a highly-efficient and effective innovative pipe-cleaning solution

March 2023

After decades of working for the water industry, Mike Smith thought he’d seen all manners of water management solutions. Until he was asked to take part in an experimental process that would eventually be known worldwide as Ice Pigging™. What began as a mere theoretical concept evolved into a successful innovative solution for water network management.

Ice Pigging, a pioneering water pipeline cleaning and maintenance process exclusively offered by SUEZ, was invented and developed in the engineering labs of the University of Bristol by Prof. Joe Quarini. A more effective method than traditional water flushes or foam swabs, Ice Pigging involves  pumping thick ice slurry into the pipes, which is propelled through the line using the network pressure; getting rid of unwanted sediment, biofilm, contaminants, and other residues. It is currently used in a wide range of pipe networks, including water, wastewater, industry, oil, and gas.

As Ice Pigging team supervisor for 12 years, Mike is the best person to gauge how far this innovative way of cleaning water pipes has come. After all, it was Mike and his team at Bristol Water who worked with Prof. Quarini to prove the concept on live pipes, and then went on to help develop the equipment and procedures that are used by Ice Pigging teams around the world today.

According to Mike, most people doubted right from the start that the technology would work, especially in a field where anything new would be looked at cautiously. But he saw its great potential and was willing to give it a go.

“It was a challenge developing something most people thought would not work,” says Mike, who witnessed first-hand the service’s humble beginnings of mixing ice in a bucket using a paddle on a trailer, to being the fully-automated, highly-efficient system it is today.

Turning Points

It was initially tested at Bristol Water, which was very supportive and had the foresight to invest in innovation. Mike, who was still working with Bristol Water at the time, was selected to help implement the process with a team of academics and managers.

He and the team worked for 18 months testing the system – from the ice consistency and pump speed to safe procedures for collecting the waste ice. All this had to be understood before finally “going live” and trialling it in the Bristol Water mains.

“It was such a satisfying experience, feeling the sense of accomplishment seeing the filthy ice leave the pipe, and then the colour steadily change to crystal clear,” shares Mike.

Mike went through so many Ice Pigging  milestones, from when the first ice slurry tanker was built, to the sourcing of ice-making machines, up to the automation of ice making and the development of the Flow Analysis System (FAS), a real-time, cutting-edge monitoring tool that collects data for temperature, flow rate, conductivity, pressure, and turbidity.

When asked to leave his long term career in Bristol Water to join the Ice Pigging team, Mike did not hesitate and welcomed the opportunity to continue working with the service, which he fondly referred to as his ‘baby’.

Mike and his team had to master so many facets of Ice Pigging, such as working out how to make ice of the right consistency and quantity; ensuring the reliability of ice machines; devising insertion and operations procedures; and looking at how to develop the process for longer, larger mains.

“Ice Pigging taught me so many skills, such as  persistence and how important it is to be adaptable if you want things to succeed; and of course the people skills, working with customers in particular,” says Mike, adding that he enjoyed going to different places and interacting with customers.

“The biggest advantage of this system is you don’t need to excavate. It only takes about a couple of hours to do the work without any disruption to customers,” he adds.

Ice Pigging Advantages

Ice Pigging remains the preferred solution by various industries across the UK, Europe, USA and Australasia. It is a cost-effective, highly efficient, low-risk, and no-dig process.

The key advantages are speed, effectiveness and lack of risk. It’s also a very flexible technique in that it can be applied to multiple industries and can adapt to a variety of pipe sizes, usually requiring no enabling works.

Before Ice Pigging was developed, the only enhanced cleaning techniques available were incredibly intrusive, and required pipes to be out of service for long periods.

Mike sums it all up when he says that Ice Pigging is “a brilliant solution” to customers’ water management needs. After 48 years in the water industry, Mike will be retiring knowing that Ice Pigging  is not only accepted, but fully integrated into the water industry; with in excess of 5 million metres of pipe cleaned around the world.

Want to know more? Visit or contact Phil Pettit at

mike smith

mike smith

mike smith

mike smith

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