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You expect water to be there when you turn on a faucet, but utilities must jump over several obstacles to get it there. Infrastructure is deteriorating, equipment is reaching the end of life, and water scarcity issues make it even harder to guarantee reliable water.
The traditional approaches to managing water assets are no longer sustainable. The current method of stretching equipment life and making patches and repairs to underlying infrastructure puts them at even greater risk. But it’s not that water utilities are unwilling to change. They are dealing with constrained budgets that constantly force them to rethink and reprioritize where and how they should invest in modern technologies.
“Long-term under-investments often leading to costly reactive break/fix maintenance models or preventative maintenance at best pose a mounting threat to water quality and availability. The fact that many water utilities have limited visibility and control over these assets amplifies the challenge,” says Jamal Shareef, Chief Executive Officer for Zotera, an industrial IoT and industry 4.0 solution provider.
Pumping Toward a Digital Transformation
Water utilities already have extensive experience with the “things” component of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), given many sensors and other devices already deployed throughout their operations. Today they use Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems to monitor the status of operations. But SCADA is a 40+-year-old technology and maintaining the increasing number of distributed assets and complex infrastructures has become cost prohibitive and error prone. Utilities need a more innovative approach to water management to meet and adapt to these emerging challenges.
So where can they start? According to Shareef, the best entry point for initial IIoT investments is at the pumping station, given that they are present in every facet of water operations. And there can be hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of pumping stations across a metro area.
“Providing deeper insight into operations, with real-time #DataAnalytics that enable meaningful and effective management decisions is key.”–Jamal Shareef, CEO, Zotera via @insightdottech
By upgrading and replacing older pump control technologies—and in some cases, simply augmenting assets with intelligent remote monitoring and control systems—utilities can improve operational efficiencies and system reliability, extend the operational life of pumps, as well as reduce energy and maintenance costs.
Smart Water Management Systems for Increased Efficiency
Water utilities must find solutions that complement the infrastructure and technologies they already have in place. For instance, as old as SCADA technology is, it’s not going to go away overnight. “But it’s more than just replacing pumps, adding sensors to equipment, and advanced monitoring capabilities. Providing deeper insight into operations, with real-time data analytics that enable meaningful and effective management decisions is key,” says Shareef.
SCADA systems in water utilities are already collecting all types of data in compliance with regulatory, environmental, and citizen needs. Traditionally, that data goes to a control center where operators monitor and analyze it. When data shows abnormalities, operators must often manually tend to the pumps and perform the necessary remediation service.
But if a particular area experienced heavy rainfall, an operator in-charge of monitoring flood conditions could get several different alarms to make quick decisions.
Adoption of IIoT technology can help accurately analyze the data, predict flow volumes, and determine next steps in real time, explains Mo Kotaiche, Chief Technology Officer at Zotera.
Zotera’s Radius solutions add intelligence to the pumps, allowing automated processes to reduce manual work, remove latency, and eliminate delays.
Zotera’s Radius Edge Computing Platforms allow real-time analytics to be hosted close to sensors at the location where data is generated, enabling real-time decisions. Alerts and alarms are sent to the control center, and the cloud in real time. The remaining data is sent to the cloud for predictive and prescriptive analytics.
“This approach informs operators of the time before maintenance is required, eliminating guesswork and reducing unscheduled downtimes,” says Shareef.
Coexisting in the Water Industry
According to Shareef, the solution would not be possible without collaboration. Zotera works to bring partners together inside and outside its solutions.
For instance, Zotera fosters collaboration between IT and OT teams—which traditionally have been isolated from each other. The company hopes that by converging the two principles of IT and OT in one system, it will develop more robust solutions that provide a standard approach on how to implement solutions at the edge of the network. It may also foster a closer working relationship between IT and OT teams.
On the Radius product development side, Zotera worked in technology provider Arrow Electronics’ Colorado Open Lab to demonstrate how its solutions would work in the real world without impacting its clients’ environments and help bring OT and IT together. It provides a collaborative space for companies to explore other new capabilities with their partners.
When small vapor-filled cavities are present in the water, they can wreak pumping systems havoc. Zotera is currently working with utility technology leader ABB on a firmware upgrade to its Variable Frequency Drive, which enables Radius to perform cavitation detection. The plan is to have ABB come out to the Open Lab, install the firmware, and test the use case.
Zotera’s edge computing platforms are built with Intel® technologies, including Industrial Ruggedized Servers, Industrial HMI Panel PC, Rugged Compact Computers, Cisco Ruggedized Industrial Routers, and Internal SSD. Zotera also partners with Intel to provide edge computing capabilities and prepare for new technology advancements. Advanced communications built on the Cisco Industrial Automation solution deliver high-speed connectivity, scalability, and high availability to connect Zotera’s Radius Edge Computing Platforms to the cloud and operations centers.
Last, Zotera works closely with system integrators on their end-to-end solutions. “SIs are out there on the frontlines talking to customers every day. They can be very helpful in terms of how we develop solutions. They tell us what they are hearing, and we talk about what is coming down the pike in terms of technologies and determine together how best to apply it,” says Shareef.
He hopes going forward that pumping stations will become a catalyst for further adoption of IIoT technologies within the water industry. “From opportunities in water treatment and quality to reducing power generation, we envision a lot more good changes to come in the future. This is really just the beginning,” he says.
This article was edited by Georganne Benesch, Associate Content Director for insight.tech.