Water is a crucial piece of any city’s – or country’s – infrastructure. The United States is fortunate to have some of safest drinking water in the world, for a number of reasons, one of which is its many water and wastewater treatment facilities.
Wastewater treatment consists, very generally, of removing contaminants from used water. Contaminants can include human waste, oils, chemicals, industrial and commercial waste, and stormwater. In many urban areas, these treatment facilities are responsible for providing clean water to hundreds of thousands of people, and, as a result, the facilities themselves must function continuously and relatively flawlessly.
Water treatment facilities have long deployed certain elements of automation, such as meters, flow control, and chemical level monitoring. Today, these facilities are strong examples of incorporating Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication tools. These facilities are utilizing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA) to form comprehensive wireless M2M communication systems that can not only be implemented and controlled wirelessly, but can also serve as the backbone for data transmission and predictive analytics.
Recently, FreeWave spoke with an Illinois-based water treatment facility that faced a few different challenges with its existing infrastructure. First, the population of the area had seen steady and constant growth for several years, meaning the treatment facility needed an infrastructure that was easily scalable. It also needed to figure out a way to implement a “greener” solution. In sum, the plant operators were looking for improved communications, efficiencies, control and scalability as they sought to upgrade the plant’s existing system.
SCADA networks are deployed across the full spectrum of critical industries, including oil and gas, utilities, agriculture and environmental monitoring, to name just a few. These networks are highly reliable, and can ease the transition into IT/OT convergence that is necessarily transforming the way these industries think about infrastructure. In the Illinois water treatment facility, the SCADA networks would be able to monitor important data such as tank levels, water pressure and chemical levels, while also enabling access to data that drives important decisions and facilitates predictive analytics. Data collection and synthesis starts with a reliable network made up of sensors and radio transmitters which affect the operational technology. Once the data is collected, however, operators must deploy the software that can accurately turn the data into usable knowledge. The Illinois facility recognized the benefits of upgrading both is physical infrastructure as well as it’s IT infrastructure, and, as a result, settled on a system that could communicate with the wirelessly with remote wells and booster station controls for integrated control and access by the operations team. Now, the team can track manage, report, trend, access, archive and control equipment and settings with ease. Notifications and alerts are also sent to key parties immediately via text or email.
While not every water treatment facility has the same drive for improvement, the Illinois project indicates a growing awareness of the need for industrial companies to embrace the IoT. Many of us don’t think about how important something like a water treatment facility is until the water supply encounters problems that affect large groups of the public. From that respect, no news is good news. However, the tools available today can only help improve the workflow and automation of an industry that relies on around-the-clock monitoring and control.