Innovations in Water Treatment Part 3: How Automation Redefines Water Treatment

We’ve shared informative insights on backflow prevention and some of the latest innovations on water infrastructure as the first two of our three-part series on water. For the last article in our series, we’ll be talking about automation and how it can revolutionize the water treatment industry.

How automation redefines water treatment

It is common knowledge that automation can improve efficiency, decrease errors and lead to increased production at lower costs. Although some plants and utilities already use data from SCADA systems (supervisory control and data acquisition), new cloud-based SCADA systems allow water management plants to monitor levels of specific chemicals and toxins and access precise records from anywhere, such as statistics on water and air flows and measuring dissolved oxygen (DO). Other innovations used by water treatment plants, according to Water Online, include laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). Despite increased use of systems such as these, the adoption of automated systems in many wastewater treatment plants is slow. Digital and machine learning is already transforming water collection, transportation, treatment and utilization, and the sooner adoption occurs, the greater the advantage. Vissers has attended a series of water conferences, and discovered some of the key way in which automation can redefine water treatment.

1. Energy and chemical usage reduction

Energy is the biggest expense of any water treatment plant and the primary way for automation to reduce costs. With many water treatment plants developed decades ago, they are usually costly in terms of energy and chemical consumption. Process control is frequently still done via manual adjustments, and over-aerating and overdosing of chemicals is common. According to Rockwell Automation, the blower used in aeration basins can account for 60 percent of a plant’s energy costs, and automating this process based on information collected on the effluent ensures precision for the most efficient removal of solids. With automation, plant managers can determine energy and chemical usage across the facility. Automating chemical feeds, whether in coagulation, flocculation, sludge dewatering or nutrient addition, can also reduce energy costs.

2. Consolidated database systems

Water treatment plants often have disparate and fragmented information across silos. With automation, disparate data can be funnelled into a centralized system – providing a single information repository with user-friendly dashboards that can be accessed on smart screens. This allows plant operators to understand, manage, and utilize data to improve overall reliability and performance of the plant, as well as perform calculations and identify trends. This allows them to make informed and proactive decisions about plant operations.
With the rise of computerized solutions, advanced water quality sensors, analytic tools and data storage options, water treatment facilities can capture data in real time at a lower cost (and in some cases from areas that were previously inaccessible). Other possibilities include improving the plant’s emergency response and service restoration time for incidents ranging from pipe bursts to floods by coordinating scenario and contingency planning.

3. Asset management

Water data analytics can also be a powerful tool for asset management. With the advancements in geospatial monitoring, data analytics can assist in maintenance, repair and replacement of many different components. Water data analytics can help understand different valve functions in various plants, optimise workloads and workforce resourcing, classify sensor and analyser placement techniques and identify equipment inconsistencies. This ability to identify sensor data relationships and analyse correlations can precede a failure or degradation of the asset.

4. Predictive analytics

With data-driven insights, plant managers can proactively identify potential problems before they happen rather instead of reacting to the problem as it occurs, such as equipment failure. After being alerted to a pending condition, they can take the pump out of service for maintenance and put another pump in service to replace it, without downtime. Although SCADA systems have real-time capabilities that allow current status display and warn of immediate problems, the ability to predict potential problems through the use of smart analytics is revolutionary.
In terms of accuracy, the instrumentation used is better than ever, allowing plant managers to look at overall efficiencies, the cost of operations if part of the plant is not operating as it should, or potential downtime costs. Thus, smart analytics enable pump managers to make smarter decisions by proactively identifying and prioritizing improvements.

5. Water infrastructure

Prudent planning of water infrastructure is a pillar of sustainable urban development. Water treatment, supply mains, sewer works and wastewater treatment plants are all critical parts of a city’s water infrastructure. Combining operations data with data on asset management is essential when strategically planning water and wastewater utilities. The data provided by automated systems can be assimilated to project water demand, asset attrition rate, network re/zoning and land use for either expansion or new development planning.

In a nutshell, automation allows us to turn big data into knowledge we can use to operate treatment plants better. The right data, analytics, and decision framework can drive water treatment plants to optimal performance.

A local case study in Toronto

R.C. Harris Filtration plant is Toronto’s largest water treatment facility, producing almost half of Toronto’s drinking water. As part of a 2-year automation overhaul that included Toronto’s three other water treatment facilities R.L. Clark, F.J. Horgan and Island plants, a new supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system was implemented. The four plants treat a total of 2.27 billion litres of water a day drawn from Lake Ontario, but several pumping stations allow them to process up to 9 billion litres of water a day, which is transferred across the Greater Toronto Area.

The SCADA system allows automation of everything from pump control to monitoring the water quality. It uses more than 400 individual control cabinets to monitor and control flow, pressure, level, temperature and chemical content.

Each plant has seven HMI stations and provides operators with a graphical user interface that generates detailed data on demand. Each facility has central backup panels that monitor and record data to ensure critical plant functions continue in the event of a power outage or system breakdown.

At the Harris plant, the process of pumping ammonia into water during the water treatment process is automated. One pump runs continuously, while another acts as a standby, ready to launch should the main pump fail. This allows operators to fix the main pump without interrupting the automated ammonia delivery, reducing the cost of downtime and allowing more seamless operations.

If you’d like to discover more water treatment solutions, call our toll-free number 1-800- 367-4180. We have experts on hand to help you choose, install, and maintain a variety of equipment.