Company highlights importance of information technology for water systems

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The global water and wastewater treatment market is driven by rapid population growth and urbanisation and it is, therefore, critical for water boards and municipalities to break down the ‘silo mentality’ for better management of resources, says information technology company Rockwell Automation sales manager and Europe, Middle East and Africa water industry coordinator Sagren Govender.

He highlights technology as a key factor that should be considered by water boards and municipalities to transform water systems.

“Digital technologies offer unlimited potential, helping utilities become more resilient, innovative and efficient and, in turn, helping them build a stronger and more economically viable foundation for the future.”

Using technology in the development of water plants allows for intellectual knowledge to be shared between water boards and municipalities. Moreover, when implemented correctly, digital technologies enhances the relationship between water boards and municipalities.

Exploiting the value of data, automation and artificial intelligence would also enable water utilities to extend water resources, reduce nonrevenue water, expand infrastructure life cycles and provide the basis for financial security, Govender adds.

He explains that, in the past, the approach to water infrastructure design entailed drawing plans, and if design flaws were not identified at the design stage, they would be realised during construction or the operational stage.

The Rockwell Automation Digital Twin solutions provide a digital representation of the water system. If implemented properly, they can influence various stages of the water plant’s development – including the design, building and operation of the system throughout its life cycle – and can help to optimise operation through informed insights.

Water utilities that have embraced and implemented digital technologies have benefited from real-time asset monitoring, adds Govender.

“An example of this monitoring is the use of data analysis that can detect and raise the alarm about abnormalities in plant assets before defects in equipment occur, consequently enabling maintenance staff to fix these before failure materialises.”

Some of the latest digital innovations in the water treatment industry are being integrated on an ongoing basis by the company at a State-owned entity’s water treatment works network in KwaZulu-Natal, says Govender.

Implementing the newest-generation distributed control system technology from Rockwell Automation enables the utility to automate water treatment and gain complete operational visibility of its plant floors on customised storyboards remotely at its headquarters in KwaZulu-Natal.

He adds that this involves the use of data and analytics to inform management, operations and maintenance; these capital strategies are also enabling water utilities to adopt a smarter approach to water management.

“Through the Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk Historian reporting platform, relevant system data of the plants, from the early stages of raw water storage and conveyance to treatment and distribution, is transformed into usable operational intelligence that delivers the information to the local utility’s personnel to maintain optimum asset performance.”

This enables operations and technical teams to understand and monitor plant processes in real time, respond to system-level events as soon as they occur, and schedule and manage maintenance more efficiently, adds Govender.

Previously, Rockwell Automation also completed a hardware upgrade for the project, which entailed the installation of the latest Rockwell Automation ControlLogix and CompactLogix programmable logic controllers, PowerFlex 755 variable-speed drives, and modern motor control centers.

Moreover, each network was also upgraded to the EtherNet/IP standard, which is an industrial network protocol that adapts the Common Industrial Protocol to standard Ethernet. This upgrade also includes the instillation of new server equipment and an upgraded radio telemetry system used to communicate with five pump stations at one of the utility’s treatment plants.

During this upgrade, close coordination between Rockwell Automation and the utility’s operations teams, in KwaZulu-Natal, was imperative to ensure that the supply of water to the surrounding towns and communities was not disrupted, and that any necessary downtime did not exceed the capacities of affected reservoirs.

Using the company’s integrated architecture control technology, the utility also gained a completely future-proof integrated control system that can easily accommodate any changes to the plant floor data in the future.

Moreover, while the current project provides reporting in one area of KwaZulu-Natal, the reporting solution can be expanded to other regions where the utility operates.

With a modern automation network and distributed reporting layer delivering remote visibility of the utility’s regional plant floors from its area headquarters, Rockwell Automation is continuing to help the utility optimise its asset management and performance.

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