System Integration & Control Systems Design

Smart water system management

October 2021 System Integration & Control Systems Design

In a water-scarce country like South Africa, it is no surprise that water has become one of the most precious natural resources. For many years, there has been a dependence among those in the water provision and treatment industry to rely on scada systems. These are used to monitor parts of the water distribution systems, but nonetheless have practical limitations regarding their installation points.

The rise of the IIoT and a rapidly growing number of connected sensors has opened a host of new possibilities for those in the water treatment and delivery space, as well as any industry that requires large volumes of water – such as mining or agriculture.

Digital twins enable predictions

According to Roland Verwey, control automation manager at Saryx Engineering Group, the most exciting aspect of the IIoT, compared to traditional scada systems, is the significantly lower cost to entry. “Between the lower costs (an IIoT implementation will most likely cost one tenth that of a scada system) and the fact that these sensors can essentially be installed anywhere, the benefits over scada are enormous. Our software runs on top of these sensors and allows us to create digital twins,” he explains.

By definition, a digital twin is a computer program that takes real-world data about a physical object or system as inputs and produces as outputs, predictions, or simulations of how that physical object or system will be affected by those inputs.

Says Verwey: “This allows the user to glean deeper insights on things like water usage, composition and waste, and is particularly useful for equipment sited in remote areas, eliminating the challenges related to manpower and accessibility. When you have a digital twin, you can undertake analysis that effectively allows you to look into the future and make the necessary system adjustments and enhancements.”

The other powerful aspect of this technology is that with remote sites – provided there is cellphone coverage – a gateway can simply be dropped into the site, linked to an existing system, and data will be securely pushed into the cloud for analytical and graphical representations.

According to Verwey, having access to near real-time data – every 15 minutes – is less costly and easier to achieve with this approach, adding that this allows the user to discover problems, analyse, adjust the system, and solve the issue almost instantly. And, of course, the more data you have based on historical trends, the more effective your monitoring and decision making. This places you in an informed position to streamline processes, optimise usage and reduce system downtime and potential waste.

Saryx’s configurable cloud-based system allows for the easy application of analytics and enables the customer to view their data via a single-pane-of-glass dashboard. Further, it ensures that if there is a legal requirement for the data to be shared with a government body, this can be done securely.

With strong business intelligence behind the system, it is simple to identify where costs can be cut and efficiencies increased because it is easy to tell where, for example, water is being wasted or the flow is incorrect. Once analysed, the IIoT sensors provide the data necessary to alert users to any operating issues.

The beauty of this system, continues Verwey, is that there are no limits to the number of sensors you can install at a customer site, which means you can make it as powerful as you want it to be. This means that at a wastewater treatment plant, for example, you can obtain vital data related to pressure variations, chemical leaks, turbidity and so much more.

Most crucially, not only can you monitor the plant in real-time, but you can also automate the entire process, from receiving the data, through its analysis and on to the adjustments made based on this information – and see the results immediately.

This foundation of IIoT and cloud is the one on which the smart cities of the future will be built. In the longer term, sensors can be used to control everything from traffic and streetlights to fault reporting, and from government to citizen communication, to the efficient provision of emergency services.

“With water having been identified as a scarce resource, it is a good place to start with such smart tech solutions,” concludes Verwey. “Let’s start by managing our water resources more effectively, making sure it is clean, healthy, tastes right and is properly delivered. Once we get this right, we can begin to drive smart technologies into the rest of the urban domain.”


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