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Smart Water-Management Strategies: The Time is Now

By Jurgen Engert, Schneider Electric |

Considering water-management strategies as a central component of infrastructure design at industrial facilities will unlock cost savings throughout the operation

Mounting water shortages and resulting regulations across the globe are fueling the need for seamless and smarter water-management methods — particularly in industrial manufacturing environments where water usage, treatment and disposal is a critical part of all processes. In these settings, water control and management should not be isolated or treated as an afterthought, but rather included in plant infrastructure strategies from the onset. If water quality is poor, it compromises everything that follows, and can also affect the life expectancy of a plant’s water systems, product quality and overall infrastructure. A strategy is needed that thinks beyond SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems to render all aspects of an industrial facility viewable as a single pane of glass, enabling manufacturers to access all information in one place for a “smarter” approach to water and product management.

Achieving a smarter water-management strategy requires addressing some key industry challenges, such as aging and failing infrastructure, tightening regulations, pressing needs for water conservation and quality, among others (Figure 1). Despite the challenges, new monitoring and management technologies are readily available today to optimize your assets, including both human assets and hardware availability, delivery, use and quality. These technologies help drive operational and maintenance efficiency, reduction of waste in energy, material and operation, and improves the bottom line.

Figure 1.  The increasing scarcity of water as a resource is driving change in the production processes used by industrial companies

Figure 1. The increasing scarcity of water as a resource is driving change in the production processes used by industrial companies

This article provides an overview of best practices related to gaining a centralized perspective for an entire process network that includes water, in order to better manage human, hardware and stranded assets, reduce water leakage and reduce energy costs — all contributors to a plant’s bottom line. Cost savings can then be re-invested back into the network and infrastructure for further efficiency and performance gains. The article discusses five key best practices, including: increasing operational efficiency; optimizing energy consumption, continuity of service and regulatory compliance; improving asset performance management; and using innovative technologies to achieve smarter water management.

 

Water resource challenges

The author Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” While the statement came from a much earlier time period, it’s becoming increasingly relevant today.

Current forecasts suggest the possibility of a global water crisis is highly probable in the not too distant future. According to the United Nations, by 2030 the world water supply will fall short by at least 40%, as detailed in the World Water Development Report 2015. The report can be found at www.unesco.org. Those who have better prepared for this inevitability will fare better than the rest. The impact of a 40% shortfall will be felt well before 2030. What can be done today to minimize the likelihood of a business disruption or unexpected cost escalation due to water issues in the future?

In much the same way that petroleum was a 20th-century resource-management issue, water is quickly becoming our next resource challenge, and will likely be how the 21st-century is remembered, with far-reaching impact. With the realization that there are no renewable alternatives to water, it is a scarce resource that cannot be simply “manufactured.” We need to use water without using it up — we must protect what we have, become more efficient and continue to push the boundaries of technology to secure a water-safe future.

This realization — in conjunction with increased water-related regulations across the globe — is fueling the need for seamless, smart water-management strategies, particularly within city infrastructures, highly populous regions and across industrial manufacturing environments, where water usage, treatment and disposal are critical needs. In these settings, water control and management should be carefully considered as part of industrial processes and plant infrastructure strategies from the onset. If water quality is poor or water is wasted, all operations that follow are compromised, which negatively impacts operational performance, costs and the life expectancy of a plant’s water systems and output.

 

Impact on industry

The increasing scarcity of water will be accompanied by cost increases, environmental hurdles and increased competition to simply find and secure available water. Operators of industrial facilities should anticipate tighter regulatory scrutiny across the world. These challenges will be far reaching and will have serious impacts on many organizations. Mining and power generation companies must accelerate innovation to transform processes to be more eco-friendly to better manage and reduce trace impurities in wastewater. Chemical and petrochemical facilities with extremely large wastewater streams must adapt to minimize liquid discharge and reduce water dependencies as costs escalate.

Although these challenges vary in nature and magnitude across industrial facilities, significant opportunities for improvement are closely connected. For instance, the volume of data collected around consuming and discharging water is expected to grow dramatically, as the use of smart meters and sensors spreads in the industry. However, it is not just about collecting, managing and analyzing data, but rather about improving the quality and speed of decision-making to transform the way water and water infrastructures are managed and used. Data-driven insights have great potential to transform the way both utilities and industrial manufacturers think about water as a resource and how the industry plans, invests and manages its water footprint.

Now is the time to rethink how smart water solutions can be implemented today to reduce the pending water availability constraints of our future. The first step is to change how we think about water — it is no longer a limitless resource that simply needs to be managed. The future will require a much closer examination of how water is collected, utilized and recycled in order to minimize the potential disruptive effects now on the horizon. Moving beyond SCADA solutions will be necessary, to not only react to how water is used, but to proactively engage with water-consumption processes as a potential to optimize and significantly transform the role water will play in industrial operations.

New intelligence extracted from an increasing reliance upon the industrial internet of things (IIoT) will reveal new tips that manufacturing facilities can adopt to achieve a more holistic approach to optimize water management. This “beyond SCADA” mindset will underscore best practices that will allow industrial organizations to better manage water as a precious resource through all production stages, from site assessment to the supply chain, and from raw material stages to production and distribution strategies that are highly focused on the recycling or reclaiming of wastewater.

 

Filling the void

SCADA systems have been around for decades. Yet despite the many technology improvements that have occurred in automation, collaboration and application development, a large proportion of SCADA devices and applications provide the same level of operational functionality as what was available 20 years ago. From a control room perspective, data acquired from control devices lets operators visualize what is happening in the field. When an out-of-tolerance event occurs, alarms are triggered to elicit an appropriate response. Once this transactional data has been acted upon, it is often discarded. Or, it is retained within the system, but is never accessed again.

Consider the following questions:

  • When an alarm occurs, does your workforce have enough information to act accordingly?
  • What do you do with the data collected from daily maintenance rounds?
  • Does your SCADA system allow you to perform maintenance when it is needed, or only when something breaks?
  • Are all of your systems integrated to provide a single version of the truth?
  • Can you determine whether your processes today are better or worse than last week? How about between locations?
  • Can you guarantee an event response is conducted as a standardized process? Or, if not, do you have visibility to understand what happened?
  • Is your workforce accountable in a measurable way?
  • Is your workforce properly trained to handle any situation?
  • Can your SCADA system help to capture and analyze energy consumption data, in context, to then recommend suitable responses that are actionable?

All of the data necessary to answer these questions flow in and out of your SCADA system at near real-time speed. Going beyond the traditional mindset delivered by SCADA systems is what the term “beyond SCADA” is all about. Beyond SCADA solutions can provide longterm value, and a tremendous return on investment. Such solutions can achieve this through the following:

  • Empowering your workforce with increased mobility, communication and intelligence (Figure 2)
  • Enforcing operational standards with workflows and mobile, intelligent rounds
  • Enabling return on investment by reducing maintenance and energy costs
  • Energizing businesses with collaborative data in one environment delivering one version of the truth
  • Ensuring consistent and accurate data to protect against compliance concerns

Figure 2.  The role of mobile devices has greatly expanded to better visualize system performance and improve worker efficiency

Figure 2. The role of mobile devices has greatly expanded to better visualize system performance and improve worker efficiency

More importantly, a “beyond SCADA” strategy can begin to reveal new levels of detail on how resources are consumed within production processes — including water. Process innovation can be tested and readily compared to past performance to identify opportunities for improvement and reduced resource requirements. Enhanced visibility from across all operations can then allow these improvements to be readily applied across all operations, consistently, to help amplify the effects of improved performance to much higher levels, as operational agility increases accordingly.

Going one step further, if there is a shift in how water resources are managed individually by businesses or utilities, and the elements of that shift are crystallized as industry best practices that enhance sustainable water management and water quality standards, then significant results can be achieved. It will only be with this level of collaboration and sharing of best practices that the forecast 40% reduction of water availability can be reached without disastrous consequences to industry.

 

Implementation strategies

Here are a few practical implementation practices that you should consider to be part of your company’s global water strategy. These should then be revisited as a part of your continuous improvement and water optimization strategy:

Increase operational efficiency. Centrally monitor and manage all plants and assets, including water usage, water and wastewater treatment and water infrastructure. This allows plants to maintain continuity of supply and quality, enable benchmark consumption and save electricity with storage and analytics of key parameters. These actions help avoid unscheduled downtime and identify opportunities for process improvement. Regular analysis of asset status and data can also help identify parts of the network that may be under stress and predict early failures.

Optimize energy consumption. Expand visualization, modeling, analysis and reporting at an asset or site level for smarter energy consumption. The design, simulation, monitoring, reporting and equipment for water networks can optimize water delivery with full leak detection to minimize non-revenue water. For instance, better capabilities to gain insight on the root cause of leaks and remediate issues more quickly can help reduce the impact of disruption.

Improve continuity of service and regulatory compliance. There are plenty of applications with advanced data analytics tools to help gain visibility for operations staff, including historical data, alarms, events and reporting, including automatic notifications that help maintain regulatory compliance for the lowest possible cost, with the highest continuity of service. Such models can also help better simulate future risk scenarios and improve intervention response.

Establish closed-loop solutions for asset performance management. The IIoT is empowering organizations to shift to a holistic, operations-centric view where condition-based, proactive and predictive maintenance strategies let frontline staff act before costly failures occur. As a result, companies can establish closed-loop solutions to monitor and control individual assets, improve operation of key processes and access to enterprise wide information for improved decision making.

Invest in operator training. Each of these initiatives can yield significant results, but only if they are actually executed upon and adhered to consistently across all of your operations. The mindset must evolve within industrial companies that water is a shared, global and scarce resource that must be treated accordingly.

The road ahead is long and will not be easy. But early adopters of these best practices are now seeing efficiency improvement at levels not previously considered possible. Investment in these types of solutions can have a break-even point in shorter periods of time than previously considered.

The benefits from implementing this strategy can extend years into the future, while at the same time providing cause for celebration when scarce water resources are better preserved and recycled. Employees working at industrial companies will be proud of the progress, as will your customers.

Collaboration across entire industries on water-related issues will transform business processes, and help avert significant environmental and cost ramifications. And, with the evolving global regulations certain to be in the future, those organizations that invest today in smart water strategies will avoid potential business disruptions and unexpected cost increases. It all starts with SCADA. Now is the time to do something with the data, to be proactive and add intelligence for a smarter future, by looking “beyond SCADA.” n

Edited by Scott Jenkins

Author

Rudy_EngertJürgen “Rudy” Engert is the infrastructure business manager for Schneider Electric Software (26561 Rancho Parkway South, Lake Forest, CA 92630; Phone: (949) 727-3200; Email: jurgen.engert@schneider-electric.com). Engert has been part of the Schneider Electric team for nearly 20 years, in a business development role, providing consultation to a wide scope of industries, focused primarily on government and infrastructure. As a business development manager, his role is to understand the unique nature of each customer to then map an innovative software and services solution. By leveraging existing data, resources and systems, he has had a successful track record of extrapolating greater value through continuous improvement in process, maintenance and operations.

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