A strong current of digitalisation in the water industry

Digitalisation is helping water treatment and wastewater treatment plant operators identify advantages at every level of operation

The world of water is witnessing a digital transformation as more and more water and wastewater treatment plant operators look to leverage the benefits of automation and analytics.

But how does an operator start on a journey to realise the full promise of digitalisation? Striking the right balance of cloud-connected smart tools, supported by efficient analytical software to make sense of all the raw numbers, is quite important.

However, to explore the wide spectrum of opportunities digitalisation has to offer, one must broaden one’s horizons beyond a single, isolated operation.

Bogged down by the nitty-gritties of day-to-day activities, plant managers can sometime limit the scope of digitalisation to just helping them improve the understanding of their standalone facilities by providing a quick snapshot.

But, with the number of web-connected devices set to triple from 6 billion to 20 billion by 2020, collaboration through multi-site networks — where various facilities can be easily be benchmarked against each other to figure out an optimal outcome — may hold the key. In a world hooked to the Internet of Things (IoT), remote monitoring and maintenance of facilities will also help water companies detect and manage quality issues much sooner.

However, the true value of digitalisation is in being able to identify early indications of things that are about to go wrong, rather than simply documenting things that have already gone wrong. Predictive maintenance is particularly handy in critical, 24/7 services like water treatment.

Intelligent instrumentation can detect shifts in the quality of water in real time, thus avoiding health and environmental hazards, not to mention potentially huge fines for non-compliance. Many such examples of digital readings improving our everyday lives are right here in Australia.

In Australian cities, as in many other parts of the world, fluoride is added to public water supplies to improve dental health. Ensuring correct levels is critical, as too much fluoride can cause medical disorders like skeletal fluorosis and osteoporosis. But the latest digital analysers, under round-the-clock cloud-based supervision, eliminate chances of any such fluctuations that can be triggered by even the slightest variation in ambient temperatures.

But we cannot ignore the fact that more data brings more complexity. With 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day around the globe, the risk of overlooking specific ‘nuggets’ of information can only be minimised by collective analysis through remote support from the manufacturers. And as an added benefit, rather than dealing with a huge pile of data, plant managers are now free to assign crews for routine maintenance and troubleshooting more effectively.

Many companies are still trying to figure out how to gain the maximum yield from digitalisation. The water industry has the added responsibility to source, treat, distribute and discharge the precious resource in a sustainable and safe way. The industry will increasingly recognise the power and value of data as they observe how higher levels of automation drive productivity and quality higher in every other field.

Digitalisation is going to be a disruptive force in the field of measurement and analytics, with more integrated and configurable instrumentation likely to assist ever-increasing levels of autonomy. Ultimately our ability to digest all the data and come up with all-encompassing solutions might be the key to unlock the true potential of digitalisation in the water industry.

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About the author

Adrian Mather

Adrian leads the Measurement & Analytics business for ABB in Australia. He has over 25 years’ experience within the measurement and analytics industry having held senior management positions such as National Sales Manager and National Service Manager. In his previous role as Quality and Operational Excellent Manager for ABB in Australia, Adrian gained extensive experience in defining and implementing action plans to improve the quality of processes throughout the entire value chain to improve customer satisfaction and business operating performance. Adrian holds a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering, a Master of Business & Technology and a Master of Accounting from the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
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