Realigning water industry assets in digitally enhanced operations

Digital transformation is blending information and operational technology for asset performance improvements that reduce costs, optimise efficiency and improve conservation in the water and wastewater operations.

“This opportunity comes at a time when water is recognised as a limited, high-value resource,” states Jacques Squire, Water and Wastewater Segment Leader at Schneider Electric South Africa. “The United Nations projects that if current water usage trends continue, by 2030 the world will have only 60% of the water it needs. This pending scarcity compounds pressures already mounting in the industry.”

Industry pressures

“Water is increasingly being recognised as a high-value commodity, but the factors listed below present a major threat to organisations that treat and deliver water.”

  • Aging infrastructures contribute to water losses and inefficiencies
  • Cash-strapped municipalities demand greater fiscal accountability to reduce the cost of supplying, treating and conserving water
  • Skilled personnel age out of the workforce faster than the replacement pool is growing
  • Climate extremes challenge water treatment, supply, wastewater, and storm water management capabilities
  • Regulations on energy, water quality, standard of service, and emissions are increasingly stringent
  • Threat of cyberattack looms

Improving asset management is first step

“While the industry attacks such challenges on many fronts, including water conservation and demand management, improving asset performance is one of the most effective strategies a water and wastewater plant or network can take to reduce costs and protect quality.

“It can help counter the effects of aging infrastructure, reduce total cost of ownership, empower maintenance teams to do more with less and ultimately optimise the performance of each asset. Asset management has become a top concern among a growing number of water operations, with 42.7% of water industry respondents citing ‘maintaining or expanding asset life[1]’ as their most significant sustainability issue.

“As recognition of the value of asset management grows, the practice is steadily maturing, advancing from reactive run-to-failure approaches to predictive and prescriptive strategies, in which increasingly intelligent assets all but manage themselves.

“ARC Advisory Group[2] reports that moving up the scale from preventive and condition-based approaches to predictive and prescriptive strategies has enabled users to cut the cost of maintenance labour and MRO (Maintenance, repair and operations) materials by 50%.

“ARC analysts also estimate that on average, industrial operations lose about 5% of their operating budgets to downtime, which can be reduced to zero through more sophisticated asset management techniques. Eliminating downtime can ripple benefits well beyond maintenance productivity, impacting service delivery, product quality cost and many other factors.

“New capabilities to collect, analyse and share process data digitally bring the benefits of asset performance improvement well within the reach of even the smallest operations. Results offer 50% reduction in maintenance costs; 30% reduction in energy costs; and 5% improved productivity.”

Implementation through IIoT

“Achieving asset performance management in a cost-effective way involves augmenting traditional client/server information architectures with technologies such as industrial internet of things (IIoT) gateways, edge analytics, and cloud computing, which are more open and amenable to digital control.

“Collecting operational data from connected assets, such as pumps, and sharing it with real-time decision support applications – in the cloud or on premises – is how digitisation improves asset performance. It involves bringing information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) together securely in ways that were not feasible previously.

“The EcoStruxure architecture for water & wastewater provides a platform that can guide the management, integration, evolution and protection of digital infrastructure as clients move to the benefits of asset performance improvement. It models the flow of information from smart field devices at the base layer, through gateways and controllers at the middle and edge layers, into IT applications and analytical services for ultimate presentation to decision makers.

“Partitioning digital infrastructure in this way provides an orderly framework for introducing digital technologies to improve asset performance. It will help achieve the following three objectives.

  1. Secure baseline reliability of assets
  2. Enhance baseline reliability through advanced IT and digital applications
  3. Optimise asset performance strategically, enhancing digital tools and techniques through further integration with multiple assets and all relevant plant operating data

Returns in three months

EcoStruxure clients are able to:

  • Optimise asset availability and utilisation
  • Manage aging infrastructure
  • Reduce Capex
  • Control Opex
  • Manage energy costs
  • Reinforce physical and cyber security
  • Empower your workforce
  • Comply with environmental and safety regulations

“Most of our clients who implement asset performance improvement programs begin seeing a return on investment in as little as three months,” concludes Squire.

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[1] 2018 Strategic Directions Water Report, Black & Veatch; survey of 517 water industry operations, engineering and executives

[2] ARC Advisory Group – Reducing Unplanned Downtime and Helping Future-proof Automation System Assets

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