New assets & lots of them
I’ve been working with some utilities companies along with experts in and outside the industry recently as there’s a new challenge on the horizon; namely the impending adoption of private pumping stations on 16th October this year.
But no visibility
Unlike a water company’s own sewage pumping stations, most of these stations have no SCADA, (a system which provides alarms and allows remote control), and therefore no warning at all of failure or impending failure. This is unlikely to be a satisfactory arrangement and I felt there must be an answer, so I asked our Internet of Things (IoT) team to see if they could provide a solution.
Can we fix it?
The mission statement was short and sweet: “Provide a simple to install, affordable and non-intrusive solution which will enable pump and level monitoring and not design out the ability to provide other monitoring services in the future.” Fixed line communications are not a given, so, transmitting data via mobile networks to the cloud is a requirement along with the capability of full integration to the utility’s internal dashboards and network operating centres. It should require no IT infrastructure at the water utility, other than admitting the data through their firewall. Because the data is in the cloud, the service should enable data enrichment by external cloud services like weather predictions and predictive analytics to pre-empt pumping station failure, flooding, outfalls and other operational and environmental impacts.
Yes, we can!
At some water utilities I am talking to, they are looking at a three-fold increase in the number of pumping stations being assigned from the private sector, so it is not going to be cost effective to install SCADA on all but a very small proportion of them. So, in order to get a quick take-up, it became clear that a “Sensor as a Service” concept would work best, where everything from sensor supply to cloud & managed service is operated on a “Pay As You Go” principle to allow utilities to pay for just what they need.
Our IoT team is running proof of concepts now, which provide the promise of:
- Quick and easy to fit with no infrastructure (telephone lines, broadband etc) required
- No IT for the water companies to run
- Low acquisition, installation and running costs
- Instant visibility and control of private pumping stations
- Can also be used for existing pumping stations to augment SCADA
- More effective use of maintenance & operations resources
- Predictive maintenance services in the cloud can be used to better respond to assets leading to less pump trips and outfall events
When integrated to an enterprise asset management system, the return on investment seems to be in the order of less than 4 months, with the main payback being less emergency visits due to more targeted scheduled maintenance. The costs of Environment Agency fines is not included here, but if it was, the ROI would be even shorter.
IoT is clearly a new area for water companies, but initial results indicate that the benefits are there and the barriers to entry are low. I hope and expect to be busy in many other water companies…
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