Globally, water utilities have been facing a pro- fusion of challenges, including rising water de- mands and energy costs, shrinking resources,
and aging infrastructure. Water loss and leakage are still
evident across water distribution networks even as large
parts of the world are coping with severe drought. In the
midst of these challenges, water utilities are faced with the
need to optimize their operational and work efficiency and
infrastructure reliability, accelerate their response to emergency events and reduce water losses, all the while reducing
maintenance costs and capital requirements and improving
their service to customers.
Automation plays an important role in each of these tasks.
When paired with increased data and analytical capabilities,
automation is redefining the ways in which a modern water
utility operates. Let’s look at these areas in more detail.
OPTIMIZING ASSET PERFORMANCE
For many years, water utilities have relied on traditional
asset maintenance, which is generally cyclical and highly re-
liant on truck rolls. This traditional approach leads to higher
costs and higher risk as work isn’t always correctly prioritized,
warranties may be compromised, security issues aren’t quickly
addressed and device failures occur that could have been pre-
vented with more timely maintenance.
While automation is already commonly used in plant
process-control systems, it is also now being incorporated in
field operations, particularly with the growth of lower-cost
and more functional field sensors and controls combined with
a broad range of low-cost telecommunications alternatives to
send and receive information from these devices. Advanced
asset risk analytics leverage the data from these new automation sensors and controls to enable real-time asset performance management and service quality, as well as correlation of advanced metering to provide immediate prescriptive
maintenance work requests. This real-time automation of
sensor data can mitigate a problem before it becomes a more
major issue and costly repair, improve replace-or-repair decisions, and extend equipment life as a result.
Further, through automation, continual work improvement
and real-time asset monitoring, water utilities can better manage and transform their operations, tracking all actionable
events and increasing asset utilization and uptime while eliminating the inefficiency and expense of reactive asset management.
INCREASING WORKFORCE EFFICIENCY
The use of automation to optimize asset management and
performance has a direct and immediate effect on workforce
efficiency. While new smart devices in the field require the
adoption of new field maintenance processes (for work such
as device configuration and firmware updates, similar to IT
desktop support), applying automation to that maintenance
lifecycle makes it easier to ensure a right work/right time approach to maintenance, reducing the need to put more people in the field to take on the new device maintenance work.
In addition, operational device management can serve as
an automated lifecycle management and maintenance shop,
analyzing data in real time to quickly identify and proactively
adjust, update and repair security, performance and compatibility issues as needed.
Use of automation in these areas effectively reduces field
crew safety issues, and significantly reduces the time and cost
of repairs. By reducing the number of truck rolls necessary,
automated smart device maintenance and management also
minimizes environmental impact by reducing truck emissions
and repair equipment failures. And when truck rolls are necessary, especially in the case of planned or unplanned shutdowns, operators can automatically generate a repair plan
with the required steps noted, right down to step-by-step
instructions for opening, closing and tagging devices.
BY BRAD WILLIAMS
Applying automation to the maintenance lifecycle makes it easier to
ensure a right work/right time approach to maintenance, reducing the
need to put more people in the field.