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How the Digital Transformation Impacts the Water and Waster Water Sector

PostedMonday, March 2,2020 at 7:13 PM

How the Digital Transformation Impacts the Water and Waster Water Sector
CSIA CEO Jose Rivera

Water and Wastes Digest Associate Editor Cristina Tuser interviews Jose Rivera of Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA)

Tuser: CSIA just marked 25 years as an organization. What notable automation advancements do you think are slated for CSIA’s future? 

Rivera: Technology has had a dramatic impact on our personal and professional lives. Industrie 4.0, IIoT and digital transformation are all frequently used terms to describe not only the deployment of technology, but more importantly the leverage of this technology to dramatically transform the way things get done and the output itself. Technology is just as important as process and organization. System integrators have started to recognize this and have been adjusting to meet their client's emerging requirements. 

Tuser: What valuable insights can you provide about automation as it relates to water and wastewater? And how do you anticipate the water sector and automation will continue to move forward collaboratively?

Rivera: The water and wastewater sector is incredibly diverse, extending from the very large cosmopolitan city to the very remote location. In the U.S. this segment is highly fragmented and normally managed by municipalities. In other parts of the world it can be much more consolidated and eventually run by private companies. The following are challenges faced by most: delivering to a growing population while meeting higher environmental standards, with an aging and retiring workforce, with modest budgets and under increasing threats from physical and cyber-attacks.

The water and wastewater sector benefits significantly from automation technology as it normally deals with geographically distributed assets to service large and spread out communities. The ubiquity of mobile communication networks in most places has made it easier to connect the network. In the past, transmission towers had to be erected and radio licenses had to be procured to transmit a very limited set of process values. Connectivity is easier now, allowing for large data streams. This has provided the opportunity to deploy asset management solutions (e.g. a remote pump) to reduce unscheduled downtime and facilitate a more proactive and effective maintenance intervention. 

Some water facilities have been automating their processes to allow them to cope with the retiring wave of operators who over the years learned complex sequences by heart. By leveraging automation, these facilities are less dependent on good memory, while at the same time freeing up their operators for more important tasks. By incorporating sensors (e.g. turbidity) sequences can be concluded based on the actual state and not on a predetermined time duration. Most of the time this results in time and energy savings as preset time durations are selected for the most extreme cases.  

Some water utilities have invested in hydraulic models of their distribution networks to enable them to simulate specific situations to design coping strategies. This could be the case of a required shutdown where the impact needs to reduce the impact to the smallest possible number of clients. 

It is interesting to note that because water utilities are spread across the country, it provides the opportunity for many SIs to service the water and wastewater sector. According to a regularly conducted CSIA-JP Morgan survey, this sector is the third most popular among system integrators (SIs) after F&B (food and beverage) and chemical/petrochemical.

Tuser: What can people in the water sector learn at your upcoming CSIA Executive Conference event?  

Rivera: CSIA helps system integrators build better companies. In other words, it focuses on management topics. The clients of SIs, including those in the water and wastewater segment, benefit when the companies of their providers are solid, as this tends to reduce risk to them. CSIA offers an optional 2-day BP Workshop that takes place right before the start of the conference. 

The conference provides the opportunity for SIs to get updated on current topics that can benefit their companies and indirectly their clients. The theme of the 2020 CSIA Executive Conference is "Claiming the Role of the SI in the Digital Transformation," which translates the current trend to SIs. Our members are open to sharing and we will have some SIs and some vendor Partners narrating their digital transformation journeys. 

Three SI clients (process manufacturing and machine building) will join us for the 2020 conference to present their journeys. These will be the only end users attending, as CSIA restricts membership to system integrators and vendors. We have several members that service this water sector and they will learn how the digital transformation is impacting them and their water sector clients.   

Tuser: What advice do you have for the next generation of CSIA industry leaders?  

Rivera: While our system integration only dates back to the invention of the PLC in the late 60s, it has seen dramatic changes. There have been important changes in technology but the opportunity provided by Digital Transformation goes well beyond. Transformation needs to impact the entire organization (people) and processes. Technology is only the third category to be viewed as an enabler. Previous visions of "lights of manufacturing" are becoming a reality only for a few industries.

One example is the semiconductor sector where the processes demands extremely high levels of cleanliness and where the intervention by humans is counterproductive. The vast majority of manufacturing and infrastructure requires operators to be engaged and contribute their expertise to maximize the output of their installations.

System integrators feel most comfortable with technology. Digital transformation is challenging not only them with new technology as previous silos (e.g. IT vs OT) are being eliminated. It also pushes SIs to recognize the importance of the organization and processes of their clients and to collaborate in these areas.

Tuser: Any final thoughts?

Rivera: Water and wastewater represent key infrastructures delivering key services to all of us. Unless there is a problem the consumer does not notice and unfortunately will take the service for granted. This makes it harder to obtain funding for upgrade projects, but the sector needs to keep driving to make it a priority. The automation technology that supports these plants ages much faster than the civil works. It is nevertheless key to optimize operations and also cope with modern challenges like the wave of retiring expert operators.

Jose Rivera is CEO of CSIA. Cristina Tuser is associate editor for WWD. 

Note: This article was originally published by Water and Wastes Digest.