Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies such as cognitive computing, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning are transforming industries such as Healthcare, Manufacturing, Oil & Gas, and Aerospace & Defence. However, industries such as water and wastewater industry are slowly experimenting with application of IIoT technologies such as in the concept of smart pumps, digital twin, drone technology, and additive manufacturing. As the water and wastewater industry’s infrastructure is not IIoT compatible, few companies are serving this unmet need of customers by creating smart devices. Smart device such as smart pumps and auxiliary enhancement to pumps such as variable speed drive (VSD) and remote monitoring devices are flooding the water and wastewater industry.
Challenges with the Water and Wastewater Industry
Water and wastewater industry is grappling with challenges such as combined sewer overflow (CSO) events, contamination of drinkable water, surge in water leakages, and aging infrastructure. Sewer systems are designed to collect rainwater along with domestic and industrial sewage and transport to sewage treatment plants. However, during heavy rainfall, the runoff including industrial and domestic sewage flows into nearby water bodies, leading to a combined sewer overflow (CSO) event. Quality of drinking water is another key challenge for water utilities across the globe. Increased instances of toxic substances along with heavy metals found in drinkable water and lack of infrastructure to monitor the level of contaminates are the biggest threats to water utilities. Furthermore, water utilities are struggling to monitor the leakage targets mandated by the water regulatory bodies such as ofwat in Europe and the environmental protection agency in the United States. Clogging, corrosion of pipes and temperature changes due to harsh environmental conditions are some of the causes for pipe burst, and consequently water leakages incidents. Water utilities lack robust infrastructure to monitor the condition of the existing pipes and the causes for water leakage in real-time. Aging infrastructure is one other key challenge for water utilities, which is making the water system inefficient. Most of the pipeline and components of the water systems in the United States are more than 50 years old.
Data-Driven Decision through Connected Devices:
More than ever, adoption of IIoT technologies is expected to have greater impact the operational efficiency of water and wastewater industry. For instance, there is a surge in the number of companies providing IIoT based remote monitoring solutions to water and wastewater industry. The challenge of a CSO event can be resolved by installing an IIoT based solution packages, which ideally contains a remote terminal unit (RTU) and high accuracy sensors along with IIoT platforms. IIoT technology based solution would enable monitoring of the sewage and water level in the system and result in flap gate opening in case of a CSO overflow event. The solution helps in accurate modelling of the trend data and supports in real time response. In addition, integral float alarm switch within the connected device acts as a high level alarm, in case of a CSO event. These devices have drip shield and submergence shield to prevent any damage from overflow. Similarly, there are IIoT enabled advanced acoustic technologies to detect leaks. These solutions pinpoint the leaks on pressurized water distribution mains and enable response from technician in real-time. These solutions are capable of doing cloud based analysis and generating insight dashboards for the end users. Furthermore, these IIoT enabled solutions provide monitoring for various diameters and materials of water pipes and pipelines. Similarly, there are solution providers catering to needs of water utilities for detecting contamination in drinkable water. IIoT enabled technology with the help of sensors detect different parameters of water such as pH level, mineral levels, dissolved ion levels and detection of toxic substances and heavy metals in the drinkable water in real-time. In addition, with the aid of smart pumps and smart meters, water utilities are capable of collecting, monitoring and analysing real –time customer data such as billing history and water usage pattern among other data. Utilizing the big data analytics for the data generated, water utilities are capable of generating predictive maintenance for pumps and other components involved in the water system. Furthermore, data-driven decision improves and enhances the customer purchase and service experience for the water utilities.
Conclusion: Cyber Security: Strategic Imperative
Enormous amount of data is generated as water and wastewater industry participants are embracing the IIoT enabled technologies. Such data driven decisions are resulting in substantial savings for the water and wastewater industry; however, at the same time, connected devices are subjected to threats of cyber-attack. As water systems become more connected, the threats of cyber-attacks to the critical components which are capable of corrupting the entire water system infrastructure become stronger. The ability of IIoT enabled technology to integrate with existing software and industrial control systems (ICS) such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) further expands the threat of cyber-attacks. With the SCADA as an entry point, cyber-attack is capable of reconfiguring the programmable logic controllers (PLC) and RTU’s. There is an increased need among water and wastewater industry users to create sufficient security among connected devices such as smart pumps and smart meter to enable encrypted authentication and access. One of the first steps in implementing cyber security will require companies to set protocols for authorization and access. In addition, companies have to invest in securing the whole water system and encrypting the critical data. Encrypting remote field devices and data transmission between the field devices and controls systems such as SCADA will be the first layer in implementing cyber security. Implementing machine learning algorithms to any abnormality in the water content parameter levels will be the next step in the process. Post securing the entry points, transmission of data, and their pathways, it is imperative for end users to protect the end points. Real-time alerts to end users on altering of connected devices, sensors, and their abnormal function should be mandated for end users. Furthermore, secured access and authentication to the end use systems, such as sewage treatment plant will further secure the system. Water and wastewater industry should invest in cyber-security solutions which are complete in nature and provide tailor-made solutions to the end users.