Thin Client Technology Simplifies Utility Operations

The wastewater treatment plant for the City of Riverside, CA, processes approximately 33 mgd.

Apr 1st, 2006

The wastewater treatment plant for the City of Riverside, CA, processes approximately 33 mgd. The 1,000 foot elevation change across the plant’s service area necessitates 22 lift stations, and communication between these stations is a challenge. The plant also manages a 3.3 MW co-generation facility, and the wastewater treatment process generates more than 20 dry tons of sludge per day, which makes careful monitoring of landfill operations important. The work is detailed, complex, and the continued smooth operation of the facility is important to both the community and the local environment.

In 2002 the plant’s SCADA operations were disjointed - coordination and maintenance were difficult and expensive. Changes to one system were often not replicated on other systems. As a consequence, SCADA operations could best be described as disparate, unconnected and often unreliable. Loss of data was not uncommon, and presented a significant problem for a facility with several critical reporting requirements.

“We had around 15 stand-alone PCs throughout the plant. With all of the problems of continual updates, new service packs, and new drivers, there were naturally high maintenance costs,” said Emory Scriven, Project Manager for WaterHammer Inc., who consulted with the City of Riverside.

Steve Shultz, the City’s Wastewater Systems Manager, agreed.

“Just the ability to move information from one treatment process to another area within the facility was problematic,” he said. “We wanted a centralized server and a more economical way to view the system from within the plant. Where I worked before in San Bernardino, CA, they have a Thin Client system and it seemed to be what we needed here.”

Legacy PC Systems

The situation at Riverside was not uncommon - many plants have an issue with maintaining PCs scattered throughout their facilities running legacy Microsoft Windows applications. It is not uncommon today to walk into a treatment facility and find PCs running Windows 3.11. Not because it is better, but because nobody took the time to update the system.

As those older PCs begin to fail, treatment facilities encounter problems -- the older software is no longer available or won’t run on a current Windows operating system. Even if a backup PC exists and can be put into service, the plant is simply postponing the inevitable. The system will eventually have to be updated to a modern system.

Thin Client Technology

Although the term Thin Client wasn’t around in 1970, the idea of centralized computing was. Mainframe computers housed all the software and data, while the computer terminals operated by end users were simple “dumb” units that linked users to the mainframe.

In a similar way, Thin Clients allow users to run standard Microsoft Windows based applications under the mainframe computing model, with software loaded and run on a single machine. Moving programs to the server (called a Terminal Server in a Thin Client system), allows for installation of simpler “clients” (computer terminals) by eliminating components prone to failure (such as disk drives) and scaling back parts (like memory) required for a traditional PC.

On top of this cut-down (or “thin”) hardware, a minimal operating system is loaded, with just enough power to drive the client’s graphics card, some I/O and an Ethernet Port. The streamlined Thin Client can now deliver the user interface at the control point(s) for the process while keeping the applications locked up in a secure computer room. Going back to the mainframe model, the Windows Terminal Server functions as the mainframe and these scaled down clients become the terminals.

Riverside Project

The 15 stand-alone PCs throughout the Riverside plant were each running SCADA software with data being captured to Industrial SQL servers. The plant infrastructure included some systems running Windows NT, others Windows 2000 and even Windows 2003. Between the co-generation facility, the water treatment areas, the lift stations and the landfill, the city had five different systems running at one time.

“We’re responsible for collecting data for the facility and our NPDES permit. Previously, when we shut down we stood a chance of losing data and there were times we did just that. Just the ability to move information from one treatment process to another area within the facility was problematic,” said Schultz.

By replacing PCs with Thin Clients, the staff was able to greatly simplify their daily operations and reduce costs.

To help manage the system, Riverside staff chose the ACP ThinManager® system. ThinManager is designed to let users configure, maintain, upgrade and replace Thin Client devices on a network. Its Windows®-like interface provides At-A-Glance Management of all connected clients and terminal servers.

ACP’s Thin Client management and enabling software, ThinManager, allows the city to manage their Terminal Servers from within the same user interface that they use to manage all of the Thin Clients.

“The move to Thin Client technology makes the development cycle shorter, lowers costs, gives us improved reliability. And, with the ACP ThinManager ready Thin Clients, redundancy is built-in,” Scriven said. “We can now do development work from any terminal, and Thin Clients give us the flexibility to install nodes wherever there’s fiber optic cable available.” WW


Project Targets Mexican Wastewater

The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) has entered into a contract with Bajagua LLC to develop a wastewater treatment plant in Tijuana, Mexico.

The contract was issued under the Tijuana River Valley Estuary and Beach Cleanup Act, passed by Congress in 2000 with the goal of reducing Mexican wastewater discharges that affect California.

Competitive procedures applicable in the U.S. and Mexico will be used for engineering, construction and operation of the new plant.

The USIBWC operates the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant (SBIWTP) in San Diego, which provides advanced primary treatment of 25 mgd of wastewater from Tijuana. The treated effluent is then discharged through the South Bay Ocean Outfall (SBOO) into the Pacific Ocean 3.5 miles off the coast of Imperial Beach, California.

In order to comply with applicable laws and permits, the USIBWC is required to provide secondary treatment. Under the contract, Bajagua will construct at its own expense a wastewater treatment plant in Tijuana. Effluent from the SBIWTP will be sent to the Tijuana plant for secondary treatment and then discharged through the SBOO. This alternative would also provide for treatment of another 34 mgd of raw sewage from Tijuana.WW

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