Normal: Not your typical water department -- A wireless case study

This article describes a new control system for the municipal water district of Normal, Ill. License-free wireless radios were installed, increasing data transmission from 300 bits per second to 57,600 bits per second...

By Danetta Bramhall

Synopsis: The following article describes a new control system for the municipal water district of Normal, Ill. License-free wireless radios were installed, increasing data transmission from 300 bits per second to 57,600 bits per second.

BAKERSFIELD, CA, Jan. 26, 2005 -- In Normal, Ill., with a population 46,000 and home of Illinois State University, the 28 employees of the Normal Water Department were scrambling to meet the needs of their consumers. The treatment division's responsibilities included the operation and maintenance of 14 wells, a lime softening treatment plant, three booster pumping stations, four elevated tanks and one ground storage reservoir. The distribution division was charged with operating and maintaining 170 miles of water mains, reading and maintaining more than 13,000 services and the installation and repair of water mains, valves and hydrants.

All of this furious activity was being accomplished with an outdated system containing remote terminal units (RTUs) which performed only minimal SCADA and licensed-frequency radios which sent data at a mere 300 bits per second. Overall the system was complicated to understand, expensive to service and difficult to repair.

Normal Water turned to SCADAware, a system integration firm in nearby Bloomington, expressing their desire for a new system, built from the ground up. In an effort to control costs, and allow Normal to create, install, maintain and repair its new system with minimal outside help, SCADAware president Rick Caldwell recommended a PC-driven, license-free, frequency-hopping spread spectrum solution.

Normal's new system now uses a primary and secondary server within its water treatment plant for HMI and PC-based control. The computers collect and monitor data from all of Normal's wells, tanks and lift stations via a ProSoft Technology wireless serial network, with data rates of 57,600 bits per second. Programmable Field Couplers allow water treatment personnel to make adjustments and activate controls. A SIXNET Ethernet-to-Serial is used to convert the incoming serial data to Ethernet, allowing the data to be accessed on the plant's LAN.

"The monitoring of wells and tanks using the wireless network cut down on drive time and time away from the department," said Jim Weikert, RadioLinx Manager for ProSoft Technology. "The sophisticated software alerts water department employees of problems, reducing response times."

Although justifying upgrades of this nature can be very challenging for municipal departments, the team at Normal felt that this upgrade would have an immediate, positive economic impact on performance and efficiency. They were right.

"The easily administered SCADA system and the wireless network allowed Normal to have the flexibility to upgrade and change their system as the need arises," said Kevin Zamzow, RadioLinx Engineer for ProSoft Technology. "Future expansion has now become more affordable for the Normal, Illinois Water Department. The present solution has also become much more efficient and less burdensome to maintain."

The Normal, Ill., water system has been up and running successfully since December, 2002.

About the Author: Danetta Bramhall is the Staff Writer for ProSoft Technology Inc. (www.prosoft-technology.com). Incorporated in 1990, ProSoft serves the automation industry's communications and specialized applications from its home office in Bakersfield, Calif. Sales, application engineering and support services are provided internationally by almost 400 exclusive distributors worldwide served by its 10 regional area offices.

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