Toward a Technology Driven Future

May 7, 2020
Improving operational efficiency of wastewater treatment with intelligent monitoring
By Rhonda Landis 

We have arrived at a crossroads of what some are calling the fourth industrial revolution, where the emergence of a technology-integrated and automated future is enhancing environmental sustainability and efficiency. Efficient wastewater treatment systems are extremely critical to the environment; and to maintain sustainability, they must be continuously monitored to ensure consistent, regulated quality. 

All substances dispersed within wastewater can have varying levels of toxicity, but the degree of risk or safety of a substance must be measured by the amount that reaches the aquatic environment. To manage this and stay in compliance with regulatory and environmental standards, wastewater facilities need to leverage technologies that provide them with continuous real-time visibility into the chemical and mineral levels at remote wastewater sites, and the knowledge to understand when actions should be taken.

The incorporation of continuous monitoring platforms that provide accurate, immediate, and real time information; combined with intelligent alerts, efficiency analytics, and remote manual data entry options, can substantially improve a wastewater utility’s operational efficiency and compliance, without any additional effort. This technology helps wastewater plants, leveraging their existing resources, to transform themselves into smart plants, with better and faster information to achieve quicker and more proactive results.

Establishing visibility with continuous monitoring
To establish baseline visibility, wastewater treatment facilities need to establish continuous monitoring. These methods provide 24/7 mobile data visibility from the facility to the most remote locations which is a key concern for wastewater utilities.

Continuous monitoring incorporates and normalizes data sets from multiple sources, collected through vendor-agnostic sensors. Once collected, all the data is easily viewed, in context, anytime and anywhere, with out-of-the-box, but customizable dashboards.  

Continuous water monitoring enables all users to participate and ensure water quality levels by displaying this information from any Internet Brower, tablet or smartphone. There is no longer a need for unscheduled emergency drives to the plant, entering extensive data on clipboards, or requiring access to a VPN or the plant to investigate the issues.

The addition of intelligent alerts that carefully monitor sensor data ensures that the key performance indicators (KPIs) remain within critical threshold values. If a threshold is exceeded, intelligent alerts can notify the right individual for the job with targeted information around corrective actions that should be taken.  This information, not just raw data, provides a way to avoid issues proactively before they turn into bigger problems. 

Adding intelligence to operations and alerts
Communication is vital between field technicians and local plant operators. In addition to alerting of issues, the integration of continuous monitoring with Work Order systems can help to automatically drive the necessary corrections, notify for predictive maintenance, and proactively keep up with scheduled tasks. With this integration, it’s possible to provide end to end tracking to ensure critical issues are not only identified early but driven through resolution.  The availability of information allows the field technicians and operators to focus and prioritize on what is important to ensure that the appropriate actions, for these critical issues, are disseminated quickly and resolved consistently, in the shortest timeframe possible. 

Continuous Monitoring, combined with Fault Detection and Diagnostics (FDD) can act independently as a small Work Order System to prioritize and assign the work to be accomplished, or can easily integrate with your own work order software to feed the corrective actions for appropriate scheduling, allowing users to move toward automation at a rate they feel comfortable.

The key benefit of applying these new technologies gradually, in a more hybrid approach, is to provide the benefits of remote visualization and notifications, while still allowing manual control over the results, while the operators are obtaining a level of comfort and trust with the automated system.

A focus on operational efficiency
To maximize operational efficiency with wastewater treatment, you first have to reduce any unnecessary manual labor across the various systems and equipment. Data that is required, but not coming in real time, has historically been entered on paper and later processed through a SCADA system. If the manually entered critical data surpasses the threshold limits and demands immediate action, this information may not be known for hours (or a day) and can result in environmental and safety issues, as well as regulatory non-compliance. Continuous Monitoring Platforms with Manual Data Entry (MDE), allows instant access to the non-instrumented data for immediate analysis and immediate notification of critical issues. 

With these MDE systems, data can be entered and saved without access to cellular data or WiFi. Once connected to the internet, this data is instantly synced to the platform and available for alerting and analysis. This simplifies manual data entry by allowing field technicians to use almost any mobile device they want, perform their work anywhere, enter the data once (which will substantially reduce effort and human error) and, more importantly in today’s environment; allow the data to be entered remotely without access to others or the plant.

Water and Wastewater operators can also gain additional efficiency with a Continuous Monitoring package that includes Intelligent Alerting.  These “smarter” alerting systems understand the data and can provide detections of bad quality data, including sensor issues and flat-lined data. The ability to distinguish between a real issue and chasing a bad sensor reading could mean the difference between an annoyance and a disaster.   

Looking to a technology-driven future
Wastewater has an immense impact on the world. For utility managers, new codes, standards, and regulations are changing the way they do business.  Adhering to these new regulations, while focusing on operational efficiency to help control the bottom line, is going to be key in the years ahead.  Those who do not embrace technology will have a hard time keeping up the pace.

Continuous Monitoring and fault detection software are offering the wastewater industry the ability to increase efficiency up to 20%, while optimizing the use of their equipment; allowing more time to focus on the real issues, while keeping potential new issues from occurring.

Together with FDD, operational efficiency and equipment optimization is further enhanced with smart analytics that provide immediate and real answers to your wastewater issues.  Remember, the goal of addressing wastewater problems aren’t only to provide efficiency savings, but to ensure a healthy and stable environment now and for the future.

About the Author: As VP of Operations, Rhonda Landis is responsible for all operations and customer success at FacilityConneX ( Previously she led AutomaTech's Services Organization and held several senior engineering roles at GE Intelligent Platforms (formerly GE Fanuc).