Enabling the Next-Generation Operator In Today’s Connected World
There is no shortage of data in most water and wastewater utilities today. Conversely, there’s usually too much data from too many systems, making collaboration and analysis nearly impossible. Connected data and software platforms can help reduce operational variability, energy, and chemical usage, and the overall cost of operations while ensuring quality water for customers and consistent regulatory compliance.
This is called operational excellence. And it begins with an understanding of the data you have in your facility and then leveraging control, automation and business software investments to make sense of it. Effective control and automation solutions need to capture, store, contextualize and visualize real-time information, making it available to the right operator at the right time wherever he or she is―enabling better, faster decisions. The days are numbered where operators make decisions based on limited and uncorrelated data, resulting in inefficient, inconsistent, risky and higher-cost operations.
Enabling the Operator with Connected High-Performance Computing
Operational capability and consistency starts at the controller, and most utility automation platforms were designed and deployed in the pre-Internet era. Today’s high-performance Ethernet-based controllers featuring high availability redundancy, expandable open architectures, upgradeable CPUs and cloud-based capabilities are now must-haves in control and automation solutions.
High-performance computing at the controller is also essential for collection and dissemination of process and operational data to ensure consistent, efficient and accountable operations. Configurations such as modular industrial PCs with the same footprint as the controller provide a powerful and compact control and computing solution capable of running graphical user interfaces, historians, analytics and other applications right at the asset. This enables improved real-time control of operations and better integration into plant-wide systems.
Cloud-based control solutions also allow operators to join virtual communities to exchange ideas and content in a secure environment. In such a collaborative ecosystem, they can build, reuse and share entire applications or components as needed. They can learn how other operators are solving similar control problems and incorporate new knowledge and techniques to solve their problems more quickly and efficiently.
Enabling the operator through Work Process ManagementMany water and wastewater utilities across the country are facing the loss of experienced water and wastewater operators to retirement. To mitigate the loss of that institutional knowledge, connected utilities are looking to implement work process management solutions that effectively link their high-performance control systems in real time to other business platforms such as computer maintenance management and document management, to create electronic standard operating procedures (eSOPs) and work orders when defined alarms and process deviations are realized. Defined eSOPs also provide the added benefit of capturing the best institutional and professional methods to resolve the problem, which aids less experienced operators significantly as the more experienced operators retire.
Enabling the Operator through Real-time Operational Intelligence
With the increasing use of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, operators are evolving to expect these technologies to deliver the information they need, when they need it. Operators no longer need to be confined in the control room. Mobile interfaces increase operator productivity, efficiency and consistency, and can help operators be more effective through automatic dissemination of key performance indicators, eSOPs and work orders delivered directly to them on a smart device.
Intelligent alarm notification also reduces the amount of unnecessary information presented to the operator when and wherever they are located, increasing their productivity and efficiency through location-based information and responses. Operators are presented with a more intelligent and accurate representation and analysis of operational conditions, allowing for actions to be taken before a problem arises. This saves time and money and prevents potential regulatory compliance violations.
ConclusionUtilities that proactively implement and leverage connected high-performance computing and operator-enabled systems will not only survive but thrive in the face of the pending knowledge and experience drain of retiring operators. These systems will be able to connect and retrieve data from equipment, processes, and alarms, and automatically provide event notification to operators with eSOPs and work orders to quickly and effectively resolve issues. The utility will realize increased efficiency, consistency and accountability while empowering their operators, lowering costs and increasing regulatory compliance.
Is your utility leveraging the most of its automation investment and enabling the water and wastewater operators of the future?