What began in the 1970s as a small utility with just 200 connections, Lowndes County Utility Department in Valdosta, Georgia, has grown into a burgeoning operation with 178 miles of sewer lines. However, the expansion has not been without growing pains, which ultimately left the water utility working off antiquated monitoring and control systems for their water towers and wastewater collection pumps. Among those challenges was the monitoring and control system’s inability to clearly identify the type and priority of an alarm, leading to frequent call-outs and false alarms.
“It was hard to identify the importance of the alarm because of the poor communication and lack of clear priority from the auto-dialer system,” said Steve Stalvey, utilities director for Lowndes County.
The inability for Lowndes County Utility Department to remotely access its former SCADA network from mobile devices also contributed to more frequent call-outs, as employees had to travel to the physical location to identify and deactivate each false alarm. The former system often generated two false alarms per week. At a cost of $75 per hour to dispatch a technician to respond to the alarm and a minimum of two hours per call-out, the utility was incurring thousands of dollars each year in maintenance costs.
Lowndes County Utility Department also lacked the ability to adapt the monitoring and control system in the field. To enable or update a control feature, the utility had to contact the supplier directly. Additionally, replacement parts had become increasingly difficult to find and much of the original system was obsolete. Leadership with Lowndes County Utility Department recognized the need to modernize operations, update wastewater collections monitoring and control systems, and collect better data through the Internet of Things (IoT).
After visiting neighboring utilities to determine which wastewater collections monitoring and control system would be best suited for the tower and lift stations in their service area, Lowndes County Utility Department made the decision to install Xylem’s MultiSmart Pump Station Managers (IPSM). The MultiSmart IPSMs provided a simple and compact technology that could collect data and alarm control systems from their units.
The second stage of the upgrade involved implementing Xylem’s cellular-based Flygt Cloud SCADA service. The service was chosen due to its effective use of the data collected from each MultiSmart IPSM, as well as the seamless communication between those controllers. This relationship between the IoT and local equipment control is possible due to compatibility of the hardware at each level of control.
The total project consisted of 56 lift stations and 18 water treatment components. Each upgrade included a new pump panel equipped with a MultiSmart IPSM that communicates to the cellular based Flygt Cloud SCADA network.
Another feature of the upgraded monitoring system that appealed to Lowndes County Utility Department is the ability to perform an insulation resistance test during installation to set the baseline for optimal performance. The MultiSmart IPSM then monitors the insulation resistance (I/R) condition of the pump motors. Real-time I/R readings provides Lowndes County Utility Department the granularity needed to compare the real-time data to the baseline to determine which pumps are wearing faster or slower, enabling the utility to determine the expected lifespan of each pump and design an effective preventative maintenance program.
The insulation resistance (I/R) test feature has already helped the utility identify potential problems that could have resulted in catastrophic pump failure. In one such situation, the I/R test feature helped identify an issue that would have allowed water into the conduit system. Had the problem not been detected and resolved, Stalvey said pump replacement costs could have cost the utility as much as $40,000.