Innovative Water Quality Control

Nov. 7, 2012
Utility integrates wireless, tablet-based controls for proactive communication & lower costs

About the author: Steve Batson is senior account manager, Ontario District, for Rockwell Automation. Batson can be reached at [email protected].

The Windsor Utilities Commission (WUC) was the first water utility in Ontario, Canada, to gain full-scope certification under rigorous new quality standards validated by the Canadian General Standards Board for both water distribution and water production. 

Since 1935, the WUC has been providing safe and reliable water to the city of Windsor. The commission supplies water to 72,000 businesses and homes in Windsor and sells bulk water to the towns of LaSalle and Tecumseh. Its primary focus has been water treatment and distribution, leading the way in terms of treatment technology. It has been recognized as an industry leader in ozonation and most recently, the Drinking Water Quality Management Standards (DWQMS). 

Today, the WUC’s innovations encompass far more than ozonation and quality management systems. The Windsor water treatment plant is one of the most technologically advanced in Canada, thanks to John Stuart, chief operating officer and his team and partners.

Improving System Control 

In early 2010, Stuart and his team recognized that WUC’s single-process controls were reaching the end of their lifecycle and needed upgrading. Rather than waiting for a problem to occur, they sought a proactive solution to not only bolster the system’s tracking and tracing capabilities, but also reduce the risk that a single-source failure could cease their operations. This meant the WUC needed a fully redundant supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system with intelligent motor control and networking to improve system diagnostics.

“If the plant had kept its original control system and had lost an I/O card, such as the one running the dosing pumps, the control system would fail to add chemicals to the water, which would have compromised the water quality,” Stuart said. “In a redundant system, two processors and associated I/O cards would have to stop working for such a failure to occur.”

In addition to improving its tracking, tracing and redundancy capabilities, the plant wanted a system that could address three key areas:

  1. Historical data collection. With its old SCADA system, WUC manually recorded data every hour, at the risk of human error. The new system needed to provide on-the-spot report creation of historical production data. 
  2. Knowledge transfer. Many of the plant’s operators were nearing retirement. WUC wanted to retain operator knowledge by distilling it into an automated process.
  3. Employee flexibility. Stuart and his team wanted to invest in a wireless platform that would allow a single operator to use a handheld, portable tablet to control the system. With a wireless system, an operator would be free to roam the plant with controls in hand. In turn, this would provide WUC with staffing flexibility so it could rely on one operator per shift rather than two. 

Finding a Solution

With its longstanding history of collaboration, the commission turned to Rockwell Automation to develop a strategy to keep the facility on the leading edge of the water utility sector. The Rockwell Automation Systems and Solutions Business (SSB) team provided a variety of project management services that were instrumental in ensuring the correct hardware, software and overall SCADA system suited the needs of the WUC. 

The two companies teamed up with ONYX, a system integrator, and Insyght Systems, a consulting firm, to upgrade the SCADA system and assist the WUC in implementing wireless tablets for plantwide control. To address the outdated controllers, ONYX installed Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controllers (PACs) with redundant power supplies from Rockwell Automation. The SSB team assisted in the design of the control panels and supervised the installation. The PACs are fully integrated to help operators access plant-wide production information with real-time visibility of water quality, trending loads, levels, clarity and alarms, ultimately allowing for better plant management. 

To improve tracking, tracing and reporting capabilities, FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software was installed, providing unified access to virtually all plant information sources. The software provides visibility into historical production data by putting the information into context through Web-based reports. Prompt reporting capabilities will facilitate the WUC in staying ahead of regulations and allowing real-time changes to plant processes, ultimately avoiding downtime, fines or worse. 

To further improve operations, ONYX and Rockwell Automation integrated additional information software products. FactoryTalk Asset Centre change management software enhances security through a set of asset-centric tools that document and record all changes made to production on a role- and password-based system. FactoryTalk View Supervisory Edition (SE) human-machine interface software supports distributed-server application, allowing for maximum control over plant information.

“Our operators customized the FactoryTalk View SE software to match the unique needs of our operations,” Stuart said. “Being able to capture our operators’ knowledge in this new SCADA system was invaluable.”

The WUC replaced conduits and wires from each I/O with ControlNet networks to help reduce wiring and installation costs, increase reliability and enable point-to-point management and troubleshooting. ControlNet also is utilized to transmit electrical information, bus voltage, motor data and network security to operators using Common Industrial Protocol.

Allen-Bradley Centerline low-voltage motor control centers (MCCs) provide the controllers with soft starting and stopping of the continuously run motors, and Allen-Bradley PowerFlex AC drives provide the variable-speed motors with energy savings on pump loads. 

Allen-Bradley IntelliCenter software connects the MCCs with the rest of the plant, providing real-time diagnostics and MCC documentation to help maximize MCC and related equipment performance. In addition, medium-voltage softstarters were installed in the synchronous and nonsynchronous motors, and medium-voltage PowerFlex AC drives replaced the antiquated step-up, step-down drives. 

In addition to providing the products necessary for a plant-wide control system, Rockwell Automation supported the WUC with a variety of services. Through comprehensive network validation, the engineers verified the installation and operation of the WUC’s new network. This ensured that the system was consistent with current functional requirements and that it could hit the ground running after migrating to the new control system. Engineers also provided onsite training services to all WUC operators.

“From architecture and software system design, to I/O mapping and management of control activities, the Rockwell Automation SSB team was critical in ensuring this project was a success,” Stuart said. “The team’s phased approach allowed for zero production loss, which was an important objective for WUC.”  

With a robust SCADA system in place, WUC was able to complete its ultimate goal of moving to a platform that enables the use of wireless, tablet-based controls. Stratix industrial Ethernet switches provide secure integration with the enterprise network so employees can confidently use the wireless device without fear of outsiders hacking the system. Operators now are free to make rounds and take samples anywhere in the plant without the risk of missing an alarm because they were not within earshot of the control room.

Reducing Downtime 

In 2009, the WUC began a two-year program to replace the aging SCADA system that controlled the production and distribution of potable water within the city of Windsor. The conversion to a new PAC system included the necessary improvements to ensure the safe operation and efficient use of resources at the water production facility. All programming was standardized to ease troubleshooting and future expansion of the control system.

The new control and information system was commissioned in early 2010 and completed under budget in January 2011. The WUC became the first water provider in Ontario to use wireless tablets for plant control, and in August 2011 the plant transitioned from two operators per shift to one. The new system also eliminated the risk of single-source failure and has helped reduce the risk of reporting errors by automatically tracking and tracing plant data. 

Improved real-time control helps reduce downtime because operators now can proactively fix problems as they arise. When an issue does occur, the tablet allows WUC operators to work directly with maintenance professionals at the source of the problem, rather than communicating commands over a phone or radio from the control room. 

“Migrating to a robust SCADA system was a team effort, and we could not have done it without Rockwell Automation, ONYX and Insyght Systems,” Stuart said. “From the products to project management and service support, Rockwell Automation was with us every step of the way.”

As for the future, the WUC plans to integrate its laboratory information management system into the FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software and utilize the new control system’s power monitoring capability to improve plant pumping efficiency. The ability to determine the most efficient flow rate will allow plant management and staff to optimize the backwash and chemical process dosing by 2013.

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About the Author

Steve Baston

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