Faster, More Powerful Reporting Leads to Greater Insights for Utilities

Aug. 30, 2021

The ability to make meaningful insights from data is critical for water and wastewater professionals in their day-to-day work. But organizing, maintaining, and retrieving reports from that data can be difficult and time consuming. 

“Clients want to see trends and identify anomalies at a glance,” said David Rojas, president of Automation Station. “They don’t necessarily need to see the individual numbers. They want to reduce the amount of labor for reports, and they need a way to summarize that data for upper management.”

Similarly, operators want access to real-time data to better address issues before they escalate. “Staff want alerts to grab their attention if a process value goes out of bounds,” said Dee Brown, principal and co-founder of Brown Engineers. 

However, organizations face several challenges in developing data-rich reports. For those relying on data in spreadsheets, viewing numbers in tabular form makes it difficult to identify trends or anomalies, Rojas said. “You could go out and create fancy spreadsheets that will graph the information,” he said. “But it’s hard to quickly compare information from today’s data to last month or last year. If you don’t have all of that information on the spreadsheet, it will be a challenge and a waste of time to create some type of meaning.” 

Additionally, HMI or SCADA systems can have limited data storage or lack the flexibility to review data being captured, Rojas said. Finally, using third party software to retrieve reports requires staff to learn (and the organization to pay for) another tool. 

Thankfully, a lot has changed with modern SCADA technology over the past decade, Brown said. Trends and reporting structures can all be built into the same user interface without the need for third party tools. Reports can be quickly configured and scheduled automatically so they’re ready in your inbox to view every morning. 

A big advantage to using modern SCADA technology is faster access to reports, greatly saving time, Brown said. Brown said his client at Central Arkansas Water was impressed with how quickly Ignition’s data historian could retrieve data compared with older systems. “The speed of which it can store and retrieve data, the speed to retrieve trends from multiple parts of the system – when that’s your job all day every day, it’s a very nice feature,” Brown said. 

Rojas also used the Ignition industrial application platform to help one of his clients automate data gathering for a monthly surface water operating report required of all municipalities for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “We’ve been able to gather all the data points needed for that report and automate the data into that report for them,” he said. “It was all done with Ignition.”

Both Rojas and Brown say their clients are interested in feeding external data into their systems. Modern SCADA software provides the ability to pull in a broad range of external data, such as rainfall, energy usage and financial information, into reports. 

“Ignition is collecting data not only from PLCs, laboratory results and forms, but we’ve been able to gather information from websites and scrape data such as rainfall in the area, and then import that information at the same time,” Rojas said. “Now you have a system grabbing data from your plant, laboratories and an external system, and can graphically see that data at the same time. I can see the level of my tanks as well as the rainfall and alkalinity of the water on that day.”

Incorporating this additional information into reports provides greater context for decision makers. One client debating whether a new membrane bioreactor (MBR) system would allow them to save on energy costs leveraged Ignition to calculate how much energy motors and pumps used in the old system and compared that with energy usage on the new system, Rojas said. Staff could track a dollar amount of how much they were saving per minute, hour and day. Based on this information, the client decided to move forward with the new MBR system.

With the ease of creating dynamic, mobile-responsive reports quickly, it’s easy to take the advancements in SCADA reporting over the past decade for granted. 

“If a water plant needs to pull flow and turbidity data at 15 minute intervals throughout the day to send to the Health Department, now we can quickly configure a report with the exact intervals we need and pull and retrieve that from the database,” Brown said. “The features are so smooth and seamless, we forget how difficult it was to do 10 years ago.” 

Instead of squinting at a spreadsheet, modern SCADA technology helps staff easily interpret data so they can best do their jobs. 

“We’ve been using Ignition for more than eight years, and it doesn’t cease to amaze me how far we can leverage the system,” Rojas said. “You can create beautiful and insightful reports with Ignition. It’s the best mixture of all the benefits of spreadsheets, graphics and charts.”