Wireless Automation Opens Door to New Monitoring Options

Nov. 12, 2002
Computers, Information Technology

Donala Water and Sanitation serves a large community of upscale homes in suburban Colorado Springs. Until the early 1990s, the filtration and distribution needs of the system were determined by "experience and gut instinct."

But when the district decided that relying on neighborhood kids as tank-overflow-alarms was no longer adequate, technology was embraced to streamline the gathering of information, control remote pumps, and alert operators.

In 1995, Donala turned to GMS Engineering of Colorado Springs to create a Request for Proposal for a comprehensive radio-based telemetry network that would grow with the rapidly expanding district.

From the RFP, a Motorola MOSCAD wireless telemetry system was selected. Once it was installed, the district began to realize benefits from the new technology.

In the original configuration, the remote tank level sensors and associated telemetry allowed operators to recognize, and react to, high demand situations before an emergency arose.

The report-by-exception feature on the MOSCAD provided early notification of pressure drops or spikes. This information has helped smooth out the day-to-day operation of the plant. The fine-tuning of supply and demand also reduced operator stress and troubleshooting overtime.

Monitoring of pump cycle time and total run time at lift stations is another way that the district is making the most of its technology. Robert Hull, Donala's superintendent of operations, noted, "By looking at our report on pump cycling, we can detect when a pump is not functioning correctly, and we can use the run time totals to schedule preventive maintenance."

Donala is also utilizing the system's wireless bandwidth capabilities to start up and monitor the Hull WTP, the TriView WTP, three booster stations, two sewer lift stations, and twelve wells. The central computer at the district's main Holbein Plant displays the status and parameters of these remote sites (which cover some 40 square miles) and the levels of their respective tanks. This remote viewing allows the operators at Holbein to respond to the early stages of problems and avert potential crises.

The MOSCAD system also was sized for future input/output points. This flexibility allowed the district to monitor data sets not originally considered. The results have been immediately apparent. For instance, a recently added smoke alarm and associated I/O point proved its worth in the summer of 2000 when a remote pump station took a direct lightning hit. The surge arrestor on the pump motor absorbed the surge, but melted into a smoldering heap. This super-heated slag created a great deal of smoke and presented a fire danger. The smoke detector closed the digital input on the MOSCAD and triggered the radio to transmit an alarm back to the main plant five miles away. With prompt response by the district personnel, the loss of the building and pumps was avoided.

The fact that the well was housed in a wood-frame building and surrounded by a Ponderosa pine forest made the potential for a crisis, and the investment in prevention, all the more valid.

Dana Duthie, Donala's general manager, stated, "After our lightning hit at 12A, we realized we needed smoke detection in all of our buildings!"

In the wake of September 11th, Donala, like all water districts, has a heightened awareness of the need to protect the water supply. Hull also is considering using MOSCAD to monitor security on top of its other functions. He has asked Timber Line Electric and Control, the telemetry system integrators, to analyze various intrusion alarm techniques for water tanks and other district facilities.

"Our only problem with the telemetry system has been underestimating how much information we want to gather. We keep needing to add input/output modules as we discover new ways to employ technology," Hull explained.

According to Hull and Duthie, the advantages and benefits of the MOSCAD radio telemetry system and associated technology have far exceeded the original scope and expectations.

The wireless aspect fosters quick problem solving. That, in turn, allows the district to save money, prevent wear and tear on equipment, reduce operator stress, and have better Consumer Confidence Reports.

For further information, phone Motorola at 800-367-2346.

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