Scalable SCADA

Nov. 16, 2017
Software in Arkansas powers sanitary sewer overflows application

About the author: Jim Meyers is success manager for Inductive Automation. Meyers can be reached at [email protected].

A growing utility in Arkansas managed to improve productivity by completing more projects with its software for human-machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). City Corp.—which operates Russellville Water and Sewer System—is continually expanding its use of its HMI/SCADA software across a variety of applications. City Corp. provides service for nearly 30,000 residents in Russellville, Ark. When it needed a new HMI/SCADA solution, the utility worked with system integrator Brown Engineers of Little Rock, Ark., to choose the Ignition software platform.

Ignition is an industrial application platform with numerous tools for building solutions in HMI, SCADA and the Industrial Internet of Things. “We have to have faith in the software,” said Steve Mallett, general manager of City Corp. “This software has worked perfectly for us, and we’ve had no issues. We use it as our platform for all the automation for the treatment and the remote sites on both the water and wastewater sides. It brings in data from all our remote sites to our two plants. All of our operators at our water/wastewater treatment plants have access not only to all the data within the plants—all the operational data—but they also have access to all of our remote pump stations and tanks. And that’s obviously critical.”

City Corp.’s SCADA system has nearly 38,000 tags. That includes data from a variety of programmable logic controllers and controllers installed at various times over the years. The system includes two HMI servers per plant in a master/backup redundant configuration. The software controls digestion blowers, clarifiers, sludge pumps and more. It also provides alarm management and reporting functions.

“The system has been very solid, and has performed very well,” said Dee Brown, principal and co-founder of Brown Engineers. “City Corp. has continually added more remote sites to their system. They added more users here on staff who have more access to the SCADA system—people who didn’t have that before. They’ve also added several mobile-client users with smartphones and tablets.”

New Opportunities

Brown said City Corp. has been adept at capitalizing on Ignition’s unlimited licensing model. While traditional HMI/SCADA providers charge fees for additional connections to tags, devices, and projects, Ignition does not. “The software we had before charged by the number of tags,” Mallett said. “If you wanted to upgrade, you’d have to pay more. Our system is growing, so that was a critical consideration. With Ignition, we never have to worry about any additional cost for adding tags.”

There was an additional cost benefit to going with this software. “The annual support costs for upgrades is a fraction of what we see with other, traditional HMI applications,” Brown said.

City Corp. started with one project on the software, then added another, and the momentum continued. “Due to the success of the implementation of the software, we’ve expanded it outside the traditional staff at the plants,” Mallett said. “We now have construction staff and maintenance staff having the software and information on mobile devices that they take out into the field.”

Mallett said the platform is more flexible than the utility’s previous system because it provides a lot more data, which can be seen by more people. “That is critical,” Mallett said. “It provides information we need to make daily decisions, and it keeps us from having to go out to our sites. It drives costs down.”

“They had an older system here before, and it performed okay, but it was clunky,” Brown said. “It was a little bit hard to maintain. And frankly, the support for that product was not what it once was.”

Working with Brown Engineers, City Corp. redesigned its screens for the HMI system. This provided greater focus on alarms and cut down on unneeded information.

More Effective Screens

Brown Engineers used Ignition to create better-looking screens for City Corp. “One of the great things about this project was working closely with the City Corp. staff to develop a whole new set of operation screens for the HMI system,” Brown said. “We used a high-performance HMI philosophy and really toned down some of the screens in terms of colors. We really focused on alarms, and all the information that goes into making a great-looking screen.”

City Corp. also found a non-SCADA use for the software, one that saves time and makes it easier to report data to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). Seeking a more efficient process for tracking and reporting sanitary sewer overflows (SSO), Mallett asked Brown Engineers to create a mobile system that would cut down on paper and speed up the process. Brown leveraged the SCADA software to deliver what Mallett envisioned.

The SSO mobile application allows City Corp. to create field assessments on mobile devices, using standard internet technologies. The SSO workstation app provides tools for managing the data and reporting it to ADEQ. Field crews now use tablets and smartphones instead of paper and pencils. “We were able to make the process more efficient on several levels,” said Julie Halford, geographic information system/computer-aided design technician for City Corp. “The reporting, the calculations, making sure there were no mistakes. It all goes much faster now. And we found the new system to be extremely user-friendly for our field crews.”

City Corp. may adapt the solution for other uses. “With the success of the SSO mobile app, we’re looking at possibly creating an app for hydrant flushing,” Mallett said. “It would allow us to get all the data from the hydrants and develop a database, versus the way we’re doing it now, which is with a pen and pad. And that could develop into an asset management system that we could use for all of our facilities.”

This forward-thinking utility can make solid plans for the future knowing it won’t have the licensing costs that go with traditional HMI/SCADA systems. “We’re always looking at different and better ways to do things, and the Ignition software gives us the ability to think outside the box and be a little more flexible on those solutions,” Mallett said. 

About the Author

Jim Meyers

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