Data Analytics Empowers Georgia Utility With Better Decision-making

May 1, 2020

Upgrading monitoring and controls improves operations and minimizes maintenance

About the author:

Kevin Flis has been working in the water and wastewater industry for more than 11 years in roles including operations, project management, application engineering, up-front project engineering, project design and market development. He holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Iowa State University. As business development manager with Xylem, Flis focuses on developing solutions for utilities that can deliver secure water supplies, including water reuse, surface water treatment, groundwater remediation, and automation and controls.

In the water sector, there is growing pressure to do more with less. Despite limited budgets, water and wastewater managers are faced with increasing challenges, from preventing combined sewer overflows, to minimizing maintenance and energy costs, to making sure systems and equipment are operating efficiently.

Amid these complex water challenges, industry professionals are finding success using smart water technologies and data analytics to reduce energy consumption, mitigate unnecessary water losses and improve operational efficiencies. When intelligent equipment—such as pump controllers and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems—is connected to smart networks, water managers gain better visibility into and control of critical water and wastewater operations.

As the industry increasingly recognizes the value of these data-driven solutions, utilities are expected to invest $14 billion in smart water technologies through 2024.

One utility in southern Georgia is leveraging smart technology and data analytics to optimize its processes and its lower operating costs.

Aging Monitoring Equipment

A small utility with just 200 connections in the 1970s, the Lowndes County Utility Department in Valdosta, Georgia, has grown into a sprawling operation, maintaining 182 miles of water lines and 178 miles of sewer lines within its service boundaries today. 

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 the utility’s 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. 

Without the ability to remotely access its existing SCADA network from mobile devices, Lowndes County Utility Department had to respond to these frequent call-outs, which required employees to travel to the physical location to identify and deactivate each false alarm. The previous 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 unnecessary maintenance costs. 

Lowndes County Utility Department also was incapable of adapting 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. 

Gaining Real-time Insight

Faced with mounting labor costs and pump repair and replacement costs as a result of an ineffective maintenance program, 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). 

Using real-time data and analytics enables water managers to make smarter decisions about infrastructure repair and investment, while preventing overflows through better asset usage. 

Before embarking on any system upgrades, the Lowndes County Utility management team toured neighboring utilities to observe their operations to determine which wastewater collections monitoring and control system would be best suited for the tower and lift stations in their service area.

Ultimately, Lowndes County made the decision to install Xylem’s MultiSmart Intelligent Pump Station Managers (IPSM) to simplify its waste and sewage water management processes. A good fit for a wide range of applications, the MultiSmart was selected as it could work both with water towers and with wastewater lift stations. With the potential to reduce energy consumption by 35 percent, the next-generation MultiSmart IPSM is enabling operators to maximize the efficiency of their facility, saving time and money.

The controller’s advanced capabilities ensure that a station is run as efficiently as possible, saving valuable time as well as operational costs. Essentially, Flygt MultiSmart simplifies operations, making the operator’s job a lot easier by significantly reducing the complexity of automation.

For Lowndes County, the MultiSmart IPSMs provided a simple and compact technology that could collect data and alarm control system alerts from their stations, and prioritize issues that require a technician call-out. Additionally, the intelligent controller monitors and calculates power usage in real time. This enables the utility’s operators to identify and control any inefficiencies by leveraging the most efficient pump and reducing overall power consumption in the facility.

Leveraging “Hands-off” Monitoring

The second stage of the Lowndes County Utility upgrade involved implementing Xylem’s cellular-based Flygt Cloud SCADA service. The service was chosen due to its effective real-time reporting 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.

Now, rather than sending personnel to remote locations to collect data and monitor the water system, the Lowndes County Utility Department can track, manage, report, archive and control equipment and settings from a central location. The cloud-based SCADA service not only informs operators of existing issues so they can be addressed quickly, it also alerts the team to future situations, enabling the utility to take preventive action and avoid unforeseen expenses.


Finding Value in Real-time Insulation Resistance (I/R) Readings

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. 

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. 

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Once the monitoring and control system was fully commissioned, Lowndes County Utility Department saw immediate results. The upgrades deliver more than 400 sophisticated data points from the MultiSmart IPSM. The data collected on the MultiSmart IPMSM is then communicated throughout the entire system via the Flygt Cloud SCADA system. The primary goal of systems working smarter, not harder, was achieved.

Additionally, the new system is prioritizing alarms appropriately and Lowndes County is receiving significantly fewer call-outs, resulting in costs savings of nearly $15,000 per year in unnecessary labor costs.The modern technology also helps with preventative maintenance; reducing wear on the pumps and identifying what equipment needs priority upgrades or replacements.

“This project shows the utility’s ability to optimize equipment maintenance while simplifying controls,” said Stalvey. “The use of the collected data by the system is providing us with a better way to manage our labor and reduce the cost of maintenance and operations.”

With the help of smart monitoring and control technologies, the Lowndes County Utility Department now has the ability to actively monitor its operations and make real-time adjustments based on data-driven decisions to better serve the community.

About the Author

Kevin Flis

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