Cloud Deployments Grow with Utilities
One industry segment that has embraced the concept of “iPhone as HMI” is municipal water and wastewater utilities. With widely distributed wells, pumping stations, valves, treatment facilities, and many miles of pipelines, the ability to use the cloud to monitor and control equipment is very appealing.
James Jacklett, electrical and signal supervisor for Carson City (Nev.) Public Works, says that the city has deployed a two-sided system on the cloud to support both management and operators as they keep water and wastewater flowing throughout the city and surrounding areas. Operators use Wonderware InTouch to access control systems and individual tags as needed, while managers use SmartGlance to keep tabs on production levels and work orders.
Jacklett explains, “In the past, our management team would have to log in through remote access through the VPN and then log into the Wonderware application, or be on our intranet here to get to the server. With our new system I’m able to deliver key performance indicators and critical process information such as production and demand on the water side, with ease of access wherever they are. They can be on the road or at a meeting, they can open their phone or iPad, get their information in a hurry, and contact someone if they see something they don’t like.”
Operators have similar flexibility when they are out in the field doing repairs or troubleshooting. “I’m able to push any tag information in my system out to these devices, as well as anything that I can come up with in my HMI or out of my historian,” Jacklett adds. “It’s connecting to my SQL historian and SQL databases at this time. A lot of my reports are minute by minute, and they can drill down as far as they need to go. They can get KPIs from our surface water treatment plant on differential pressure on filters and turbidity. That information is there so they can have a level of comfort that they have their finger on the pulse.”
Traveling to the other side of the world, FrandCorp has served as a system integrator on a number of water system projects in South Africa. Engineering cloud deployments in areas where communication infrastructure is still being developed demands a higher level of creativity to get the job done. Louis van Niekerk, project sales manager for FrandCorp, says that they have to depend more on cellular phone networks for moving data back and forth.
“Infrastructure here is a work-in-progress, and people in South Africa have learned to make use of the GSM networks, but they still leave the mission critical control and decisions local or as close to the machines as possible,” van Niekerk explains. “I am a big fan of what this technology can offer, and from a business prospective we strive to find the best combination of software and hardware to make the cloud offering a stable solution. I guess that the problem isn’t the cloud approach but the necessary infrastructure which needs to go with it.”
Van Niekerk says a recent project had to monitor 120 flow stations scattered over a space of 450 km. The new system allows all operators to log on via their notebooks, which all support 3G, and they can access current flow and valve position status using DataHub WebView from Software Toolbox. The customer particularly appreciates that the new functionality came with a minimum of new hardware and no new fixed cables.
Summarizing the appeal to his customers, van Niekerk says, “Once we can get the data, we can basically do anything, and we have found that customers have a need to move and use the data. In most cases this information gets pulled into a reporting structure for valuable feedback and condition reporting.”
Peter Welander is a content manager for Control Engineering. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.