Edge controllers save money, lower risk for water pipeline, pumping, storage

Automation and control of greenfield water distribution system in the world’s largest new city presents challenges and opportunities: Designed-in advantages can be achieved in retrofit automation projects, too.

By Manish Sharma August 10, 2023
Courtesy: Emerson


Learning Objectives

  • Learn about system integration, automation Neom pipelines, pumping stations, storage tanks.
  • Understand uses for edge controllers with PLC capabilities for water projects.
  • Explore how data collection, analysis and filtering will help at multiple locations.


Automation, edge and PLC insights

  • Neom new city project uses edge controllers with programmable logic controller (PLC) capabilities in large system integration, automation pipelines, pumping stations and storage tanks.
  • Data collection, analysis and filtering will multiple locations of Neom water projects.

In automation and control of water distribution, the opportunity to work on greenfield projects versus existing brownfield installations presents an opportunity to provide a digitally transformed solution “designed in” rather than “retrofitted in.”

For an engineering company charged with the system integration of such a project, “greenfield” represents, within the limitations of budget and time, an opportunity to employ new technologies that can optimize performance, reduce footprint and accommodate current and future system requirements and provide enhanced mechanism for field services and operations. These benefits are enough to make any systems integrator take another look at advanced automation and control.

A greenfield challenge and opportunity is Neom, the largest new urban development project in the world, under construction in Saudi Arabia. The project is a metropolitan area incorporating a large city center, plus island, beach and mountain developments. Drakken, an engineering and systems integration company based in Dubai, UAE, was selected as the main automation contractor (MAC) to provide the automation solution for the Neom water distribution system.

System integration, automation for pipelines, pumping stations, storage tanks

An exceptional challenge, the Neom system extends over approximately 65 km (40.4 miles) of coastal terrain and 75 km (46.6 miles) of mountains, providing a wide range of environmental stresses. A water desalination plant is the fresh water source and the system includes pipelines, pumping stations and storage tanks. With the city under construction, the water system delivers more than 50,600 m3/day (1.787 million ft2) of bulk desalinated water to the core development area for construction and human consumption.

To supply the water needed during development as well as to prepare for expanded future demands, Drakken required a control and supervision system for the water network to ensure minimal water loss due to leakage and evaporation. It had to provide a scalable solution in complex, rough terrain, that could expand with the extensive new development. The criticality of the project required the control and supervisory system be cybersecure and offer high availability without disruption. It had to connect disparate third-party systems deployed in the overall architecture to provide unified monitoring and control.

Figure 1: An “outer loop” and an “advise layer” on top of the typical “see-think-do” control loop are part of the Emerson PACSystems CPL410 edge controller technology. Courtesy: Emerson

Figure 1: An “outer loop” and an “advise layer” on top of the typical “see-think-do” control loop are part of the Emerson PACSystems CPL410 edge controller technology. Courtesy: Emerson

Edge controllers with PLC capabilities for water projects

Because the project was new, without legacy hardware to integrate, Drakken used edge controllers for the water distribution system. This configuration combines deterministic and non-deterministic real-time control in one hypervised platform, providing the capabilities of a programmable logic controller (PLC) and an edge computer system in one device, saving costs, space and integration time and complexity.

Edge controller technology incorporates an “outer loop” and an “advise layer” on top of the “see-think-do” control loop. If the outer loop is disrupted, the real-time deterministic control remains unaffected. This capability allows users to connect to any preferred cloud service and to develop and run data processing Linux-based applications next to the control system to optimize processes and improve outcomes. Combining edge-enabled data analytics and real-time control, provided real-time insights, built-in flexibility, operational efficiency and achieve higher asset performance. The controller technology has a base scan rate as low as 200 μS, switchover as fast as one scan, with deterministic control.

The control technology software is pre-installed, allowing Drakken the flexibility to use the controller for a number of use cases such as Linux co-processer, local web-based human-machine interface (HMI), black box recorder and data logger and for remote alerts.

Drakken implemented efficient project-wide integrated asset management software capabilities to reduce failure modes, and for overall digital health and preventive and predictive maintenance.

Drakken employed control systems at more than 20 pumping stations and at the water distribution center to control the pump and valve operations. To meet availability demands, control solutions included built-in redundancy. Redundant power inputs allow higher availability, reliability and productivity. Fast network recovery technology helps protect mission-critical applications from network interruptions or temporary malfunctions.

Figure 2: Emerson PACSystems native communications overview shows interactions with human-machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, intelligent instruments, devices using serial communications and devices enabled by Ethernet-based input-output capabilities. Courtesy: Emerson

Figure 2: Emerson PACSystems native communications overview shows interactions with human-machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, intelligent instruments, devices using serial communications and devices enabled by Ethernet-based input-output capabilities. Courtesy: Emerson

Data collection, analysis, filtering at each location

The edge controllers installed at each location collect, analyze and filter operational data on a Linux engine and are ready to connect and send data to the cloud via the message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) protocol. The need to interface with a wide range of third-party devices, such as flowmeters, radio frequency identification (RFID) systems at each trickling filter system (TFS) station, and many others required the control systems and software be flexible and able to communicate with plant floor devices and supervisory systems using standard communication protocols for maximum interoperability and ease of use. Protocol options include: DNP3, IEC 61850, IEC 104, HART pass-through, EGD, SRTP, Modbus-TCP/RTU, Profinet and OPC UA. The controllers perform high-speed data acquisition and control in a complex architecture with multiple fiber optic rings using the various industrial protocols to connect to more than 500 external devices.

Drakken selected an advanced supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)-based software platform to interface with the controllers based in part on its scalability to support unlimited tags on redundant servers. The software collects and analyzes data for leak detection and leak location across the pipeline every 10 m. Tag data is historized with a five-year storage capacity, failure prediction and proactive redressal, leading to better capital utilization, reduced operating expenses and faster return on investment.

The platform automatically imports programmable logic controller (PLC) tags, preventing errors and saving commissioning time. The web client configuration of the software allows remote access through any mobile device. Remote access capability will continue to increase in value as the water system increases in size and complexity.

Edge controllers with industrial environmental specifications

To meet the widely varying environmental demands, Drakken used control systems that operate from -40 to 70°C from startup and with a humidity range from 5 to 95% non-condensing. The modern control technology handles extreme environments without requiring fans, which can be prone to failure. Unlike standard controllers that require a throttle down to accommodate high heat, the newer technology enables applications to run consistently at very high temperatures without impacting control performance.

The control hardware is based on vibration-resistant components and connections to help minimize failure points and ensure reliable operation in fast moving, agitating or high-impact applications. Non-conductive conformal coating provides electrical components with a protective barrier against contamination, moisture and corrosion caused by harsh or extreme conditions.

Figure 3: Emerson PAC Security Center enables secure messaging. Courtesy: Emerson

Figure 3: Emerson PAC Security Center enables secure messaging. Courtesy: Emerson

Cybersecurity uses secure-by-design capabilities

In addition to physical security, Neom required strong cybersecurity protection. The system implemented by Drakken uses a secure-by-design philosophy, including trusted platform module (TPM), secure boot and secure firmware updates. The cohesive security strategy is built into all layers, from the hardware and software to communications and the development process.

The system is secure by design, allowing verification and validation of the integrity of vital system components. Secure communications help prevent attackers from gaining unauthorized access to the controller. Achilles 2 certification assures against denial-of-service (DoS) or human-in-the-middle cyberattacks or any unauthorized firmware changes.

Ritesh Contractor, business development manager, Drakken, said, “The advanced control solutions fully connect the water distribution network for Neom through an advanced internet of water infrastructure to ensure minimum water loss, putting Neom at the forefront of water technology and assuring high sustainability.”

While few system integrators will be faced with a new city to automate and control, the Neom application shows steps any system integrator can use. Employing new technologies in brownfield systems may provide potential savings in space and complexity that save money while reducing risk and increasing the level of security.

Manish Sharma leads the industry marketing segment for energy and process industries at Emerson Controls & Software. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.


Edge controllers, PLCs, controller redundancy


By treating parts of an automation retrofit as a new project, what advantages could you realize?

Author Bio: Manish Sharma, global industry marketing leader, Emerson Machine Automation Solutions