Weftec Recap: Water safety, efficiency is mission critical

Weftec had manufacturers emphasizing the need to improve efficiency and safety for water treatment, wastewater plants and municipalities.

By Chris Vavra October 6, 2023
Courtesy: Endress+Hauser, CFE Media's New Products for Engineers Database

Water and wastewater insights

  • The wastewater industry faces challenges in cybersecurity due to a lack of skilled personnel and outdated technology, highlighting the urgent need for modernization and training.
  • Manufacturers in the wastewater industry are shifting towards providing comprehensive solutions beyond individual components, emphasizing preventive maintenance, real-time calibration, and cybersecurity measures for their customers.

The annual Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) conference at McCormick Place in Chicago indicated manufacturers take water safety and security seriously.

That’s not too surprising given how wastewater treatment facilities were a major factor in learning how COVID-19 spread during the pandemic and mitigating its effects. The near-miss disaster at Oldsmar in Florida also highlighted how precarious water safety and security is. This is underscored by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) calling water and wastewater systems one of the 16 critical infrastructures.

Manufacturers and end users realize this and are working to ensure operators, regardless of how large and small they are, can maintain and improve.

Cybersecurity is a priority in wastewater industry

Maintaining and even improving conditions and operations in the wastewater industry is easier said than done. The wastewater industry’s problems are not unique in the manufacturing or critical infrastructure world.

“Many of the problems they’re facing are the same as what everyone is going through,” said Cody Aston, a network and cybersecurity solution consultant for Rockwell Automation. “There’s a lack of workforce and they don’t have the skills to understand information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). That’s a problem because there’s a major focus on attacking OT systems right now.”

Some of that is due to lack of qualified personnel, but it’s also because the technology running the facilities is old and obsolete.

“Legacy systems were not built with the internet in mind,” Aston said.

While they have been retrofitted and reworked to accommodate, but there’s still a gaping cybersecurity hole for many devices. Near-misses such as Oldsmar have put a renewed focus on the industry and its shortcomings, said Chris Little, media relations for Trihedral. “There wasn’t as much pressure before or urgency. The last couple years have prompted a lot of good awkward conversations, but it was for the best.”

Cybersecurity was a major focus at Weftec as companies such as Rockwell Automation are looking to protect plants and facilities from cyberattacks, which are becoming a major threat.

Cybersecurity was a major focus at Weftec as companies such as Rockwell Automation are looking to protect plants and facilities from cyberattacks, which are becoming a major threat. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Another challenge is infrastructure. Jeff Bergman, a senior business development manager for ABB who specializes in municipalities, said the United States loses half of the water that is logged, which is much higher than other industrialized nations. Some of that is down to attention and how the countries—some of which don’t have the water advantages the United States does—react to these situations.

Infrastructure, though is a major problem, he said. Several of the drives and pumps shown at the booth were designed so the pipes wouldn’t incur damage from a sudden start or stop. In some cases, the pipes are more than 100 years old and are corroded or cracked. It’s hard enough getting the investment to replace these pipes. In some cases, prevention is the only solution they have.

“They often don’t have time to do preventive maintenance,” he said. “They’re in reaction mode.”

Manufacturers providing a wider canvas

A growing trend in manufacturing the last few years — particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — is trying to be more than a simple supplier. It’s not enough to be a motor and drive company or provide sensors. More often, companies are trying to expand beyond their original base.

Nick Hanson, national industry manager for Endress+Hauser, said of their efforts to expand, “It’s a conversation we’re trying to have with customers. We’re not just about providing individual pieces. We want to be a solutions provider. We want to leverage what we already have and provide value. Preventive maintenance? Yes, we can. Real-time calibration? Yes, we can. We’re enhancing conversations with our customers.”

Endress+Hauser's offerings at Weftec are designed to give engineers information in an easy and reliable manner for sensitive applications.

Endress+Hauser’s offerings at Weftec are designed to give engineers information in an easy and reliable manner for sensitive applications. Courtesy: Endress+Hauser, CFE Media’s New Products for Engineers Database

Trihedral emphasized something similar at their booth. Little said that while the VTScada platform was being emphasized for the water and wastewater industry at this show, they have never limited themselves to one vertical.

“We are hardware-agnostic and provide open connectivity,” he said. “We give customers open integration and be infinitely scalable.”

Being as many things as possible to customers carries its share of benefits and risks. The companies that fare the best with this don’t stray too far from their main expertise, which allows them to leverage their knowledge while going into new fields. Many are getting involved in safety and cybersecurity and trying to protect their customers’ assets.

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.