Guest Column | May 23, 2014

Integrated Smart Device Technologies: The Road To Smart City Infrastructure

 How To Future-Proof Your Business

By Jeff M. Miller, Water Solutions Architect, Schneider-Electric 

Continuing pressure to do more with less has spawned a technology integration revolution, pushing more intelligence into previously “dumb” devices. Today’s smart devices are intelligent, multi-functional, provide open connectivity, and allow for easy development of new applications. This technology revolution has made us rethink how we provide, operate, maintain, and recycle our assets and resources in the water industry.

Although smart city technologies are increasingly being used to improve bottom line performance and increase operational effectiveness, their implementation has been impeded by the complexity of system integration and the ability to leverage existing assets.  Luckily, more and more intelligence is being integrated into common personal and plant floor devices every day; removing many of the barriers of smart technology implementation and ensuring a return on investment.

Phones have now become smart phones, water has become smart water, and cities are now trending towards becoming smart cities, but what does all this mean and how do we effectively make our water infrastructure smarter? If you are like most utilities, the resources to transform yourself overnight are already being taxed by the daily business of running the utility. Oddly, this is the perfect scenario for heading down the road to a smart city infrastructure. A proper technology road map allows smart technologies to be implemented incrementally, thereby freeing resources to continue the process of smart technology initiatives.  Furthermore, emerging smart device technologies make this incremental approach easier than ever before.

The Smart Revolution

Today, almost anything can be given the label “smart”— including the water you drink— but let’s not get bogged down by the multitudes of organizations out there trying to put an official definition to the “smart” label. Smart generally takes on two simple concepts- 1) doing things better by making informed choices and 2) the means by which those choices are made and acted upon, commonly referred to as actionable intelligence.

Smart or actionable intelligence is nothing new. It has been around for a long time. In years past, systems providing actionable intelligence were complex and expensive to implement due to the cost of higher level computing and the customization involved. Eventually, hardware and software evolved into our current day packaged operational and business systems. You may be familiar with many of these packaged systems such as SCADA, LIMS, GIS, PMS, AMS, CMMS, AMI, hydraulic modeling, ERP, etc. Although these systems provide great value, they mostly perform specific functions within their own area of influence. One of the key benefits of smart technologies is that they can leverage information and functionality across these Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) systems to provide new effective management of our resources. But how can we do this without going back to the days of expensive complex customized systems?  This is where Integrated Smart Device Technologies are driving tremendous value in the market.

Plant floor devices, which previously had little to no intelligence, are now smarter and can do the work previously required by many separate systems or staff. In addition, these devices are becoming more easily integrated into networks due to open connectivity, so that the sum total of their distributed intelligence may be utilized to streamline operational and business processes, resulting in real-time analysis of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), asset management and organizational effectiveness. For example, imagine a pump motor controller that could perform some of the functions of a SCADA, GIS, PMS, AMS, CMMS, etc. systems.  If you are waiting for these integrated device technologies to arrive, they are already available in the market through devices such as variable frequency drives (VFDs), motor control centers (MCCs), instruments, HVAC, lighting, radios, etc.

Becoming Smart

Remember, one of the key benefits of smart devices is that they can perform functions beyond their original purpose and that many of these functions can be directly related to the functions or enhanced integration with a smart city’s OT and IT systems. Below is a list of some of the OT/IT systems smart devices can impact in the water industry:

  • SCADA......... Supervisor Control and Data Acquisition Systems
  • LIMS............. Laboratory Information Management Systems
  • WMS / WIMS Water (Information) Management System
  • GIS................ Geospatial Information Systems
  • PMS............... Power Management Systems
  • EnMS / EMS.. Energy Management Systems
  • AMS.............. Asset Management Systems
  • CMMS........... Computerized Maintenance Management Systems
  • AMR / AMI... Automatic Meter Reading / Infrastructure
  • ERP................ Enterprise Resource Planning Systems
  • CCBS............. Customer Care and Billing Systems
  • DMS.............. Document Management Systems
  • VCS............... Version Control Systems
  • SACS............. Security and Access Control Systems

Now let’s take a look at some of the common capabilities being integrated into smart devices.

User Friendly: We collect so much information every day but what do we do with it? Who has time to do anything with it? Who has time to learn sophisticated systems that can deal with all of the information we collect? This is where integrated devices can add tremendous value. These devices are intuitive and may be accessed through systems or equipment you use every day such as a smart phone. Most times the analysis of data is being done for you so that you can concentrate on the results. Smart devices that integrate into OT/IT systems can provide KPIs that allow decision makers to make intelligent decisions on how to effectively manage water and wastewater utilities. Documents such as equipment manuals may no longer be needed since these devices can easily be navigated and may have the information that would have been included within manuals, including repair part identification and ordering. Some devices may even self-configure after answering a few simple questions.

Communications: More and more communication functions are being integrated into shop floor devices that previously didn’t have these capabilities. Multiple industrial and business communication protocols may be available from the same device, making interfacing simpler. Integrated wireless capabilities may save installation time and/or cost while providing easy remote access for monitoring, configuration and maintenance. Built-in device web servers provide O&M staff easy remote access to equipment without the need for complicated software or devices.

Actionable Intelligence: Information has been available from many of the devices we use today, but now additional sensors, inputs, process parameters derived from calculations, and performance benchmarking are being integrated into equipment. These smarter devices are specifically designed to provide the information necessary to make decisions important to operations, maintenance and management staff. Self-benchmarking can inform on degraded performance, provide predictive maintenance, and allow for continuous process performance improvements.

Sophisticated Automation: Control capabilities are nothing new to much of the existing equipment currently in use, but in the past these integrated functions provided very basic automation and required other controllers, such as PLCs, to optimize processes or provide the level of reliable control desired. Now, PLC level capabilities are being integrated into devices such as instrumentation and motor controllers. In addition, process specific automation functions are pre-programmed into these devices minimizing the time that would be needed to custom program a generic controller to provide the same functions.  Higher level intelligence is also being integrated to allow continuous process performance improvements instead of the conventional control based on simplistic parameters like flow or level set points.

Combine these capabilities and imagine a process train of off-the-shelf VFD pump controllers that can be configured by answering a few simple questions via a tablet application and integrated into multiple SCADA and communication platforms.  This same VFD would be able to provide redundant lead control of the process train without a separate controller, optimizing pump output based on real-time conditions, and providing energy management that not only reduces energy but also reduces the heat load and noise within the room. Taking the intelligence of the VFD even further, it could calculate process flow and other parameters as well as monitor, benchmark, and provide actionable intelligence on its own performance and that of the pump or process. It could also log data at high speeds during adverse events for later diagnosis, provide valuable information (e.g. documentation, troubleshooting actions, repair part numbers and contacts, etc.) to O&M staff with the use of a smart phone or tablet while easily integrating this information into the OT/IT systems to streamline operational and business processes. All of this functionality from a pump controller and these described technologies exist now.

It is truly encouraging to note how many other devices currently employ smart technologies. For example, instrumentation that self-calibrates or allows for remote configuration; water meters that communicate wirelessly and provide water quality information, equipment that communicates wirelessly to smart phones and tablets for configuration, predictive maintenance, diagnoses, repair, and AMS, MCCs with communication, controllers and predictive diagnostics, CCTV cameras that provide analytical process information to our operators and control systems, etc. The list goes on and on.

System Architectures of the Future

(Figure 1)

Integrated smart device technologies are shattering the preconceived concepts of system architectures. Believe it or not this is where the tires hit the pavement when it comes to the road map to smart technologies. If you look at Conventional Architecture in Figure 1, you will see how conventional OT and IT systems are connected in a hierarchy. If we look at data transfer among the parts of these systems, we can see that field information from plant floor devices are historically gathered and passed up a level to a more intelligent device or system. For example, process flow from a flow meter is collected by a PLC, which is then transferred to a real-time SCADA database, which is then historically collected and passed to either a central historical database or other OT/IT systems. Each one of these transfers usually strips the amount of data available and can involve costly interface configurations. Sometimes to avoid costly interface configurations between systems, separate instrumentation or separate wiring to multiple systems is done to bring needed data to each system. Although this process may be the lower capital cost option, it soon becomes a larger lifecycle cost.

The use of smart devices with integrated intelligence and plant floor communication networks allows higher level OT and IT systems direct access to plant floor device information. In the Smart Architecture of Figure 1, a VFD controlling a pump sends calculated flow information to the OT and IT systems directly. Only the higher level systems need to be configured to retrieve this data instead of each data transfer up the hierarchy in the system architecture as described previously for flow. This significantly improves network traffic and lowers integration costs. For example, let’s say another data point was needed by a higher level system in the Conventional Architecture of Figure 1 that wasn’t configured to be transferred in the hierarchy. Each system would need to be modified to transfer the new data point to the higher level system with implementation cost, possibly preventing this work from being done and also preventing any cost saving measures this new information would have facilitated. In the Smart Architecture of Figure 1, the higher level systems have access to data that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, such as power data captured at a high sampling rate by the VFD during a triggered event that could be used for diagnoses or energy management.  It follows advanced cyber security measures will be needed to implement this type of architecture in order to meet current cyber security standards for network segregation and defense-in-depth, but these technologies are currently available and are not hard to implement.


Working smarter is not only the mission of smart cities but it is also the means to becoming one.  New advances in smart device technologies are making it easier than ever before to utilize and integrate our industry’s OT and IT systems.  Gone are the days of isolated islands of stockpiled data. Technologies are available now to analyze and act on intelligence effectively at every level of operation. The uses that are evolving from the correlations between our operation and business processes has only just begun to be tapped with more being imagined every day. Energy and asset management lead the way as being the primary drivers to justify these technologies and their use.

Jeff M. Miller; PE, ENV SP; is a Water Solutions Architect for Schneider Electric’s Water Wastewater Competency Center. Jeff has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and has worked as an engineering consultant and systems integrator for 24 years where he has delivered on over 30 wastewater treatment, 25 water treatment and 45 pump station projects ranging in size from small lift stations to 370 MGD treatment plants.  Jeff is the co-founder and past chair of the NC AWWA-WEA Automation Committee and is also an active member of several national and regional Automation and Plant O&M related committees.

Image credit: "Offworld Colonies," Daniel Voyager © 2009, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license: