Case Study

A Case For Wireless M2M Technology: Sangamon Valley Public Water District

Source: FreeWave Technologies, Inc.

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Wireless M2M Communication technology can positively impact operations at a water treatment facility by improving efficiency through automated processes. With access to extensive data, a utility can monitor and control critical machinery and information. More data enables smarter decision-making for facility operators and staff, which can ultimately lead to cost savings and fewer man hours in the field resolving issues. Today, the data collection and monitoring process can be simplified even more through secure access to data from a mobile device. For operators who are in the field a significant portion of their day, this is an added convenience because they can monitor system operations from anywhere.

With careful planning and implementation, a water or wastewater utility can experience each of these benefits through its supervisory control and data acquisition system (SCADA) when a reliable communication technology is in place. This was the case for a small water district in central Illinois that needed automated monitoring and control of operations for a new wastewater treatment facility. As a brand new facility, operators faced the challenge of selecting efficient and effective components to support operations.

Background

The Sangamon Valley Public Water District (SVPWD), located in Mahomet, IL, approximately 10 miles northwest of Champaign, IL, was designing a new water treatment plant (WTP) with a significant focus on improving operational efficiency. Mahomet is the oldest community in Champaign County, boasting a modest population of 7,955 (15,000 including the surrounding area). The community experienced significant growth in recent years and has made substantial efforts to address it with plans for new residential subdivisions, and investing millions of dollars in its water, sewer and fiber optic lines to support commercial and industrial growth.

“Mahomet built the new water treatment facility to support its growth,” said Kevin Stock, vice president of Scadata, Inc. “SVPWD was very conscientious to create a facility that would not only support increased growth and demand, but that would operate smartly.”

The new WTP received funding for the project through the governor’s Clean Water Initiative and a $6.2 million loan from the state’s revolving loan fund (SRF). The contracts supported funding for connectivity among four sites:

  • A 1,000-gpm water treatment plant
  • A 250,000-gallon ground storage tank
  • A booster station
  • A 500-gpm well

Through careful deliberation and collaboration with an engineering consultant, the district landed on a decision that a new SCADA system could help achieve the most critical operational goals and also provide a more “green” solution for the new plant.  Operators indicated that improved communications processes, efficiencies, control, and future compatibility were the key drivers for their decision in selecting components for the SCADA system. A new SCADA system had the potential to offer a variety of benefits, including monitoring and control processes at remote sites. For example, a SCADA system can monitor important data such as tank levels, water pressure, and chemical levels. It also enables the ability to turn the system on and off. SVPWD began its search for a new SCADA system with the following criteria in mind:

  • Simple to operate
  • Expandability for future sites
  • Provide operator monitoring and input
  • Wireless
  • Remote monitoring
  • Cost-effective
  • Ability to “talk” with proposed PLC units via Ethernet IP

System Design

After SVPWD carefully researched various SCADA system options that had the potential to support the WTP’s needs, together with the engineering consulting organization, a technology platform was built out that included the following:

  1. A SCADA Software Suite by Scadata, Inc (http://www.scadata.net/). This serves as the primary system interface, which is located at the plant. Scadata offered turnkey, user-friendly software, which aligned with the needs of the system. The software includes several features that support SVPWD’s goals for better operations and efficiency:
    • Log History that can track down to every second of data
    • Printable reports in Excel and Word
    • Remote control of equipment
    • Historical and instant trend graphs
    • The ability to predict problems based on data
    • Instant alarms and notifications — when there is a problem
    • Remote access to SCADA data through a smart phone app
  2. A Tonka Water panel programmable logic controller (PLC). The PLC is an industrial control system designed to monitor the state of input devices in real time and make decisions based on a custom program to control the state of output devices.
  3. Three Scadata remote terminal units (RTU) at the wells and booster site. The RTU is a microprocessor-controlled electronic device that interfaces objects in the physical world to a SCADA system by transmitting telemetry data wirelessly to the software (Wikipedia). In this case, the wireless M2M technology would transmit the data to the Scadata software.
  4. A forward compatible wireless technology platform comprised of wireless 900-MHz industrially hardened MM2T radios that are expandable for growth and future technology. For this piece of the system, FreeWave Technologies radios were used (www.freewave.com).

Wireless Communications

Through a vigorous process, and with the help of path studies, each technology was carefully selected. In addition to the Scadata software, the technology platform was a critically important piece of the system as a whole. Without reliable communications, the system would not have access to data that drives important decisions, nor would control and monitoring be effective. A wireless M2M network designed for long-range communications was ideal for connecting remote assets in this installation.

The wireless networking platform selected for this project consisted of FreeWave Technologies transmitters, receivers, and transceivers that communicate with each other using jam-resistant 900-MHz frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) technology. A MM2T FreeWave radio is connected to each remotely located RTU and the PLC. Scadata Input/Output (I/O) devices communicate with the central SCADA system, where it interfaces with Scadata software to provide critical data to operators. The radios feature fast data transmission and they can “talk” to each other for greater accuracy. All of FreeWave’s radios are industrially hardened and have proven to be effective in highly critical environments such as military operations. These wireless data communications are critical to supporting the time-sensitive applications that are monitored and controlled by SVPWD.

System Functionality

The new SCADA system communicates directly with the water treatment plant’s PLC and wirelessly to the remote well(s) and booster station controls for an integrated control and access by the SVPWD operations team. SVPWD has greater flexibility to track, manage, report, trend, access, archive, and control equipment and settings because they can access important updates from their fingertips. Notifications and alerts are sent to key parties immediately via cell phone as SMS/text and/or email. 

“It’s really convenient for our operators to access data and receive alerts on their mobile devices,” Stock said. “We get the information we need, when we need it, and we can make important decisions much faster. There is an immeasurable value in being privy to potential issues early on.”

Operators can access the data through a variety of channels including desktop PC, handheld tablet, or mobile smartphone. FreeWave’s high-speed wireless radios enable the communication between sites. The PLC offers more advanced user settings for WTP equipment. The SCADA program is hosted on a PC at the WTP, allowing for access wherever an internet connection is available. The turnkey software package by Scadata offers SVPWD operators an intuitive, user-friendly setup and navigation, allowing them to focus on the data rather than learning complicated new software. There is no additional or expensive programming needed with the software, and SVPWP operators can make changes to fit their needs without additional ongoing cost. The SCADA software will be continuously updated with newer operating system versions, enabling future compatibility and it is scalable for expansion to future additional sites throughout the SVWPD.

Conclusion/Summary

Each component of the SCADA system, from the software to the radios and RTUs in the field, was selected to help simplify the communication process and increase efficiencies. SVPWD believed they could gain more control over various aspects of the WTP and create a simpler, more cost-effective, and user-friendly experience. So far, the Scadata system has saved SVPWD 50 percent in costs and is expected to save more over time as operations and efficiencies are improved.

“As the district grows, we will continue to expand our communication network at future sites,” Stock said. “One of the reasons we are proponents of FreeWave radios is because of the ability to easily expand our system in the future.”

Image credit: "Digital Graphics," Steve Johnson © 2007, used under an Attribution­ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by­sa/2.0/