Guest Column | May 1, 2019

IoT And Pumps: What You Need To Know

By Seth O'Brien


When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), especially in the sometimes conservative water industry, there may be considerable hand-wringing over incorporating IoT into your pump process. Some of the most oft-asked questions — from implementation trends through start-up and ownership — are assembled and answered here.

Advancements in digital technologies are changing our world. The rapid growth of connected, intelligent devices and the decreasing cost of computing and connectivity are driving this transformation. What we’re able to achieve today far surpasses what we’ve done and represents just a fraction of what we’ll be able to accomplish tomorrow. But what does this world of amped up connectivity mean for the pumping industry? How can digitization be leveraged for business improvements?

At the heart of the IoT are the things that generate, collect, and process data. Intelligent power solutions used in the pumping industry collect data, learn, and provide actionable insights to optimize power use and continuity. By collecting and transforming data into clear insights, you’ll have the information needed to make better decisions faster.

The following insights, formed in response to common IoT queries, might help you get started down the path to more connected systems.

What’s driving the adoption of IoT technologies in water and pumping applications?

IoT devices can collect, analyze, and exchange data. The ability to drive energy efficiency, remotely monitor and control pumping applications, and predict issues before they cause downtime or impact operations are driving the adoption of IoT technologies in pumping systems. Through intelligent power solutions, organizations can have X-ray vision into their systems to make decisions based on real-time and historical data. Sensors, data science, and connectivity are building intelligent power. Armed with more granular data, powerful analytics, and the ability to aggregate and disseminate data, organizations can impact productivity, reduce energy costs, and improve power reliability or continuity.

Employing IoT technologies is more than an exercise in collecting data. Unprocessed data has limited value. We need to embrace data science to create actionable information and knowledge. It’s the transformation of data into actionable decision points that helps reduce costs, drive efficiency, and improve uptime. For example, through analytics we can take advantage of predictive maintenance, which can save costs and advance safety. Further, data science can provide critical equipment performance metrics to enable informed decisions impacting budgets and long-term modernization plans.

What’s standing in the way of adopting IoT technologies?

IoT is intimidating for a lot of businesses due to its perceived complexity. It’s important to give the industry credit that pumping systems have been collecting, measuring, and analyzing data for years — through SCADA systems and other local communication networks. Introducing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) simply modernizes the way we’ve been doing things and provides additional value and insight into the system.

Data management and security challenges are two of the largest hurdles for adoption. Security is the foundation for IoT, yet, there is no real consensus on how to implement security in IoT and no magic wand that can effectively mitigate the threats.

In this world of amped-up connectivity comes an increased risk of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. It takes only a single security breach to impact safety, lifecycle costs, and reputations.

Cybersecurity threats must be met proactively with a systemwide defensive approach specific to organizational needs. When selecting suppliers, it’s critical to ensure they have a robust process for designing secure products.

From inception through deployment and maintenance, the modern manufacturer needs to instill cybersecurity best practices via training, threat modeling, requirements analysis, implementation, verification, and ongoing support. Likewise, customers need to make periodic vulnerability and security assessments of deployed solutions on their sites.

How can manufacturers enable better pump systems?

What if real-time data existed to model and optimize failure modes and rates of components? With intelligent devices like sensors, controls, and variable frequency drives (VFDs) connected to a network, the data could be analyzed and used to understand how pumps are being used and when or why they operate outside expected conditions. Pump manufacturers can use this data to understand trends, make more reliable pumps, and predict market needs before they happen. With monitoring in place, pump systems can proactively alert users to decreases in efficiencies while enabling troubleshooting and diagnosis for potential problems before they become detrimental to the system.

How can pump distributors increase aftermarket sales?

One of the biggest challenges a pump distributor has is capturing incremental revenue through aftermarket sales. Connected pumps and controls can help solve this problem. For example, modern VFDs can collect the health data of the system and, through analytics, predict that the pump is about to experience seal failure. An automated notification can be sent to the equipment operator with a warning that seal failure is imminent, and an order for replacement parts can be automatically placed. The result is increased uptime and increased revenue through aftermarket sales for the distributor.

What does an IoT-enabled pumping system look like?

The development of connected machines has enabled real-time monitoring in the production line to improve productivity and reduce downtime. Intelligence is also being increasingly embedded with online monitoring to help analyze data in real time and improve the chances of proactively identifying problems to perform diagnostic and prognostic calculations.

Connected pumps also enable predictive maintenance with the ability to monitor and regulate pump efficiency and thereby improve both uptime and energy efficiency. The use of connected pumps allows the transmission of important data, enabling a range of IoT applications.

Are there new service models and services that organizations can provide to the pumping industry?

Service providers are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of new revenue streams enabled by IoT. For example, with connected products, it will become much easier to proactively fix customer problems, possibly even before they are aware of the problem. This will strengthen the value for service providers already offering maintenance contracts and open the door for those who do not yet offer them. There are also large time savings to be found with connected products through increased awareness of what may need to be fixed. Service contracts that utilize IoT solutions include better up-front data, allowing more efficient servicing of equipment. Because of the huge variability in problems that can arise, it is difficult to come to a site prepared to fix every problem. Connected products give the opportunity for service providers to come prepared on the first visit, saving valuable time.

How can system integrators improve productivity?

For pump system integrators and service providers, labor is the leading driver of cost. Reducing labor time allows the service provider to accomplish more jobs in a day and increases labor efficiency, ultimately producing more profit margin upon the job’s completion. Pump systems that are powered by connected devices speed up installation, commissioning, and troubleshooting of the system. Whether through intelligent sensors auto-tuning themselves to match the specific demands of the pumping system or connected technical support that offers step-by-step guidance through start-up, maximizing labor savings leads to better, faster service for the customer and increased revenue and margins for the service provider.

How can customers reduce the total cost of ownership?

Downtime is one of the biggest challenges faced by pump system customers today. IoT can reduce unplanned downtime through predicting failure of connected devices and their downstream components. Many of the previously mentioned benefits for other members of the value chain are also realized at the customer level. They will benefit from increased customer service, better quality products, and better situational awareness of their operations.

All of the players in the value chain can benefit from adopting IoT-connected systems, and the possibilities are endless:

  • Labor savings
  • Total cost of ownership savings by specific preventative maintenance
  • Avoidance of catastrophic failure
  • Inventory consolidation and optimization
  • Better system efficiency and performance.

What are some of the other emerging trends that you are seeing in the pumping market?

As energy becomes more costly, the importance of effective power management becomes increasingly apparent. New technologies are helping end users manage electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical power in a safe, reliable, and efficient manner.

Also, energy efficiency standards will be enforced by utilities to meet certain requirements. One of the effects of the new standards is that most of the pumps on the market will be more energy-efficient, so end users can stop worrying about compliance and focus on the performance of the system. The increased awareness of energy consumption, education on their pump system, and the rating methods will help end users select the most efficient pump for their application.


The world of IoT is continuously growing, and this is a quick look into some of the benefits that can, and will, be derived from it. Advancements in intelligent digital technologies have changed our world. What we are able to do today far surpasses what we’ve done and is just a fraction of what we’ll be able to do tomorrow. And at the heart of it all are the “things” that generate, collect, and process data.

About The Author

Seth O’Brien is the product manager, HVAC Variable Frequency Drives, Industrial Controls Division, at Eaton. He has five years of experience with Eaton in various sales and marketing roles and is responsible for Eaton’s HVAC strategy, including new product development and sales execution. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida and is an MBA candidate with the University of Wisconsin.