By Emily Newton
Flow measurement sensors are essential parts of water treatment plants. It’s increasingly common for those products to have Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. One industry report indicated the intelligent flow meter market will reach $3.1 billion in market worth by 2025, representing a 4.4% compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.1
The flow sensors in this category are more expensive than those without IoT connectivity. Many decision-makers in the water treatment space deem them well worth the cost. However, leaders who don’t yet have firsthand experience with how these products work may feel reluctant to invest in them. Similarly, someone without purchasing authority may need to convince higher-ups to expand the budget and accommodate these sensors.
People must give numerous compelling arguments to strengthen their case. Here are some of the points they may bring up during those discussions.
1. Increased Flow Measurement Accuracy
One of the most common reasons for leaders in the water treatment sector to choose smart flow meter technology is because it will give them more reliable statistics about operations. They can then use the associated data to see if anything’s amiss and feel more confident about their choices after analyzing the information.
The Wastewater Treatment Resource Recovery Facility (WWTRRF) in Pendleton, Oregon, treats approximately 2.5 million gallons of water daily while serving 17,000 people.2 Leaders there realized improved measurement capabilities would lead to numerous operational advantages and decided to install electromagnetic flow meters at the facility.
They liked how the chosen model took accurate measurements regardless of the mounting location. That’s crucial, particularly since many pipes at water treatment facilities feature tight bends, short runs, and other challenges.
Before implementing the flow meters, the facility’s employees could only make estimates. Now, they get real-time data, aiding decision-making and saving time. Besides collecting information in the moment, the sensors can compile it and show what happened over 24 hours.
That makes it easier for the facility’s technicians to spot and fix problems such as leaks or open valves. The estimate-based system caused them to lose thousands of gallons of water before noticing the problem. They now get alerts sooner, which accelerates the detection and resolution of the issue.
2. Improved Disinfection
People working at wastewater treatment plants directly maintain human health by managing the challenges associated with water contamination. Statistics indicate that viral pathogens cause more than half of all waterborne illnesses.3 Connected flow measurement sensors help control those risks by ensuring people use the right amounts of disinfecting agents to support water safety and meet regulatory requirements.
Smart flow meters allow using a similar approach to effectively control bacteria. Legionella management requires using chemicals, copper, and silver to kill it. A faster flow rate means it’s necessary to add more of those substances to get the desired results.
Flow meter deployment also happens when people monitor chlorine levels at wastewater treatment plants. These products strike a balance between water safety and an appealing taste.4 Using the right amount keeps consumers from contracting potentially deadly illnesses from waterborne pathogens. However, too much chlorine gives the water a distinctive taste and smell many people dislike. Leaders commonly choose thermal mass sensors for this wastewater treatment application.
People often use connected flow meters along with other smart technologies that keep operations running smoothly and economically. Statistics indicate people can save 8% to 12% over preventive maintenance costs by switching to predictive solutions that use the IoT.5 Water treatment executives can then avoid catastrophic failures that could risk human health.
Consider how two cases of pipe breakage in Finland sickened hundreds of people when that issue caused wastewater to enter the distribution system.6 In both instances, it took employees days to notice the problem. However, many people affected by the contamination started showing symptoms the day after drinking the dirty water. IoT sensors can typically collect real-time data and send it to the cloud, significantly reducing the detection time frame.
3. Enhanced Sustainability
Water is a precious resource, and flow measurement technology helps ensure there’s as much as possible available. Statistics suggest industrial water facilities lose more than half of their fluid because of problems such as leaks.7 However, flow measurement sensors can reduce that figure by highlighting unusual instances of water loss. Looking at how flow rates change during specific periods gives people the knowledge they need to act quickly to stop further waste.
Many plant managers also use ultrasonic flow meters to measure the amount of clean surface water produced by a facility daily or within any other time frame.8 That makes it easier to pinpoint operational problems that could negatively impact sustainability.
However, flow meter readings change for reasons beyond what happens in a plant. Illegal distribution line connections can also cause them. Even so, catching and remedying such issues supports a plant’s overall sustainability by providing better visibility against unlawful resource usage.
Some wastewater treatment managers also use smart sensors to detect sewage overflow events contaminating local waterways and putting nearby wildlife at risk. The UK has more than 500,000 kilometers of underground wastewater network infrastructure.9 It’s understandable why many current measures of tackling sewage overflow events there are costly and time-consuming. However, deploying artificial intelligence-based sensors may significantly reduce network overwhelm issues that cause spillage.
Considerations Before Choosing A Smart Flow Measurement Solution
These examples show why it often makes good business sense for water treatment plants to use IoT flow measurement solutions. However, evidence of success in these cases does not guarantee similar results in all circumstances.
Decision-makers must consider several things before committing to new flow measurement solutions in their industrial facilities. What’s the organization’s budget? Which specific goals do leaders hope to achieve with the technology? Have the selected tech providers previously deployed solutions for other clients in the wastewater treatment sector?
It will take more time after installation for the responsible parties to tweak the setup for optimal performance. It’s also necessary to figure out how and when people will get alerts. Receiving real-time data about problems allows for the most proactive approach. However, confusion and alert fatigue could result if too many employees simultaneously receive notifications, hindering productivity.
One possibility is to have department managers initially get prompts to investigate issues. They can then distribute the necessary information to others to get help as required.
Thinking things through carefully sets expectations for using smart flow meters in a facility. Fully understanding the benefits can also help people feel more confident about tech implementation, whether relying on connected flow meters for the first time or expanding their existing usage.
Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. Emily is also editor-in-chief of Revolutionized (revolutionized.com).