Patrick Cooke of Trihedral discusses recent advances in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), as well as the role SCADA plays throughout each stage of the water cycle.
Todd Schnick: We’re coming to you live, from Dallas, Texas. This is day two of AWWA ACE 2012 and Water Online Radio. I’m your host, Todd Schnick, joined by my colleague, Todd Youngblood. Todd, trouble is back.
Todd Youngblood: I know. It was trouble. What was that, last October?
Todd Schnick: God help us, this should be a lot of fun. I want to welcome back to the show Patrick Cooke, who is the Director of Marketing for Trihedral. Welcome back, Pat.
Pat: Thank you, Todd and Todd.
Todd Schnick: It’s great to see you again, Pat.
Pat: Or Todd and Todd, depending on the circumstances.
Todd Schnick: Or Todd and Todd, depending on the situation, but we won’t go there. Pat, before we get into it, take a second and tell us a little bit about you and your background.
Pat: I was educated in Nova Scotia. I went and lived in the States for a number of years, and I went back home about 25 years [ago], and I’ve worked with Trihedral for 20. We’re on the leading edge of software technology, and hopefully an important part of it – not only in the local marketplace, but worldwide.
Todd Schnick: Tell us more about Trihedral. What are some of the products and services you’re bringing to market?
Pat: We essentially have two hats. We’re somewhat schizophrenic. Half of our group is involved in software development, and the other half is involved in engineering, primarily associated with telemetry automation. We have an interesting development process, where things are come up on the Development side and Engineering comments, or Engineering comes up with ideas and they throw it out to the Software Development people. It’s a fun, high-tech area.
Todd Schnick: Speaking of schizophrenic, I look at SCADA as something that’s been around forever, but on the other hand, there’s so much technology that’s associated with it, that it’s reborn all the time. Give us a 21st century overview of what is SCADA.
Pat: Well, I look in the mirror and feel somewhat schizophrenic myself, and I feel as if I’ve been around rather a number of times. Essentially, SCADA was and still is Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.
I guess in years gone by it was somebody in a horse, who would drive around from lift station to lift station or pump station to pump station, viewing if they was flooding or how much water there was in the well.
That was gradually replaced by radios, and people would have their own licensed technologies, their own licensed radios. What’s happened in the last number of years is we’ve seen, as you suggest, a tremendous growth in technology. We now have the Internet providing real time data, over DSL connections.
We have more and more cellular, either cellular telephones or cellular, high-speed Ethernet connections, or, in some cases, satellites. Information which before was really far away, is now at my fingertips. And it’s really scary that somebody who’d be using our software could be walking around on the show floor in Dallas… they could have an iPad or an Android, they could bring up their plant back home, and they can start opening and closing valves without leaving the show floor; in fact, without even interrupting their conversation with exhibitors.
Todd Schnick: Talk more about some of the applications of SCADA in water and wastewater industry.
Pat: Typically, it starts at the plant level. We have water coming out of a stream, and it goes through a facility for putting in the various chemicals – chlorine purification – and that would be SCADA at the plant level.
The water is then sent out, via pressure, to lift stations, pumping stations, and at the lift station and pumping station it’s sent into your own home, where you use it.
When the water is finished, it goes out as wastewater, and that goes downhill, into pits, where it’s collected, pumped up, and goes to the next pit, all without the benefit of pressure. It’s all gravity-fed, and that’s why it’s called a lift station. It ultimately goes into the wastewater treatment plant, which processes it and then it’s pumped back into the environment.
SCADA gets involved in all those areas. And, more and more, a growing area of concern is stormwater. Typically, the stormwater was allowed to run off into the rivers and into the streams, and nobody thought very much about it.
Now, they’re recognizing that there are very significant quantities of nutrients in stormwater. There’s a lot of heavy metal involved in stormwater, perhaps oil and gas in stormwater.
Now they’re looking more and more at taking that product and treating it as well, before it’s sent back into the environment. Some of the nutrients, for example, in places like Florida, are beginning to cause a tremendous algae growth in the lakes and the streams and, in fact, choking off the wildlife, because of too many nutrients.
Stormwater is also an area of concern, and it’s certainly something we see more and more on the SCADA side.
Todd Schnick: Talk a little bit about SCADA’s applications in different industries, beyond water/wastewater.
Pat: It’s really scary. As we said, in the wastewater lift stations and pumping stations, oil and gas industry, people are wanting to see in real time what oil is produced – what oil as it goes through the pipelines, or gas going through the transmission lines.
Ultimately, that’s turned into electricity at the power plants, and as we distribute electricity, we want to be able to watch the little electrons running down the various copper wires or other methods of transportation, and lighting your houses.
We see SCADA in areas, for example, monitoring broadcast systems. It could be monitoring oil and gas platforms in the middle of the ocean, or it could be used in a manufacturing establishment, to watch the process as we’re making crankshafts, as we’re making polyethylene bags, as we’re treating milk products, or – one of my personal favorites – in breweries, where we are managing the batches. I happen to be in charge of quality assurance.
Todd Schnick: Listen, if you ever need a hand, just let us know. We’re happy to volunteer.
Pat: Thank you so much. It’s something I can only do from nine until midnight, four days a week, so that’s okay. It’s my nighttime job. We even see SCADA, though, coming into new areas that previously wouldn’t have been thought of, in the conventional sense, called hosted solutions.
Hosted solutions is where somebody says, “I want the information. I don’t want to be responsible for knowing anything about the radios or the television or the satellites or any other method of getting the information back. It comes back to me, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to pay you for that data.”
Somebody sets up a server. They set up the communications, they bring the information back, they put it onto a website, and I, with no technology background whatsoever, go to a URL, and I can see what the temperature is on the roof of my house. I can see how many cigarettes there are in the cigarette machine, or I could see how much liquid oxygen or liquid nitrogen there is in a cryogenic gas tank.
More and more, this data’s being available. Data’s been brought back, it’s being used somewhere, and somebody, in turn, is using that information.
That’s where I see it going. More and more, everything that you do, it’s just like driving around in a car with a GPS. I know, real time, where people are. I can know how much gas you have in your tank, I can know what the efficiency of your car is, something like OnStar, which is a type of SCADA application.
Todd Schnick: Not just about SCADA, but what other trends do you see in the industry, coming in the next three to five years?
Pat: I would think blue. I’m sorry.
Todd Schnick: You just couldn’t help yourself.
Pat: I was going to say puce, but I felt that would be inappropriate.
Todd Schnick: That was inappropriate.
Pat: It’s quite fun at the aqueous level, because, as I said, we have on staff a lot of programmers and we have a lot of engineers. If I go back 20 years ago, when some of the hardware was being manufactured and we’d bring a piece of hardware into the office, and that piece of hardware was $20- or $30,000 – it would be a standalone unit that would control things. We were all in awe of that, and the same piece of hardware I could buy now for about $150.
Guys are saying, “Well, I have solar panels on my roof. I’d really like to be able to control my solar panel systems, so I’m going to put in this little piece of hardware, so that I can dial it up from the office and I can change the way the solar panels look, to pick up a higher level of efficiency.
I never would have seen that, 20 years ago. The price of those kinds of items and the method of getting the information changes so radically that it’s now immediately available, at a very, very low cost. Todd Schnick: Pat, we’re out of time. Before we let you go, how can people get in touch with you, and where can they learn more about the good works at Trihedral?
Pat: You can always look at us at www.trihedral.com. We are available at 1 (800) GO-FASTER. Unfortunately, GO-FASTER only works in English. We tried it in Spanish and French, but it was nonproductive. I’m at extension +228, and we’re always delighted to hear from people.
Any interesting ideas about new SCADA applications, any problems on hardware, bounce it off us. We’ll hopefully come up with an innovative solution. Thank you, Todd and Todd.
Todd Schnick: Outstanding. Patrick Cooke, Director of Marketing for Trihedral, it was great to have you. Thanks so much for joining us.
Pat: Thank you.
Todd Schnick: Alright, that wraps this segment, on behalf of our guest, Patrick Cooke, our co-host, Todd Youngblood, all of us at Water Online. I’m Todd Schnick. We’ll be right back, after a short break.