Overcoming Integration Challenges for New Water Treatment Systems

Historically, water treatment feed and control systems have functioned as stand-alone controls and have seldom been integrated with the facility water treatment systems. While possible, integrating water treatment systems has typically required the involvement of control system integrators. Advancements in commercially available feed and control systems have been made that have simplified this often-underutilized technology. With environmental concerns and conservation efforts coming to the forefront of the water treatment industry, communication and collaboration with plant systems to provide critical system data have become even more important as a means of servicing water treatment systems. This system information may include water usage, chemical levels, chemical consumption, and various alarms. The ability to remotely mitigate these is also one of the integration focuses.

Wastewater System Integrators 

Water and wastewater system integrators provide the products and services required to allow systems to communicate both data and control across multiple control platforms.

The system integrators provide a myriad of services, including engineering, programming, planning, project management, and often, the labor required to physically couple the systems. The expertise required to perform these tasks is paramount to the success of water treatment integration projects. Water treatment system integrators are knowledgeable about multiple platforms and the benefits and/or limitations of each.

With the growing popularity and cost-effectiveness of IoT solutions, the integrator’s role in providing automation solutions has also expanded to include the integration of these technologies. With IoT typically involving wireless communications, the role of the system integrator now includes supporting the technologies associated with this type of communication.

Automation technology is in a constant state of advancement, so the continuing education of the water treatment integrator is critical to their understanding and knowledge of emerging technologies along with regulatory changes.

Since these automation solutions often require the installation of wire and cable or the utilization of existing facility infrastructure, the knowledge of the control system integrators is invaluable to the success of water and wastewater integration projects. Ongoing services including software updates, security audits, control changes and visual enhancements, along with general maintenance tasks that are typically in the integrator’s scope of work as well.

Common Challenges and Solutions for Water Treatment Facilities

  • Communication between multiple protocols
  • The involvement of multiple media types
  • The inherent limitations of OEM or industry-standard water treatment feed and control systems available to the water and wastewater treatment industry
  • Cost of integration
  • Distance between integrated platforms
  • Availability of facility manpower to complete tasks associated with the projects
  • Security concerns
  • Misconceptions about the complexity of the integration process

While most water treatment feed and control systems offer the built-in ability to send a limited number of signals to plant automation systems, they are seldom used due to the limited number, quality and general complexity of the signals. Distance limitations, installation costs, signal quality and general understanding contribute to these being overlooked.

Since multiple facility automation systems, often referred to as SCADA or BMS, can be involved in the integration process, it’s important to understand the differences and similarities between these systems.

SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems are based on PC technology and involve software of machines that communicate with PLC systems (programable logic controller) or, in the case of water and wastewater treatment systems, OEM controllers. The SCADA platform provides the visualization, data acquisition, reporting and control interface. These are typically interfaced with PLCs via a bus such as Fieldbus, Ethernet IP, Modbus (TCP or RTU), Profibus, etc. Most OEM water treatment control systems available to the water and wastewater treatment industry now include the ability to communicate with SCADA. The most common of these is Modbus TCP.

Building management systems, often referred to as BMS, are comprised of multiple embedded control systems and are often associated with HVAC, lighting, security, and facility systems. While BMS systems are very similar to SCADA systems in that they are comprised of multiple controllers in communication with a PC type system, they generally differ in scope. The protocols involved in a BMS system are often manufacturer specific and include BACnet, LonWorks, Metasys, and others. Many commonly available OEM water and wastewater treatment control systems now include the ability to communicate in this manner. The most common option is BACnet. There are many solutions available to convert between protocols in the event that the facility system is not one of the more common methods.

With the compatibility of these systems becoming less of a factor, the focus has now shifted to the physical integration of these controllers to the facility BMS and/or SCADA systems.

Since most protocols require the use of Ethernet as a means of communication with the facility systems, the availability of these connections is one of the first steps in determining the feasibility of an integration project. Along with the availability of Ethernet, security is often a determining factor. System integration professionals provide an invaluable resource to communicate with the facility engineering and IT staff to alleviate or mitigate any security concerns. These solutions often include devices that act as firewalls or providers of physical separation of the water and wastewater control system and the facility BMS and/or SCADA system. Wireless Ethernet solutions such as cellular gateways, WIFI devices, IoT devices, Ethernet radios, etc., often fall within the scope of the water and wastewater integrator as well.

When the project requires that devices be interfaced with the facilities system via physical or virtual inputs or outputs, the system integration team will determine the best method for doing so. Considerations for these types of connections can include wire type, distance, local code requirements, facility best practices, industry best practices, and integration of these connections to and from the facility BMS or SCADA system.

Clear, open, and professional conversations with the facility engineering and IT staff is paramount to the success of most, if not all, integration projects.

Wastewater System Integration Services 

At AquaPhoenix, we have taken a “manufacture agnostic” approach in providing water and wastewater control systems. This approach gives us the unique ability to recommend water and wastewater feed and control systems based on the specific requirements of the system to be treated. Along with the standard requirements for sensors, pumps, valves, etc., communication with the aforementioned systems is also a consideration when selecting a platform.

Our team of industry professionals includes electrical engineers, draftsmen, IT experts, and sourcing professionals. With having a vast network of suppliers and integration professionals that can be consulted to offer the best possible solution for a water or wastewater integration project. During the installation process, our team can also act as an interface between the water treatment professional and the facilities system integration team.

As with any process, clear, complete, and upfront communication is key. As a provider of equipment to water treatment professionals, our involvement upfront is confidential. Sharing all documents, such as scope of work, drawings, etc., will ensure that the recommended equipment is correct and compatible with the integration project.

Contact us to discuss any equipment required for your water or wastewater feed and control integration project. Our team can provide easy-to-implement solutions for almost any integration need, including protocol conversion devices, custom PLC systems, wire and cable, remote input/output devices, networking hardware, and software solutions.