A quick guide to incorporating IoT in your wastewater treatment plant

Jul 12, 2021 | Water & Waste Treatment

By Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized

Internet of Things (IoT) devices enable a wide range of new management strategies for wastewater treatment plants — including remote site management, asset monitoring, and analytics or predictive maintenance.

IoT-based systems can also be a significant investment. The wide variety of new IIoT devices available and the relatively untested nature of the technology may also make planning IoT integration a challenge for wastewater treatment plant owners.

Incorporating the IoT successfully will require a combination of research and planning to ensure team members are ready for a new solution’s launch.

Key Applications of Wastewater Treatment IoT

Wastewater treatment applications of IoT typically fall into one or more of four categories.

These categories are operational intelligence — or the capture and analysis of data related to business performance — water monitoring, asset monitoring, and remote access or service.

Most IoT systems gather some kind of data that’s useful to operational intelligence.

Asset monitoring often involves the use of IoT sensors to establish an enterprise asset management system that can collect information on equipment performance, process efficiency or water quality, and contaminants.

For example, one site may use IoT devices solely to monitor water quality by using a collection of sensors to track water temperature, pressure, chemical composition, and total dissolved solids.

These sensors can track harmful chemicals and analyse water composition to help site staff determine the best treatment processes to use.

Information from these sensors will allow the site managers to more quickly respond to changing wastewater conditions and adjust treatment processes and use of resources to maximize treatment efficiency and minimise resource consumption.

As sustainability becomes more important to the sector and its customers, systems that allow treatment plants to reduce energy waste will likely become more valuable. By analyzing energy and resource use over time, these systems can help site owners identify patterns of waste.

These insights can help plants reduce energy use, making the site more sustainable while trimming operational costs.

Asset Monitoring and Remote Site Access

Asset monitoring applies IoT devices to track the performance of site equipment. IoT devices used for asset monitoring may track operational parameters like machine vibration, timing, lubricant temperature, and lubricant pressure.

Monitoring these can help site staff track equipment health and minimize asset resource consumption.

Predictive maintenance is the use of IoT devices to monitor and forecast machine health. It is the third most popular use of industrial IoT technology, behind asset monitoring and operational intelligence.

With this approach, the IoT devices track similar parameters as with asset monitoring. Data gathered by these devices is fed into an analytics solution that analyzes equipment performance and forecasts machine performance and health.

If the analytic algorithm detects a pattern of behavior that suggests damage or imminent machine failure, it can alert site staff. This allows them to shut down the machine or schedule maintenance as needed.

Remote monitoring is sometimes built on one of the above solutions. Using a new or existing IoT infrastructure, it’s possible to remotely monitor and manage a variety of site processes.

In practice, this has been used by wastewater treatment plants to streamline reporting for water main breaks, alerting on-site operators when a low- or high-pressure alarm is triggered.

Similar technology can help drive automation in other areas of a plant, enabling off-site staff to adjust treatment methods or manage equipment operation.

Best Practices for IoT Integration

Before you begin to implement any IoT solution, your facility team needs to be IoT-ready. Training and familiarity with these new systems will ensure facility staff are ready when you make the changeover from existing operations.

Sites integrating IoT technology have a few different options as to how they’ll assemble their IoT solution. The simplest is to purchase a ready-made solution from an IoT manufacturer that fits your site needs and helps you achieve some kind of operational goal — like reduced waste, streamlined monitoring, or improved equipment health.

Other facilities may use a combination of devices from multiple manufacturers and a system that can coordinate them. This can help produce a more bespoke or flexible IoT solution, but it can also require more of a technical investment.

Typically, sites begin with a well-defined proof of concept for a pilot project, and then plan to scale if the project is successful. This strategy will help you minimize initial investment, secure time to train staff, and reduce potential disruption to existing workflows.

In any case, you should prepare for a phase-in period. Many IoT applications will need a period of time to build up baseline data before they can start to provide usable insights.

Site owners should also consider how your IoT solution may impact site cybersecurity.

Each IoT device a plant incorporates can serve as a point of attack for a hacker. While IoT manufacturers often make security a top priority, these devices can make a treatment plant less secure. Working with your vendor to establish security best practices can help prevent unauthorized network access.

Effective site cybersecurity may also require a site owner to establish a cybersecurity team, train employees in basic security practices, or hire a cybersecurity professional to support IT staff.

Best Practices for Integrating IoT in Wastewater Treatment

An IoT fleet can provide significant utility for a wastewater treatment plant. However, integration of IoT technology can be expensive and labour-intensive.

Identifying a specific use-case and beginning with a pilot project can help minimize the risk and cost of IoT devices. Planning to scale up your operation later will give you time to ensure your team is trained and issues like cybersecurity vulnerabilities are identified.