You need to know these 5 benefits of automated wastewater treatment

Dec. 27, 2019
New tech offers several advantages over the last generation of plant management systems and can significantly improve many aspects of wastewater treatment. Here are five benefits of automated wastewater treatment that every plant manager should know about.
About the author: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM writer and blogger. More of her work can be found on SchooledByScience.com, and she can be reached at [email protected].

Industry 4.0 technologies — like artificial intelligence, internet of things sensors and big data analysis — allow for minute-to-minute data collection and machine automation. These technologies, which have already improved efficiency and automated processes in other industries like manufacturing, are now being adapted for wastewater treatment.

This tech offers several advantages over the last generation of plant management systems and can significantly improve many aspects of wastewater treatment.

Here are five benefits of automated wastewater treatment that every plant manager should know about.

1. Better access to data

Wastewater treatment is always a data-driven process. With legacy systems, workers need to manually collect water data, meaning plant administrators and analysts rarely have information that is both up-to-date and comprehensive.

Automated water systems are built on a network of robust data-collection devices. These devices provide minute-to-minute updates on water quality and equipment function. Many automated water software platforms are also designed with their own advanced analytics software — sometimes using cutting-edge technology like big data and artificial intelligence — to better store and analyze plant data.

Often, administrators working at plants without these systems may find their information is comparatively scattered, stored manually and generally harder to get a hold of for analysis. Better visualization tools and data collection methods provided by automated monitoring systems can prevent this issue.

Constant and consistent data access also allows plant administrators and workers to remotely monitor the treatment process. Even when workers aren't or can't be on-site, plant administrators can still keep an eye on key indicators of water quality and equipment performance.

2. Increasing treatment capacity

With access to comprehensive and minute-to-minute plan data, it's possible to optimize plant processes in completely new ways. By reducing the amount of labor demanded from water treatment workers and boosting plant efficiency, automated wastewater treatment systems can increase the amount of water that can be treated.

In one example, Lima, Ohio, was able to increase water treatment capacity at the city's main treatment plant from 53 million to 70 million gallons per day by upgrading to an automated distributed control system, and new historian software that provided administrators with data visualization and analysis tools.

They can allow plant administrators to quickly get a sense of how key water quality indicators have changed over time, or answer their own questions about plant performance without needing a background in programming or data analysis. 

The combination of the remotely accessible equipment and minute-to-minute data visualizations allowed for several tweaks and changes that boosted treatment capacity — like remote troubleshooting and maintenance, which saved the plant hours in downtime.

3. Modernizing legacy systems

Automated systems are often designed to interface with existing technology and provide plant administrators with better data about what equipment is working and what's not. As a result, these systems can help managers strategically modernize plants that depend on legacy systems.

Even though Lima's plant was originally constructed in 1930 — and the previous control system hadn't been upgraded since the 1990s — plant workers were still able to fully upgrade the control system.

At a time when much of America's water infrastructure is starting to show its age, treatment plant managers need a solution to outdated equipment. Complete renovations are likely expensive and not practical in every case. In situations like these, automated systems can be a way to modernize old infrastructure and optimize legacy systems.

4. Lowered plant energy and chemical use

Energy use is one of the highest costs at any wastewater treatment plant. Upgrades to traditional systems can lower these costs, but they don't solve the problems posed by a lack of data about plant equipment and processes. Automated treatment systems can reduce the total amount of energy and water treatment chemicals that a plant needs to use in day-to-day operations.

Similarly, these automated systems can also reduce the amount of water that is lost during the treatment process, saving plants and their operators additional resources. 

Automated systems can also lower a plant's number of overflows by providing plant staff with remote access to equipment and switches in the case of a flood. Often, during flooding, it's not possible for plant staff to quickly get to the plant or remain on-site. As a result, workers aren't able to restrict flow into the water treatment plant, which can result in costly and environmentally dangerous overflows. With automated systems, plant workers can remotely restrict plant flow, reducing the risk of an overflow.

Lowering the number of overflows can reduce waste and reduce the likelihood that the plant will need to pay fees or fall out of compliance with EPA regulations on wastewater discharge and overflows.

5. Predictive diagnostics and maintenance

First pioneered in industry and manufacturing, predictive maintenance technology and techniques outfit plant machines and equipment with sensors that allow them to effectively monitor themselves. These sensors track critical operational info — like internal pressure, water flow rate and temperature — to alert plant managers to damage, wear or impending equipment failure. 

This advanced notice can allow administrators and managers to schedule repairs before this happens, saving costly downtime or machine replacement.Some systems can even use electrical controls to automatically shut down operations that are approaching failure, possibly saving equipment and downtime later on.Automated systems are also designed to work with both legacy and cutting-edge wastewater treatment equipment. They can be effective both in plants that need to keep an eye on older machinery, as well as newer, untested systems.

Improving wastewater treatment with automated systems

Automated wastewater treatment systems are poised to make treatment plants more efficient than ever before.

These systems can provide several benefits for plant managers, including remote monitoring, better data, a more efficient process and access to predictive maintenance strategies. Automated systems may also be a way to modernize legacy equipment and infrastructure that is beginning to show its age and will need to be updated shortly.

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