Updated Efficiency

New controls for legacy SCADA

Kisters Water information systems visualize validated data to facilitate compliance reporting and decision-making.

The history of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) begins with the widespread development of computers in the 1950s. Before manufacturing and remote sites started to grow, people managed the standard control and monitoring processes by hand. As mainframe computers grew in popularity, utilities and industries adopted the concept of supervisory controls.

By the 1960s, with the development of telemetry, these industries adopted automated communications to transmit measurements and other data from remote sites to monitoring equipment.

In the 1970s, the rise of microprocessors and programmable logic controllers (PLCs)—the heart of all SCADA systems—increased the ability of industry and utilities to monitor and control automated processes. But without networking, each system stood on its own.

By the 1980s and 1990s, as computer systems grew smaller, SCADA systems were able to connect to other similar systems with the help of local area networking technology and human-machine interface (HMI) software. But these systems were unable to communicate with other vendors’ systems.

The coming of digital technology, open system architecture, and communications protocols such as Ethernet created a networked SCADA system that was not vendor-specific. This technology boom accelerated information technologies (IT), and structured query language databases became the standard for IT databases. They were not adopted by SCADA developers, which resulted in SCADA technology becoming antiquated over time.

Beginning in the early 2000s, entrepreneurs saw an opening and new controls companies have sprung up to create “the new SCADA.” The six companies previewed here outline the markets they have concentrated on and the improvements their products have made to SCADA.

OSIsoft and Inductive Automation have created software packages that integrate SCADA data into their brand-name “New SCADA” software packages. Mission Communications is a low-cost, cellular-based managed SCADA operator. XiO Inc. manufactures field-installable units for remote wells, tanks, and pumps. It is focused on water and wastewater agencies plus agriculture and large irrigation pumps. Informational Data Technologies focuses on agriculture businesses and rural water agencies using satellite-based technology to deliver low-cost automatic meter reading data. Kisters North America focuses on water quality and water management. Its data-based WISKI system is designed to integrate local, state, and federal compliance reporting. And it can integrate weather-based GIS data into its system.

OSIsoft is headquartered in Folsom, CA, with offices in Richardson, TX, and in the UK, France, Singapore, and Taiwan. It has been selling control software for 35 years, making it the oldest company profiled here. Its Process Information System, or PI System, integrates SCADA data with its own data and is now installed in more than 125 countries and in 150 water utilities.

The PI System captures and organizes the flood of data coming from equipment typically found in water and wastewater treatment plants, like sensors, pumps, pipelines, and SCADA systems. It can accept any kind of data, including weather from multiple sources, and merge it all together, becoming the “eyes and ears” for plant operations, says Michael Kanellos, senior manager of corporate communications and technology analyst at OSIsoft. He calls himself an industry champion—part of a group that advocates using software to optimize traditional industry.

As a water utility grows, it will generate and capture more data from sources like smart meters and embedded temperature sensors, transformers, and pumps. Instead of trying to upgrade SCADA systems to accommodate this new data, water agencies can instead route all of this data to the PI System and merge it with current SCADA data, thereby cutting costs and the time required to update SCADA.

For example, SCADA will take pressure readings from meters installed on pipes at great distances from each other. By installing smart meters much closer together and with the merging of data from the PI System with SCADA’s data, the location of a leak can be more closely identified. The next step is to use a flow meter to reveal one meter reading 100 gallons/minute and the next meter reading 400 gallons/minute, even though there may be houses in between. The evidence points to a leak or broken pipe.

Kanellos says the White House Utility District in Tennessee, for example, has recovered $900,000 in unaccounted-for water over 2 years by finding leaks with the PI System data and plugging the leaks. One leak was spilling 1.4 million gallons annually. Fixing the leak also helped reduce management and maintenance costs by $200,000.

In another example, Kanellos says Petasense or Setpoint have sensors that pick up vibrations on valves, motors, and pumps. These sensors can recognize the patterns in vibration that indicate that something can break or may be out of alignment. PI integrates that data into the new SCADA system to make it visible. With the old SCADA, this data was likely put in a silo and became invisible.

Kanellos says Flowserve, which makes large pumps, has added OSIsoft technology to the pump so that customers will be alerted much more quickly to changing vibration patterns and potential trouble.

Kanellos said OSIsoft just introduced PI Vision this year. It has the capability of tracking 10,000 to well over 1,000,000 data points, analyzing the data and visualizing it on any device. Keep in mind one pump may have multiple data points while one customer may have 27 million data points in his facility. PI Vision also allows individual users in the facility to design screen data to fit their needs.

Kanellos points to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Wastewater Treatment Center, which uses the PI System for visually diagramming a machine’s “equipment health,” he says. He describes it as “almost a point and click” system. SFPUC predicts it could save up to 9,000 hours of employee time a year by being able to reduce redundant or unnecessary maintenance rounds, he adds.

“We capture the data from their assets, bring it all together, and serve it up on the screen,” says Kanellos. “We can tell them the current state of water levels, weather reports, etc. With that information, they can prevent accidental discharges into the bay (and the fines that go with it). SFPUC also uses it to predict maintenance failures. This way, they only have to send out people when necessary.”

Kanellos says a lot of tools that identify underlying problems are easier to use now than a few years ago. He points out that water utilities are sometimes the largest power users in their areas, consuming 30% of the electricity in a district. By monitoring water usage, the agency can save 6 to 12% with software that identifies problems and where they lurk.

Ignition is the software control system Inductive Automation has designed to complement or replace SCADA, says Travis Cox, co-director of sales and engineering at the Folsom, CA-based company, founded in 2003. It has labeled Ignition as the new SCADA which can replace the legacy system or augment it. The company founder created the original software to solve faults he found with the legacy SCADA.

Kisters software displays simultaneous effects of the pumping schedule on the top line, total suspended solids on the middle line, and rainfall on the bottom line. This illustrates the value of integrating data systems.

The choices a water or wastewater agency might make when choosing new control software can be complicated, says Cox. Agencies have made large investments in SCADA, including financial, time, and development. Furthermore, agency staff may not want to make changes. After all, learning a whole new platform like Ignition can seem overwhelming. In this case, they may choose to augment or update the system they already have.

Those customers who do choose to replace their legacy system do so for several reasons. The legacy SCADA system may be reaching the end of its life and a new package upgrade will be very expensive. The legacy system is sold by the amount of information (tags in IT language) and the number of people who will see the human machine interface, meaning access to the screen. This is the old model, says Cox, “and we don’t force agencies to do that.”

For a flat licensing fee and unlimited service, Inductive Automation offers a new model with no restrictions on tags or the number of people who will have access to the system. With Ignition, the size of the agency doesn’t matter. “You can bring in all the information you want to see. It expands decision-making. There is power in the data,” says Cox.

The water or wastewater agency downloads Ignition on one server after purchasing the license. Cox says it takes three minutes. The accompanying tool kit comes with a feature called Designer, within Ignition, which lets the user design the screens as he or she wants. Either an in-house engineer or an aggregator can be brought in to connect all programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to the Ignition software and build the applications they want to view.

It is server- and web-based, open-format software that uses IT technology. Its platform is JAVA, a cross-platform that can run on a lot of different operating systems, rather than Microsoft, which other SCADA vendors have chosen, according to Inductive Automation. With the open format, historical data can be maintained. And it is modular, says Cox. Users can pick and choose and add functions as they choose.

The company’s founder, Steve Hechtman, created the original software to solve problems caused by what he called SCADA pain points, including the inability to create a database front-end graphical user interface without programming, lack of support for standards or relational databases, and difficulty setting up redundancy. Also, it works only with specified Windows versions, and designers may be out of sync with target software. All of these “pain points” have solutions with Ignition, he writes.

Cox says, given that security is a major concern for agencies, “We don’t have a cloud service.” The Ignition system is kept in-house on the water or wastewater agency server. The control network for operations is kept separate from the business network where accounting and administration is maintained. “PLCs are inherently insecure—they are the heart of the control system,” says Cox. The company has partnered with Bedrock Automation to create a high-security network. “Every district has to think about this,” says Cox.

Mission Communications, headquartered in Norcross, GA, with offices in Canada, offers cellular-based SCADA systems. It builds remote terminal units (RTUs) and authors software support for its systems.

According to Forrest Robinson, president of the company, “Mission Communications is a low-cost option for utilities to take advantage of SCADA” without the need for sophisticated information technology. “Our prime market is wastewater lift stations and small water systems. Utilities need to know about a high water level so they can react before a spill, and on the water side, something has to tell pumps to turn water on and off to fill the tank,” he says.

Robinson says Mission Communications, which was founded in 2000, is differentiated from competitors by being a managed SCADA provider. A wastewater agency can install its RTUs at remote locations in the morning. The user then signs up at the website and can immediately see data and receive alarms. RTUs send encrypted data over private networks to Mission Communications’ highly secure servers. The utility operator can then access, from that server, visual displays and graphs laid out on his or her desktop web portal.

Alerts are sent as text messages, email, or fax, but critical alarms can also be sent directly to cell phones based on a configurable schedule, Robinson says. A wastewater plant may have 50 to 100 lift stations and if equipment such as pumps fail, Mission Communications can notify them of the failure and tell them to respond onsite.

The alternative SCADA approach requires integration of PLCs, private radio systems, and the configuration of custom HMI before any information is available to the operator, Robinson says.

Robinson says Mission Communications designed its systems to meet the issues particularly for those medium and smaller agencies with water and wastewater professionals that don’t have the resources for IT staff to manage the network, servers, and security and who have issues with the traditional SCADA system.

In some cases, agencies find Mission Communications less expensive than their current solution. For example, Robinson says, a phone line can easily cost $50 or more a month and that doesn’t include any of the data handling. “Mission was designed to meet these issues as a subscription service of $30 to $50 a month with no additional fees,” he says.

David Button, western regional manager for Mission Communications, says the company has different models of RTUs at one-half to one-third the cost of adding to a traditional SCADA system. On the other hand, traditional or self-managed SCADA generally has to be updated every few years, he says. Mission offers several service packages, including monitoring for lift stations, maintaining water levels in tanks and wells, monitoring rainfall events, and in-sewer wireless alarm systems.

The Renewable Water Resources Wastewater Treatment Agency in Greenville, SC, found that when a tree took out the phone and power lines at their largest pump station, it went one week without power, the outage was not reported, and the agency lost over 1.5 million gallons of water. The reported cause was due to a third-party contractor failing to do regular maintenance at the site.

The agency managers realized that land-based phone lines were neither an economical nor reliable solution and through a reference from a neighboring agency, they learned of the Mission Communications system and installed it. Blake Visin, information systems director with Renewable Water Resources, says in a newsletter that Mission Communications has given utility workers the ability to designate areas that are the most mission-critical and to segregate collection systems and operations into two sections on the Mission Communications portal. Monitoring and reporting functionality are tailored to each department. “This allows us to have a central site that IT can view and manage, but the assets of each group are separate,” explains Visin.

Agencies have come to rely on cellular service rather than landlines which is an advantage during natural disasters, says Robinson. More often than not, cell towers have onsite generators or battery banks and Mission RTUs have battery backups so its telemetry continues to operate during disasters.

Robinson says, “We have to be concerned about security, and we design and maintain our systems to be secure.” Water agencies have enough challenges to manage the hydraulics and service their customers without having to be masters of IT security. “Mission is in the IT business so we have the skilled staff to provide security at multiple levels,” he says.

“Most of the security breaches we hear about these days were preventable. Best practices, like installing security patches in a timely manner and eliminating default passwords, were overlooked in these cases,” adds Robinson.

XiO Inc. was founded in 2008 as a controls company and is headquartered in San Anselmo, CA. It has been in the water business six years, says Paul Sagues, CEO. The company manufactures the patented Soft-I/O controller which it uses to build the XiO Cloud SCADA Control System. He says the company is known for the development of the next generation of SCADA.

XiO controls could be used in any industry, Sagues says, but it is focused on water, including drinking water, wastewater, agriculture, and large irrigation pumps. Currently it is doing business primarily in California.

The company’s controller packages are shipped to the water agency where a qualified electrician installs them. Customers pay a monthly subscription to regularly receive unlimited reports, alarms, and user setup, including remote support. Onsite technical support is not required.

Controller packages are delivered preconfigured as “field installable units” or FIUs for basics such as wells, tanks, water quality, and pumps. A custom controller that can be configured to fit any application and a field monitoring unit may also be included for low-cost, solar-based monitoring.

The field-installable units in the controller packages are connected to devices in the field. Operating information, such as alarms, is sent to XiO cloud servers and then is relayed to the authorized water operator via a secure Internet connection agency via a cellular connection. The alarms, and other transmitted information, can be viewed on the customer’s smart phone or PC. Sagues says that more than 70% of XiO customers use their phones to view alarms.

Sagues says the company offers solar power systems for remote tanks which transmit data from the tank to the cloud, and securely from there to the water agency’s operators via smartphones.

XiO donated a field unit to Kibera, Kenya, where it is installed in the largest slum in Africa, to provide safe drinking water to the residents. This system has been operating for more than a year with no onsite technical support.

Sagues agrees with others who say the old SCADA is fundamentally insecure if connected to the internet. It is expensive and complex and has ongoing costs. In contrast, the XiO field hardware is secure and not dependent on the Cloud. It still runs if not connected, he explains.

Informational Data Technologies, or IDT, headquartered in Garland, TX, focuses on agricultural businesses and rural water agencies. Finding it difficult to deploy automatic meter reading technology based on fixed radio transmission in rural environments for cost reasons, low geographic meter density, and infrastructure challenges, IDT found a way to deliver automatic meter reading (AMR) with satellite-based technology at a greatly reduced cost.

With long distances between meters making fixed-radio transmission and drive-by AMR very expensive, satellite service offers less expensive data delivery with IDT satellite AMR. It has two major components: First, the satellite field units are installed and pointed at meters from inside a rugged enclosure. The units operate at the most extreme temperatures and meet stringent IP67 standards for dust and water ingress.

Second, IDT’s Cloud Utility Management provides daily meter-read data even from remote meters. Data is organized into the service areas and zones of the utility’s choosing. IDT’s Cloud has two-way satellite communications with the field units allowing the user to change frequency of reporting or meter control through the relay connected to the device. Meters can be turned on or off remotely.

There is no software to install and IDT promises its Cloud is as easy as navigating a web site. Data backup and data security is handled by the web application using the cloud services.

Billing and accounting information can be integrated with the agency’s system using standard data retrieval methods. IDT’s Cloud is always running the most current web application version available, so service is always up to date.

Amber Thurman, business strategist at IDT, says the company manufactures part of its satellite field units and installs the remaining parts in-house. It has sold 15,000 units in nine states.

Thurman says the company is in the process of rebranding itself to become more visible by expanding services, such as leak detection and zone analysis. As an example, she says if a customer typically uses 400 gallons of water per month and the next month usage jumps to 4,000 gallons, a company representative can visit the customer to seek out the problem, possibly a leak.

Kisters North America produces software to help water and wastewater agencies manage their systems. It does not produce or install hardware and instead integrates data produced by SCADA systems and other installed hardware into its Water Information system by Kisters (WISKI).

Kisters NA is located in the greater Sacramento, CA, area and its parent is headquartered in Aachen, Germany.

Becca Fong, Kisters NA business development manager, describes WISKI as a database system that integrates previously separated databases, which usually existed in silos, requiring agency staff to integrate them manually. Data produced by SCADA on daily control operations, laboratory information management data on water tests, smart meter data, and perhaps weather data are pulled together in a format suitable for reports, she says.

Compliance reporting by water and wastewater agencies is a natural fit for WISKI and is its strength, says Fong. Traditionally, agency staff had to pull data from its various sections. Rules in particular states or utility requirements make compliance reporting complex. “Adoption of our software has resulted from compliance report requirements,” explains Fong. It is used by compliance officers at water and wastewater agencies to complete reports to submit to local, state, and federal offices.

WISKI also provides historical control data in time series. Statistical analysis has been built into WISKI so that water agency personnel can look at where there are holes in the data—where a problem such as a leak affected the data, creating a gap. Fong describes WISKI as a “calculating engine on steroids.” No automated solutions are produced because this would involve modeling. Instead, it can create graphs and charts to identify problems, she says.

“We offer both cloud solutions and in-house client options for data storage,” says Fong. It will depend on what the water agency wants to do. If their primary consideration is security and their IT department is large enough, and they have enough storage, the agency will choose to keep the software and its products in-house.

The volume of data may also influence the decision. If a wastewater agency has multiple sites, they may prefer using cloud service. Fong cites another example. A local sewer company has accumulated historical data on rainfall and how it affects stormwater overflow. “We can collect rainfall data and integrate it where the sewer company had stored it in a silo,” she says. Now the company can study the data to determine options for diverting the overflow.

WISKI also has a geographic information system (GIS) component allowing Arc GIS data to be integrated into the database. Satellite data, usually for weather forecasting, but also biological information, for example to monitor algal blooms, can also be integrated.The National Weather Service produces rainfall data for various geographical locations and WISKI can create time series with the data, Fong says.

It is also important to correlate data timelines so that apples will be compared to apples. “WISKI becomes the level playing field to tie in SCADA and weather information that will be on a different timeline than results of laboratory testing,” she says.

“We are managing that free-flowing data for utilities so they can apply conclusions to provide to leadership,” says Fong. She concludes with two questions which she believes WISKI can help answer: “Where do city engineers need to design better stormwater management tools? How are we better equipping people to look at these problems and come up with solutions?”  WE_bug_web


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