A research partnership between Scottish Water, the University of Strathclyde, and CENSIS could lead to a breakthrough in how utilities monitor their assets.
The University is collaborating with Scottish Water to develop a software solution which will help utilities identify signals generated from assets which could indicate potential breakdown events.
Scottish Water holds and gathers vast data sets relating to water and wastewater pumping stations and their related operating environments. The effort required to monitor, generate and communicate this is significant, and the resultant information is often not utilised to extract maximum value. In short, opportunities to gain insights are being missed.
The water industry has traditionally operated in a reactive manner when responding to events that impact the network. However, recent advances in signal processing techniques in relation to condition monitoring – where related precursor signals can be utilised to predict issues and initiate actions to mitigate events – means that a proactive maintenance approach can be used to reduce impact on wider system function.
Scottish Water operates a large number of pumps as part of its operations. These are often deployed in remote and demanding environments, where failure can impact quality of service and repairs can be costly and time consuming. Existing monitoring systems provide data on pump performance, but do not support the more nuanced decision-making that forms the basis of more efficient infrastructure maintenance strategies.
Working with the University of Strathclyde, Scottish Water aims to move towards taking a more proactive control approach to asset management. The project will consider a spectrum of techniques to identify key signatures within large volumes of sensor-derived data that can be used to establish a decision support environment amenable to deployment in Scottish Water’s network, allowing the organisation to optimise the performance of its equipment in the field.
Decision support environments remain a relatively new platform in relation to the management of water infrastructure. The refinement and analysis of very large volumes of data would allow Scottish Water to move towards a richer applications-based environment centred on prediction and maintenance scheduling. Being able to intervene in a timely manner and execute preventative maintenance strategies will result in significant cost savings; improved equipment reliability will lead to reduced outages, lower operating penalties and ultimately higher margins. Additionally, variability of supply will be minimised since potential pump failures will be more effectively managed.
The programme represents an ideal partnership. Scottish Water has a direct need and researchers University of Strathclyde have expertise in the techniques required to address the business challenge. The output of the project has the potential to transform the ongoing maintenance and management of assets, contributing to significant financial efficiencies while improving the service Scottish Water provides for its customers.
Current comparable software either monitors assets and raises an alarm when a fault occurs in one or more of these, or provides generalised estimates of expected failures without taking into account the full effect of combining the available data streams.
This means that users can normally respond only after machines have stopped working, which results in maintenance work having to be reactive. This can place pressure on resources, decrease efficiency and result in a reliance on backup equipment.
In this project, the software will monitor data produced by several types of water infrastructure assets and meters, including but not limited to temperature, flow, and pressure levels, in order to detect any precursor signals which indicate that maintenance work should be considered.
Robert White, Water Operations North Team Manager at Scottish Water, said: “Prevention is always better than cure, and this piece of technology is going to act as an early warning system for potentially tens of thousands of our assets across the country.
“Planned repairs are normally significantly cheaper than replacements of the equivalent machine. We operate and monitor a large number of diverse water and wastewater assets across Scotland, a considerable number of which are in remote locations, underlining the scale of our operation and the challenges we face in maintaining all of these assets.
“This software has the potential to make proactive maintenance a much easier task. We will be in a position to schedule maintenance for when and where it is really needed, which will minimise asset downtime. We can then plan our resources more effectively. At the same time, we’ll be able to monitor the performance of all our assets to ensure each operates to their specifications.”
To develop the software, Scottish Water will work with the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Intelligent Dynamic Communications (CIDCOM), Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, which has a strong background in data learning.
Dr Alison Cleary, of the University of Strathclyde said the technology could be spun out to other utilities and a wide variety of other sectors. The potential commercialisation of the software will also be explored as part of the project.
Dr Cleary said: “This is an exciting project for us which combines a hands-on approach with academic skills in data analysis. The initiative could have a much wider application than monitoring water pumps. It could be used by other utilities to monitor the data produced by generators and a variety of other types of devices.
“The software could be used by almost any business that uses a large number of machines which require maintenance. This is an exciting project that could lead to significant efficiencies and savings for businesses in many sectors.”
CENSIS contributed £50,000 of funding towards the project, which will begin at the end of September. Its Chief Executive, Ian Reid, said the initiative demonstrated what could be achieved when the expertise of academia and businesses were combined.
Ian said: “This project between Scottish Water and the University of Strathclyde is a great example how the business and academic worlds can come together to the benefit of all.
“While this project is expected to have a benefit in the short term to an organisation which has an important role to play in the Scottish economy, the results could have a much broader global impact.
“With potential widespread application, this could save a lot of time and money that would normally be spent on repairing machinery. We’re excited to see the results of this initiative and how it can be adapted to other uses.”
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