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Digitalisation in desalination

  • Digitalisation in desalination

About the blog

Alejandro Beivide
Director of Digital Transformation and Control Systems at Acciona. Business Line - Water. PDD-E-2018 IESE Business School. Automation and Industrial Electronics Engineer. Master's in Alternative Energies and Energy Efficiency.

There is a new player in the race for innovation, the commitment to technology and work optimisation, in order to offer the best and most competitive desalination projects globally: digitalisation.

A set of new concepts are now part of tender documents and technical specifications of large desalination projects, so that projects to be implemented include new disciplines and technological needs. Clearly the fourth industrial revolution is involving the water sector in these concepts that need to be materialised.

It is no longer a competitive option or a commitment to technology that defines the bidding company, but just one more requirement for the project, to be designed and implemented.

Digitalisation has arrived and has a major role in projects, and we have to consider it as such.

The truth is in this sector too, there have been signs of change for a while. Maybe they were not as present in all technical requirements, but we started to see improvements related to the world of digitalisation and information management.

The past of information management involved historical server systems. A lot of work was done on storage capacity and functionalities, since conventional SCADA databases did not address the new capacity needs of historical systems and the management of that information. 

Maybe the change catalyst for the requirements of those systems was the need to integrate them with the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management Systems), something that operators had been demanding because of their high potential, but that was not always achieved because of the complexity of systems and compatibilities.

Nowadays historical server systems offer those functionalities to management systems and are usually connected to planning and maintenance systems.

Why did I speak of the 'past' in my earlier paragraph? Because when we talk about operations this can be considered as 'present past'. Currently all these functionalities and many more are part of what is known as PMS or Plant Management System, with everything it entails in terms of information management, KPIs, reporting and advanced analytics and prediction systems. Its use is becoming more widespread and there are already numerous providers for these types of systems for plants at the local level or even using cloud platforms. A variation that is sometimes integrated in PMS or left on its own because of its importance and operational value are EMS or Energy Management Systems. This information is so important that it is treated as a source of value within operations throughout the plants' service life.

Aside from this type of system, there is increasing demand for digital twins. The advantages are endless and they comprise many of the concepts of the digital industry: big data, collaborative engineering, predictions and analytics, advanced connectivity…

The digital twin provides a 'virtual' picture of our project or plant. Specifically in the area of desalination, this is reinforced with the emergence and extensive use of BIM (Building Information Modelling) systems as an engineering driver in all project phases. An early digital reality of our project enhances the capacity to analyse, optimise and improve productivity, minimising times and the impacts of faults which are detected early. In addition to these functionalities, a clear one is that it allows testing the control system with the digital twin, and that gives us a very clear picture of the possibilities at the operational level, and the optimisation possible based on its use.

Other major elements that are here to stay are data analytics and artificial intelligence systems. Associated to big data and cloud or edge systems, this new functionalities enable ongoing optimisation of activities and processes linked to the project and its operation. 

Artificial intelligence systems to support the operator, the client and comprehensive process knowledge from a very analytical point of view, based on the value of data turned into information, are in high demand.

These are some of the new concepts we are starting to see in the technical specifications of many large desalination projects. It is important to become familiar with them, and to prepare competitive solutions to include them in projects.

I know...I haven't forgotten about it… The concept par excellence is cybersecurity, but it speaks for itself and I think that all we need to explain is that in the connected world the cybersecurity of our systems and communications is essential. A hard concept, difficult and with different scopes, but also already present in our lives and digital projects.

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