At this year’s IFAT trade fair, recently held in Munich, Bentley Systems and SCUBIC discussed their partnership to support water utilities as they move forward to optimize their operations. SCUBIC is now a certified digital integrator of Bentley’s water infrastructure digital twin solution, WaterSight.
We had the opportunity of speaking with Frank Braunschweig, Director of Product Management, Water Infrastructure at Bentley Systems, who leads the team responsible for the OpenFlows product line, and Bruno Abreu, co-Founder and CEO of SCUBIC. Bruno Abreu founded SCUBIC in 2017 as a monitoring and control decision support platform for water utilities.
These two experts answered SWM’s questions on how artificial intelligence combines with digital twin technology to enhance infrastructure performance, as well as issues related to efficiency, resilience and sustainability of water systems. “The combination of data, artificial intelligence, optimization algorithms, that's what makes an intelligent system”, explained Bruno. And he added: “most water distribution systems and sewer systems can be optimized in terms of energy costs. This is where intelligent systems, or if you prefer artificial intelligence solutions can really help clients reduce their cost, improve labour productivity, increase network security, and deal with data problems”.
Frank also commented on the benefits of combining AI with digital twins: “combining artificial intelligence or algorithms from artificial intelligence together with hydraulic models is something we do and really benefits water utilities. So you can use both things together”. Bruno discussed as well the challenges involved: “there are a lot of different technologies on the market. The difficult part is to combine them and to put them to work in real time”. And those challenges include data issues. “In a perfect world, data is very clean; there are no problems with data, but when you go to the real world, that doesn't happen. So we really need to develop these algorithms to clean the data”, said Bruno.
The conversation delved into how these technologies can help utilities achieve net-zero carbon objectives. Frank highlighted the progress being made in this regard: those objectives are becoming more achievable, maybe not today or tomorrow, but over the next years, by improving how energy is managed and produced. “It is a journey. You start this journey and then over time you will see the benefits. And the sooner you start, the sooner you will arrive at your destiny”. And he mentioned an example: “I know better when energy will be available at a lower cost and so then I can schedule the pump operation according to this. This type of systems we are developing are going towards this, helping utilities to actually reduce the carbon footprint.” Bruno agreed: “it's through a combination of different solutions that we're going to achieve those goals, but they are feasible”.
Resilience and how to mitigate risks in the face of extreme weather events were also discussed. In this regard, Frank noted that digital twins “help you to become more resilient because you can manage your entire system a little bit more proactively, rather than reactively.” And Bruno explained: “we can do a lot of scenarios and training to see how we deal with these different scenarios, how the operators can deal with that almost in real-time,” while pointing out that “what worked five years ago doesn't work today and you can see that, of course, it depends on where you are in the world”.
In terms of case studies that we can learn from, Frank mentioned the City of Porto, in Portugal, where they “implemented a full digital twin solution program including hydraulic models and everything is connected, and; they implemented a new control system.” The system allowed improving the entire urban water cycle in the city of Porto. “They now can have all this information available in the control system, but also on handheld devices by their workers in the field or if people are working from home; they have access to the same information”, added Frank.
Bruno also mentioned a Bentley client from Brazil, noting that by combining hydraulic modules with AI and optimization algorithms, it was possible to reduce 15% energy costs by the end of the month. “We can reduce these energy costs and energy consumption which are two different things because energy doesn't have the same price throughout the day”. And he added: “the clients can see the return on investment which is very, very important nowadays. It's not just investing in technology, it's to see how this technology can reduce our OpEx and CapEx”.
Finally, the experts also touched upon sustainability outcomes: “with digital twins, AI, all these solutions that Bentley and SCUBIC provide, we can help utilities with seven different SDGs: 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 17, which is partnerships for the goals”, said Bruno, emphasising that the collaboration of SCUBIC and Bentley with water utilities is well aligned with a lot of the sustainability goals.
The interview drew to a close with both experts stressing the urgency of getting started now on the digitalisation journey. Bruno said: “for those water utilities and countries that think digitalisation is a nice thing to have and not a must thing to have”, it is important to start now, and he noted that the process can take 2-3 years. Likewise, Frank noted digitalisation “is a journey”. He said sometimes a utility would say it doesn’t have all the data yet to get started, but it is important to start on the process as it will help to see what type of data should be measured, what is missing. “If you wait to have the perfect data and the perfect setup to start, you will never start”, he said, adding “let's start with what you have and improve.”