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Borja Sanz: “The water sector has to take a leap forward in terms of the digitalisation of assets”

  • Borja Sanz: “The water sector has to take leap forward in terms of the digitalisation of assets”
    Borja Sanz Llorente, Urban Water Business Area Manager at Hidroconta S.A. Credit: Pablo Gonzalez Cebrian
  • Hidroconta manufactures water meters, water valves and remote-control systems for the irrigation and urban water sectors, providing water management services internationally.

About the entity

Hidroconta
Hidroconta is a water-meter, hydraulic valves and remote control systems manufacturer and a water management services provider that operates worldwide.

Published in:

SWM Monthly  frontpage

Created more than 30 years ago in Spain, Hidroconta is a pioneering company in the research, manufacture and distribution of products for remote control and management of water resources. The versatility of the company’s products enables it to offer tailored solutions, adapted to the customer's needs. In this interview, we speak with Borja Sanz Llorente, Urban Water Business Area Manager at Hidroconta S.A. about the origin of the company and its present focus on the urban water sector.

Question: First of all, we would like to know more about the origin of Hidroconta. What are your main activities and products? In which sectors and countries does the company operate?

Answer: Hidroconta is a company with more than 30 years of experience in the design and manufacture of equipment to control irrigation and water supply networks, such as meters and hydraulic valves for control and regulation. Hidroconta was born to provide services to the irrigation sector, and in the past few years, we have focused on the urban water sector. In both sectors, we operate nationally in Spain and internationally in countries such as Morocco, Italy, United States, Saudi Arabia, as well as in South and Central America and in Asia, with a very interesting project in Vietnam. More than 70% of Hidroconta’s turnover is from international business, so we have a broad worldwide presence and experience to support our work.

Hidroconta was born to provide services to the irrigation sector, and in the past few years we have focused on the urban water sector

Q: How has the company evolved in the urban water sector, and what is its global vision of this market?

A: The evolution of our urban water business results from the development of certain types of meters with their corresponding certifications, but our focus on urban water has mainly stemmed from the digital transformation and the integration of an added value into traditional equipment. We understand that in the digital era we are in, the water sector has to take a leap forward in terms of the digitalisation of assets. The digitalisation of the water sector is happening more slowly than in other sectors and it is quite behind, as it is a traditional sector where there is still a lot to be done in this area.

Borja Sanz. Hidroconta. Credit: Pablo Gonzalez Cebrian

Q: In this urban water market, what is the role of Hidroconta's products?

A: Hidroconta wants to have a very important role in the urban water sector, focusing on the technological leap both regarding metering methods and communications, including the best IoT system for each project, adapting it to the client's demands. This qualitative leap and a firm focus on technology are essential to give proper value as the sector deserves.

Q: What is the added value of creating an electronics department for the products by the company?

A: Having our own development team is very important, and more so when it involves staff specialised in the water-IoT nexus. Development involves complex design, testing and manufacturing processes, so flexibility and dynamism are very important given how fast the world of technology and communications is changing nowadays. Creating this department was a turning point in Hidroconta's strategy because of the technology and the added value contribution to the company's products and their evolution. We currently have about ten people working on R&D and the development of new IoT technologies adapted to our products. In this section of the company, we have software and hardware developers and experts in communications technologies.

We understand that in the digital era we are in, the water sector has to take a leap forward in terms of the digitalisation of assets

Q: In this regard, what do the digitalisation of consumption data and the urban focus bring to existing products and software?

A: The flexibility of the design of all electronic hardware and the dynamic evolution of software and apps, together with the interoperability with market platforms means ours is a fully open and transparent contribution to the water sector market.

I believe there should not be black boxes in the market and that each user, operator or manager should have adequate tools to be as autonomous as possible and modules that enable future expansion without having to be limited to a single supplier. Hidroconta is already developing links between market platforms to move forward in this regard and currently, with the technology we have, we should not set any barriers or obstacles to the interoperability of all technology in the market.

Borja Sanz. Hidroconta. Credit: Pablo Gonzalez Cebrian

Q: Can you tell us about the development process of products for remote reading and district metered areas in water distribution networks?

A: Our starting point was datalogger type of equipment for remote control used in large irrigation systems. Using this experience, the designs evolved so the equipment evolved and new equipment was created, such as communications modules for remote reading, either integrated into our meters or not. In terms of software, we adapted our tools to urban water concepts, working on data analysis and new graphical designs, focused on understanding urban water. Furthermore, thanks to the flexibility of Hidroconta's equipment, we develop interoperability and connections between platforms to facilitate the clients’ — both managers and end-users — visualisation and control of data obtained from the assets installed in the water network.

Hidroconta focuses on the technological leap regarding metering and communications, including the best IoT system for each project

Q: To this effect, which of Hidroconta's products linked to projects would you highlight?

A: I would like to highlight 3 products used in 3 different projects.

The Centinel R400 ultrasonic meter was used in a project with Acciona in Toro (province of Zamora, Spain) involving district metered areas (DMAs) and remote reading in 4 different-type municipal DMAs. The project also includes developing water balances for each of the DMAs.

We are also implementing this ultrasonic Centinel equipment with NB-IoT in a pilot project with Acciona in Yuncos (province of Toledo, Spain), for an urban domestic DMA.

The second equipment to highlight would be the IRIS communications module which we have deployed in a remote reading project in the MonteAlina housing development in Madrid, with 440 units of this communications module with Sigfox technology. In this case, the client's existing meters were used; it is an integrated project involving the digitisation of consumption data from district meters and water abstractions, carrying out water balances for the global water supply as well as for each district.

Creating an electronics department was a turning point in Hidroconta because of the technology and value added to our products

The DEMETER Datalogger equipment has been used in several DMA projects in the province of Valladolid, and several municipalities in the region of Castile-La Mancha, the latter with the company Hidrogestión. In this DMA work, not only are water flow data collected, but also data on water quality and pressure in the different districts.

Q: What is Hidroconta's vision concerning the different types of communications technologies and which ones does the company have available? What criteria or tools do you use to adapt them to each project?

A: At Hidroconta we work with different types of communications technologies, from GPRS and proprietary LoRa, to what we call cutting-edge remote reading systems such as Sigfox, LoRaWan or NB-IoT.

Our vision is to use the communications system that best adapts to each project. We even believe that in some projects it may not be possible to use a single communications technology and using several ones to complement each other may be necessary. The criteria we use to choose the communications technology for each project depends on many factors. From factors such as the existing networks in a specific location, the terrain, types of meter box, locations in basements, building walls or others, meter casing, etc, as well as factors such as data communication capacity, MIMO frequency and response capacity of the communications technology for issues as important as alarms related to different concepts. All of this, together with the financial cost of communications and the demands of each client regarding these aspects mean that the choice of communications technology for each project needs an in-depth study. There is a complex set of factors to be analysed for each specific project: that is our understanding at Hicroconta. There is always some degree of standardisation, but it is good to be flexible for each project, adapting to every situation.

Thanks to the flexibility of our equipment, we develop interoperability to facilitate the clients’ visualisation and control of data

Q: Finally, what is your vision of the digitalisation of the urban water sector?

A: My vision, as a water sector and digital transformation professional, is that given the evolution of the sector, users must demand information with their quality criteria and in a way and at the time that is suitable for them. From that point on, any of the technologies mentioned will be valid if they meet the criteria demanded, at a price that is justified. We should not see digitalisation only in financial terms concerning the equipment used, but also as the investment and analysis that we will do with the data. Knowing how to use and analyse the information is the most valuable thing we have in terms of obtaining a payback from a digitalisation project. We can apply the data to improve preventive maintenance and anticipate events, for the correct maintenance of our assets in the water supply network.