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Combining improvement processes and technology: key to maximise potential of wastewater plants

  • Combining improvement processes and technology: key to maximise potential of wastewater plants

For wastewater treatment plants to be more sustainable, efficient and cost-effective, beyond just applying the latest technologies, it is essential to use processes that allow measuring and improving the operational value of the plant in real time and continuously, such as the one developed by Schneider Electric.

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Schneider Electric
Schneider Electric is leading the Digital Transformation of Energy Management and Automation in Homes, Buildings, Data Centers, Infrastructure and Industries.

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Reducing operating costs while improving operational and energy efficiency at the same time is one of the challenges faced by the water sector, and specifically waste water treatment plants. Installing new automation systems is a great start, but it is not enough. Using effective processes, designed to measure and improve operational value in real time, is also essential. To this effect, Schneider Electric has developed a process that is simple, yet highly effective, to maximise the operational value through plant automation and control.

Taking into account the operational value as a real time measure of factors such as a reduction in energy or material costs, which affect the value of a plant, in this article we will evaluate the process through which these factors can be improved, with a direct impact on the operational value in real time.

Schneider Electric has developed a highly effective process to maximise the operational value through plant automation and control

In this context, we should take into account that in a typical wastewater treatment plant, electrical energy represents more than 35% of operational costs. Up to 65% of that energy is used in aeration processes. Experience shows that energy costs can be reduced by 3% to 5% of the expected thanks to plant automation and control. In addition, effective application of instrument and control systems can help increase the capacity of a wastewater treatment plant from 15% to 30%, thereby helping avoid capital costs of more than one million euros.

Measuring, empowering and improving

The process developed by Schneider Electric is based on three steps: measuring, empowering and improving. It might seem obvious, but the two first steps are practically unused in automation and control projects in wastewater treatment plants. Usually, the business value is not measured in a way that allows identifying improvements in processes, and thus it hampers projects that generate a measurable impact on the plant.

Effective application of instrument and control systems can help increase the capacity of a wastewater treatment plant from 15% to 30%

The first step of the process proposed by Schneider Electric, measuring, focuses on finding measures of operational value in real time for the whole plant. This way we will have a system that will compile data in real time at the level of process unit or subunit, based on the equipment installed in the plant and the business variables. With all of that, we will obtain a real time accounting system (RTA). Once the RTA system has been developed, installed and executed, we move on to the phase where we empower the staff, that is, the data obtained are used to make better informed decisions. In this regard, panels to control performance in real time are created, using RTA measurements to guide any person in their daily activities. This type of feedback provides one of the most effective opportunities to improve the performance of wastewater treatment plant operations.

Finally, in the third step of the process, improving, specific improvement initiatives are developed to encourage a progressive operational value. The operation must identify and implement improvements that generate value and include training of operators, redesigning control strategies, advanced control of processes, dynamic optimisation of processes, etc. The result will be quantifiable, and it will be possible to show clearly the exact value of each initiative. This is one of the most important steps for Schneider Electric.

A CI process to optimise the performance of wastewater treatment plants

At Schneider Electric, from the Field Services business unit, we apply a differential continuous improvement (CI) process that allows improving both the project and the day-to-day work, establishing effective performance measures. We don't just offer the technology, but also a process that has been proven to help wastewater treatment plants be more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective.

Combining technology with CI provides wastewater treatment plants the opportunity to maximise the overall operational value

To improve the projects, once the RTA measurements have been obtained, they can be applied to a CI process for projects, using the metrics as the basis for improvements in the performance of operations. Thus, after analysing the operations and their historical issues, potential solutions and their cost-benefit ratio will be determined. If several solutions are proposed, they are prioritised based on the estimated cost and the potential benefits of each one. Hence, the highest priority solution will be implemented first, analysing the value generated and seeking the approval of those responsible. Next, the remaining solutions will be implemented in order of priority, thereby increasing the value of the operations with each improvement.

Combining technology with CI, both in projects and processes and in day-to-day work, provides wastewater treatment plants the opportunity to maximise the overall operational value.

This process is not just a theoretical action plan, it is a process we have applied in some of the water treatment plants where we work. One of the cases where we have incorporated a digital energy solution linked to efficiency and sustainability is in Colombia. As Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, explains in his blog, Schneider and Microsoft have worked in a co-innovation process, with the purpose of creating a solution in Azure to improve the management of water and wastewater throughout the cycle. Thanks to smart water technology, services and devices, we were able to optimise operations and increase business security and sustainability. Within this working framework, seeking continuous improvement, both companies have been involved in the Salitre II wastewater treatment plant in Bogota. With this project, we were able to improve the quality of the water that is discharged back to the Bogota river, improving the environmental conditions for more than eight million people.

Technological innovation has also improved the activity of a substation of a water company in the United States. In that case, a smart solution was needed to let the administrators know when an increase in humidity levels would trigger the circuit breakers. This predictive maintenance technology has enabled avoiding such failures, mitigating the impact on people and system security, improving significantly all maintenance indicators, and providing a return on investment in the first year.

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