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How instrumentation is transforming water/wastewater operations - Energy And Water Development Corp

How instrumentation is transforming water/wastewater operations

Industry is among the largest consumers of fresh water, and many global manufacturers have identified water scarcity as a significant risk factor to continuing operations. To answer this challenge operators of both municipal and industrial water and wastewater treatment systems are in the midst of their own transformations. To discuss the ongoing transformation of our water/wastewater infrastructure Keith Larson speaks with Endress+Hauser’s Nick Hanson, national industry manager for water and wastewater.


Keith Larson: With all the attention being given to the climate change aspects of sustainability, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the growing importance of sustainability when it comes to conserving the world’s increasingly constrained supplies of freshwater. Industry is among the largest consumers of fresh water, and many global manufacturers have identified water scarcity as a significant risk factor to continuing operations. To answer this challenge operators of both municipal and industrial water and wastewater treatment systems are in the midst of their own transformations, from often vulnerable run to fail operations to smarter optimized systems driven by the effective integration and analysis of data from the field on up.

Hello, my name is Keith Larson, publisher of Control magazine and, and you’re listening to a Solution Spotlight edition of our Control Amplified podcast, sponsored this week by Endress+Hauser. To discuss this ongoing transformation of our water/wastewater infrastructure, I’m happy to be joined today by Nick Hanson, national industry manager for water and wastewater with Endress+Hauser here in the US.

Welcome, Nick, a real pleasure to talk with you today. Thanks for joining me.

Nick Hanson: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

Larson: Well, as a leader in the process instrumentation marketplace, what opportunities is Endress+Hauser seeing in the water/wastewater industry?

Hanson: Yeah, so there’s growth happening, that’s for sure. The marketplace for water wastewater, I would say is a evolutionary one, not a revolutionary one. So, any growth that you might see is incremental, but in terms of kind of the largest opportunities right now, there’s been a big focus placed on modular, decentralized type treatment operations. Kind of getting away from putting all of our eggs in one basket with like a local municipality treatment plant. You know, we’ve seen instances where plants get overran or if a natural disaster occurs, that one facility that supplies water to thousands upon thousands of residents suddenly becomes compromised. Like that’s a big issue. So yeah, I would say even just as it pertains to the economies of scale and reaching more people with clean water, both for drinking and for treating waste, just having a modular approach seems to fit the bill and is really taking off. So, from like, OEM partners of ours, we’ve been seeing large uptick in that kind of business. And not to say that the local municipalities and the centralized treatment processes aren’t being updated as well, they are, but it’s kind of a, it’s an evolution, like I said, there’s a lot happening.

Larson: It makes sense that the more modular approach would probably make it easier for those OEMs to build systems that you don’t have to do unique engineering and design every time you want to build a plan as well, if you’re more modular.

But beyond, you know, as an instrumentation company, beyond measuring and controlling, of course, your flow rates and tank levels and the occasional temperature, I’m sure, analytical instrumentation really seems to be an important function of water/wastewater instrumentation to verify water quality. And those analytical techniques seem to be constantly evolving along with the regulations. Are more analytical techniques moving online versus sampling type procedures? And are there there new analytical methods being required by more recent regulations?

Hanson: The answer is yes.

Larson: It was a leading question. But yeah.

Hanson: Yeah, let’s unpack that a little bit. So, I like to steal a line that one of my colleagues said a while ago, and that line is “you can’t control what you don’t measure,” which I think really hits home, just because, for one, it makes sense, but then two, it kind of refocuses the importance of data accuracy and availability. And so, your first part of the question, are more liquid analysis measurements going online? So, the answer is yes, and purely because we need more data, and we need more consistent data, especially as regulations gets getting handed out across the country and regional base. More customers seem to want that type of measurement in house where that they don’t have to rely on a third party and just having that higher data availability not only improves their reporting purposes, but also lets them react quicker to any upsets in the processes to make changes and address things on the fly.

So, yeah, it’s becoming overwhelmingly important now, specifically for regulations like low-level phosphorus in wastewater. That’s been kind of a surge of a spotlight for measurement taking place on site versus in a lab, or in the process directly. Taking a sample and making that measurement, you know, having that that data point now kind of in house has been a huge demand. And yeah, just in general liquid analysis, you know, water quality as it pertains to our liquid analysis, measurement. Obviously, water quality is of the most importance as it pertains to drinking water. So yeah, just making sure that we have the best instrumentation possible, best data accuracy, etc. All that goes along way.

Larson: Yeah, that makes sense. Are there new analytical techniques that have come to the fore or moved out into the process analyzer approach more recently?

Hanson: So, I would say that the legacy-type measurements kind of dominate still. So color metric technology have been one for online analyzers. That seems to be kind of the majority, but we are seeing some, some uptick in other technologies. We ourselves are developing and researching new technologies as well. I’d say the technologies currently in play, you know, measuring other constituents, they do make great candidates for these new constituent measurements as well. So, it’s kind of a changing of the old guard. We’re still going to use what we’re familiar with, and then as these newer technologies come into play, then we’ll investigate.

Larson: Yeah, oh, that makes sense. Also seems like in the COVID pandemic, every industry sector was really focused on improving accessibility of data and systems, whether remotely or even, you know, across the plant. Has it been any different for the water/wastewater sector?

Hanson: I would say that it’s been, I think that the water/wastewater sector has been equally impacted by recent pandemic and everything that’s kind of changed the landscape of our workforce, my work, my workplace, their workplace, etc.

Larson: Absolutely.

Hanson: You know, whether they wanted to or not, they were forced to kind of adapt to the changing landscape of, you know, having minimal staff so that we minimize contact between employees or contact tracing if someone does get sick, but then also just trying to automate our processes, so that in this new type of workplace where we can be remote, or there is a skeleton crew, having systems that are automated with better data, I guess, exposure remotely has been has been pretty key. Also, kind of on the topic of remote side of things, being able to troubleshoot remotely has been a huge requirement. If someone physically can’t be on site, or can’t travel to, for instance, the remote site, pump station location, etc., being able to troubleshoot and remotely diagnose something is proving to be a huge value-add as well.

So, something that we’ve, you know, internally promoted at E+H with our products for years, is now starting to become more and more in demand and maybe somebody who wasn’t so focused on the remote diagnostics aspect before is now a bit more interested.

Larson: It would seem like the modular aspect that we touched on earlier, where you have maybe multiple treatment systems spread out geographically it makes, it makes it more critical as well, as opposed to having just one central municipal water treatment plant where everything is located. Having to get data and diagnostics from multiple modular systems would be a requirement as well.

Hanson: Yeah, and just kind of like stretching out the reach of our field layer of instruments and data collection. So, not sticking to a mindset of having only data or data measurement taking place inside the fence, I’ll say, which just means like in the plant, or like on site, but having it out into all of our remote sites. So, whether it’s a simple like collection stream from a local reservoir, you know, having more data there, liquid analysis, measurement points, flow level, etc. So, like, not only stretching out the amount of measurements being made, but yeah, having that the capability of the remote access, live views, diagnostics, etc. Yes, it’s growing for sure.

Larson: Knowing what’s going on in all the lift stations and pumping stations that may be distributed around that makes a lot of sense.

Hanson: Especially lift stations, you want an overflow situation and a lift station.

Larson: Right. Exactly. And a lot of those were not very well instrumented, as I understood recently. Slowly we’re getting there but historically, there wasn’t a lot of lot of instrumentation attention paid. How specifically is Endress+Hauser making it easier for customers to access, understand and make better decisions based on the data coming out from your field layer as you were describing?

Hanson: Yeah. So traditionally, diagnostic information from the field layer device has always been there. So, for the past, or the recent past, most new generation products that are being released come with something called heartbeat technology from Endress+Hauser. But this diagnostics information, like I said, has been there for a while it’s just not being utilized, or it’s being underutilized. So, trying to take what’s already there, potentially within a system, if it’s our products, or others, taking that diagnostic information and bringing it up to a cloud-based platform, something that we’re actually calling that Netilion. But bringing it to a cloud-based platform to basically crunch the diagnostic information, have algorithms to produce predictive maintenance alerts to produce kind of real time alarms to something that might need to be addressed something that might be needing a cleaning, something that might have failed, that needs a specific part and knowing exactly what that part is.

So traditionally, I would say that kind of information is underutilized purely because it puts a huge demand on the local PLC systems or DCS systems. So, you know, an end user or customer or an OEM might not have the bandwidth on their local control system to bring in the data. You know, IO is an expensive thing. And but then also to have a proper historian to store that data. But then you have all the data, what do you do with it? So furthermore, having something that actually is taking that data and turning it into useful information. So that’s been the disconnect is kind of those three steps of getting the data and making use of it. Yeah, so the idea with Netilion is that we offload the burden of that additional information from local system, bring it directly into our system, and make those alerts, alarms, messages, etc., automated from a kind of a global view of all devices at a site, at a plant, etc. And that’s been, it’s been taking off in terms of interest and in execution, just because of that changing landscape that we talked about, you know, with COVID and the pandemic. I guess it kind of opened everyone’s eyes to the possibilities of a remote environment in our current systems. So having all that accessible, but then also having that really rich data to make decisions on and, and know, I like to say also, that it’s, it’s kind of in contrast to the current state of affairs where a typical plant might install a level transmitter and not really think about it until it fails, which is common.

Larson: Yeah, use all those capabilities when you install it and commission it and then after that it’s just kicks out a flow rate for the foreseeable future. Yeah.

Hanson: Yeah, exactly. Like I’ll install light bulb in my house, and I’m not going to check it until it burns out, right? That run that run-to-fail model is pretty inherent all of us. But what we’re seeing is that we don’t have to operate like that. We can make use of all this rich data that we currently have accessible to us to prevent any downtime. So, no downtime, no scrambling to get a replacement. Lightbulbs might be on the shelves, but a level transmitter or flow meter might not be. So yeah, taking taking that step out of kind of the operations side is freeing up a lot of resources, too.

Larson: As far as just connecting to the Netilion cloud, is that purely a on-premise type of application? Or do you have the opportunity to maybe add a field gateway or a field cabinet to use a cellular modem to pick up that kind of information to the cloud. How does that normally get deployed?

Hanson: Yeah, so we can do both. It can be on premise, which is pretty secure way of handling things. I know there are users that specifically are interested in cybersecurity, as it pertains to kind of remote or cloud-based applications. So, we can have it on premise. But we can also do it cloud based, so having local switches and gateways on site, that interface with our instruments and others and then report that data to the cloud. You know, obviously we adhere to all the standards related to cybersecurity and we place a huge focus on that aspect as well, so we can calm the nerves of anyone who’s questioning that aspect, that installation type but yeah, we can do it both ways.

Larson: Are there other areas of sustainability improvement that are available to industrial users of water? How is Endress+Hauser driving innovation in that area?

Hanson: Yeah, great question. Sustainability is huge. Yeah, so the sector of water/wastewater and sustainability kind of go hand-in-hand right now. Obviously, as it pertains to, to local producers of water, having a sustainable or an efficient process not only impacts their bottom line. So, if they’re not losing any water, or they’re very efficient with their processes, and their chemicals, etc., and how they treat it, it can maximize profit and have a lean running operation.

On the flip side, also, you know, we need to be mindful of the source of our water. And if you’re up to date on current events, you can see, you know, Lake Mead is dropping to historic lows in some parts of the country, in the West. So, water source is dwindling. And other parts of the country, we have flooding, where it takes out municipal treatment facilities. So, you might think that as a surplus of water, but really it disrupts the whole infrastructure of producing clean drinking water.

Yeah, so on the topic of sustainability, like, not only do we want to be mindful of our business, but we need to be mindful of the environment. And I would say the way that we’re impacting that the most is just again, through really accurate measurement and bringing in as much of these, I guess, calculated and detail information as we can to make any end users or an OEM, etc., make their process as efficient as possible. We give them the tools to make that happen, and our tools kind of lend into that conversation of being, you know, have as much uptime as possible no downtime, having efficient processes, being able to make changes quickly to a process if there’s an upset. So, yeah, we’re not directly responsible for producing large quantities of water in nature but like to say that we’re pretty good at conserving them.

Larson: Yeah, well, great. Great. Well, thank you for all you do. It’s certainly an important cause, and I appreciate that. And thanks also for sharing your perspective with us today, really appreciate it.

Hanson: Absolutely.

Larson: Yeah. Again, my name is Keith Larson, and you’ve been listening to a Control Amplified podcast and my guest today has been Nick Hanson, national industry manager for water/wastewater for Endress+Hauser here in the United States.

Nick, if any of our listeners today want to learn more about E+H offerings in the water/wastewater industry, where can they go for more information or contact you directly with questions?

Hanson: Yeah, we have a great U.S.-based website specific to our market, it’s And then we also recently released a new process automation blog, where myself and other industry managers and product managers kind of put up white papers and the latest information on tough applications and enhancements and technologies. That blog is And then I am personally also pretty active on LinkedIn, in terms of sharing my activities as I travel across the country and you can find me on LinkedIn, Nick Hansen. I think my URL is actually forward slash Nick Hansen, CU Boulder.

Larson: Okay, great. Yeah, I found you pretty quickly with just Nick Hansen. So, it shouldn’t be very hard. So, really appreciate you taking the time today. Thanks again. And thanks for all of you who are listening. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks once again to Endress+Hauser for sponsoring this episode. And if you on the listener side have enjoyed it, you can subscribe at the iTunes Store or Google podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. Plus, you can find the full archive of past episodes at Signing off until next time.

For more, tune into Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast.

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