How modern technology can help protect assets, save money and improve outcomes | Ozwater

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How modern technology can help protect assets, save money and improve outcomes

Posted 11 May 2018


Utility companies collect significant amounts of data as part of their everyday operations, and Ozwater’18 attendees heard from Unitywater Asset Manager Ivan Beirne this week on how to better utilise this data to improve productivity and outcomes.

Unitywater services more than 765,000 customers across a catchment area in Queensland that stretches from Cooroy in the north to Kenilworth in the west.

The company recently executed an Asset Performance Program, designed to extract maximum benefit from data collected in the field, which in turn aims to make field crews more productive.

Acknowledging current drawbacks in data collection and accessibility was the first step in moving towards getting more out of data, according to Beirne. 

“The goal of the program was to contribute to taking $100 off the customer bill,” Beirne said.

“Projects were delivered progressively over two financial years and greatly enhanced pre-existing work practices and contributed strongly to achieving the corporate goal.”

He said pre-existing data issues that led to the initial development of the project included the inability for field workers to see a history of work on the asset, no integration with the corporate system, no real-time capabilities, not being cloud-hosted and no ability to integrate tablets or smartphones. 

The solutions to the problems included upgrading the existing software to configure real-time access to Unitywater mapping tools, retraining affected staff, removing complex customisations and making simplifications.

“The Asset Performance Program identified many efficiency and productivity benefits that could be achieved by replacing the mobile field solution with a more integrated option,” Beirne said.

“Leveraging these opportunities would improve the quality of data available for asset management decisions. A drive towards data-driven decision making would allow the asset management branch to better focus renewal investment and target key assets for maintenance optimisation activities.”

Unitywater’s moves echoed the suggestions made by Ozwater’18 keynote speaker Professor Alan Duffy, who challenged attendees on the first day of the conference to “open up their data” and reap the rewards.

For Unitywater, with structured data flowing from the field, there was increased responsibility on the asset management branch to provide actionable information to field crews.

The ability to monitor work progress in the field in real-time coincided with a concerted focus on reducing response and restore times – it has been win/win, Beirne said.

“Although not classified as a digital transformation project, it has delivered a significant number of advances in both technology as well as business process improvements.

“These improvements have led to increased efficiencies across all aspects of the asset lifecycle from design to disposal and has provided a foundation for future efficiencies,” Beirne said. 

When it comes to improving asset management, issues surrounding ageing assets comes into play. This is an area of expertise for Aurecon Design Director Julian Briggs.

Briggs has been involved in a project at the Bolivar wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), outside of Adelaide, designed to discover systems for extending the life of ageing assets through the use of modern technologies.

Much of the Bolivar WWTP was originally built in the 1960s and Aurecon have been working on the use of 3D computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling to extend the life of shallow tanks for another 20 years.

The existing structures are 40m in diameter with a side water depth of 3.15m, compared to a modern design that would be 4.5m or deeper at the side wall – shallow depth provides little volume to store sludge in the sludge blanket as operating conditions vary.

Using 3D CFD modelling, a bespoke design was developed with other modifications including replacement of the plough scrapers with deeper log spiral scrapers (two with full radius, two with half radius), installation of a stamford baffle below the peripheral weir and changes to return activated sludge (RAS) pumping to allow a wider range, including intermittent pumping overnight if needed.

“The design was checked and optimised using specialist CFD modelling, programmed to account for the hindered settling properties of activated sludge,” Briggs told Ozwater’18 attendees.

All indications to date show that the new design is operationally more stable with better ability to control the sludge blanket depth.

The effluent solids concentration has since improved and the modified design can process higher solids loading than the existing design – meaning the existing 55-year-old structures can be used for another 20 years, at least.

This translates into an estimated deferred capital saving of more than $60 million, as compared to constructing new clarifiers immediately to replace them.

“Modern technology has successfully assisted with increasing effective capacity over the old design and achieving close to 100% of the theoretical capacity, with a significant improvement in effluent quality,” Briggs said.

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