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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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3 Ways Industry 4.0 Can Upgrade Industrial Water Treatment Methods

Industrial water treatment methods must evolve to remain relevant and efficient. Many decision-makers have investigated how Industry 4.0 technologies could help them meet numerous goals. What benefits could you expect by taking this approach?

1. Boosting Productivity and Skill Development

Investing in Industry 4.0 for water treatment requires workers to broaden their skills, and become comfortable using new technologies, platforms and tools. Some leaders believe making employee training more immersive is an excellent way to increase knowledge and help people use their time better.

One 2022 Dubai project that used virtual reality for employee training at a sewage treatment hub was the first in the Middle East and the third in existence globally. Those involved with the initiative expect it will result in a half-hour saved per day for each worker due to the reduced time required to do tasks. Additionally, they anticipate a 30% reduction in mistake-driven malfunctions and 30% fewer downtime hours.

The training content encompasses manufacturers’ instructions, daily task lists and more. It provides all the material necessary for creating specialized content that keeps workers’ knowledge current about industrial water treatment methods. This initiative also aligns with strategic objectives for advanced infrastructure management and applying it to operate more efficiently.

The main advantage of virtual reality is it offers highly realistic simulations in controlled environments. Those characteristics are highly appealing, especially for decision-makers training people working in water treatment for the first time. Hearing someone give a presentation, reading book chapters or even going through online learning modules won’t always help people build the skills to succeed in their roles. Virtual reality could help them grasp skills faster and show more confidence, allowing them to feel well-equipped for each workday.

2. Saving Money Through Failure Reduction

Water treatment plant issues can be costly, time-consuming and highly disruptive. However, many industry leaders are increasing their overall visibility with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. Those options facilitate improved monitoring in various settings, from health care facilities to manufacturing plants.

The sensors allow people to see what’s happening at a wastewater treatment facility, even when physically located hundreds of miles away. Better visibility can prevent problems by enabling faster reactions. For example, more than 32 million people get waterborne gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States each year and stopping cases requires quick action.

Such applications of Industry 4.0 for water treatment can also more than pay for themselves over time, particularly when leaders use them to solve known problems. Consider the case of an Australian organization that installed IoT sensors for an anticipated savings of $400,000 per month associated with blockage removals throughout the gravity wastewater network. The company had 9,000 such sensors installed as of May 2023 but will eventually use 26,000 across infrastructure spanning 2,600 kilometers.

Users at the plant have preconfigured the sensors to alert them when specific conditions indicate potential blockages. Each sensor also regularly sends data that can help workers spot abnormalities. The idea is people can respond to blockages before overflows occur, saving property and the environment.

The sensors are already proving their worth, too, detecting an average of 20 blockages per month. They’ve already identified and addressed blockages at approximately 400 high-risk environmental sites. Each sensor has a battery life of more than five years, making maintenance easy.

Leaders are excited because this rollout is part of a larger digital transformation effort across the wastewater network. They believe it will make a substantial difference for residents in the relevant city.

3. Reducing the Errors and Time Spent on Manual Tasks

Minimizing manual tasks at a plant using Industry 4.0 for water treatment is a practical way to help workers better use their time and prevent mistakes that may occur if they get distracted. Strategic automation can improve these methods by helping plants run smoothly or enhancing previously established processes.

Researchers at the United States Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are developing automated technologies for water treatment plants that could increase affordability in communities with few high-quality sources. It’s increasingly common for residential areas to have salty, brackish or biologically contaminated water. Getting it to a drinkable standard is expensive and requires specific expertise.

The group is creating automated tools that use machine learning to decrease the choices humans make. People can use automation to get suggestions on how to maintain the most efficient treatment methods, saving money and energy. Those involved believe this technology could address municipal water treatment needs and particular applications, such as food and beverage plants, or utilities using water-based cooling methods.

Elsewhere, a robot developed by a University of São Paulo team can automate wastewater analysis after treatments, focusing on paraben detection. Existing methods are manual and require high expertise, requiring many students entering the wastewater industry nearly a year to learn the process.

The group chose a well-established analysis method called dynamic single-drop microextraction. More specifically, they automated a syringe to insert one drop of solvent for a successful analysis, where the traditional method uses many liters of toxic, expensive solvents. The team behind this innovation expects it will make this type of wastewater testing more cost-effective and safer for laboratory workers.

Embracing High-Tech Industrial Water Treatment Methods

These examples show how using Industry 4.0 for water treatment can help leaders cut costs, improve processes and achieve better visibility. Decision-makers will get the best results when applying technologies by determining their goals, timelines, budgets and other specifics.

They must also realize it takes employees time to adapt to new ways of doing things. Some may initially resist the changes, even if they recognize the numerous expected benefits.

One frequent pitfall is primarily implementing technologies to keep pace with competitors. However, the ideal approach is identifying the most pressing challenges restricting a water treatment plant’s efficiency and growth. Those issues may be the most rewarding ones to emphasize first during the tech rollout.

Decision-makers must also realize how an increased reliance on digital technologies could increase a plant’s attack surface for hackers to target. Simultaneous investments in cybersecurity technologies and expertise can increase the chances of successful deployments and years of use without cyberattacks.

Using Industry 4.0 for Water Treatment

The wastewater treatment industry was not among the earliest Industry 4.0 adopters. However, these technologies are becoming more common now, with many leaders happy they made the transition and increased their companies’ resilience. Consider adding this convenient tool to your workflow today.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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