Automation in the Water Industry – A digital transformation is heading to a water plant near you!

Municipalities across the United States are under relentless pressure to meet growing safety regulations with fewer resources. At the same time, they are tasked with rehabilitating aging infrastructure and modernizing facilities, often while facing funding shortages and staff reductions.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest national assessment of public water system infrastructure, drinking water utilities in the U.S. need over $470 billion in infrastructure investments over the next 20 years. In such a demanding environment, the ability to manage water treatment processes and systems efficiently and expertly will play an important role in meeting the needs of cities and communities around the US.  And this is the very environment where the powerful technologies of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can be leveraged to deliver meaningful and measurable benefits that address the multiple pressures the industry is facing.

We have already seen the promise of digital transformation, powered by automation, payoff across multiple industries, from manufacturing to oil and gas. The payoff can come in many forms – reduced costs, improved efficiency of processes and personnel, and greater reliability and safety due to the ability to detect and predict issues before they lead to damage or unplanned downtime.

But, given the unique challenges municipalities face, coupled with a cost-sensitive procurement model, is digital transformation realistic? Absolutely! First and foremost, it is important to remember that digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. And, as such, it is inherently scalable – there is no need to feel the pressure to “go big or not at all.” It is a continuum that enables organizations to start small and gain valuable experience that allows the organization to adopt, accept and have confidence in these new technologies. This is a critical aspect that is often lost when discussing automation. This investment in automation technology should be viewed as an investment in staff, enabling them to add more value and creating a better, more engaging work environment.

Unlike other industries which can halt operations in an emergency, municipalities have an obligation to treat and deliver water 24/7, regardless of what is happening in the world – even during a global pandemic. Indeed, COVID-19 has accelerated the need to consider digital transformation, powered by automation. New tools continue to emerge to help plant personnel make sense of the vast amounts of critical data they collect, support optimization of their valuable resources, and support remote monitoring and compliance reporting.    

Without a doubt, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of IIoT across multiple industries. The evolution in automation and analytics technology, holds the promise of delivering smart data that empowers personnel and improves operation. Faced with the need to meet regulatory, cost and safety pressures – with the added layer of today’s unique uncertainties – there has never been a better time for water and wastewater facilities to embrace the digital transformation journey.

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