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Water Treatment Plant Monitoring via the Cloud

Nishihara Environment Co. in collaboration with Nissin Systems Co. have developed an integrated product and service solution called N-Share to improve access to process data in water purification and sewage treatment plants.

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N-Share lets Nishihara work more closely with the facilities they serve, as well as share the data in real time with regulatory agencies and operating companies, yielding significant time and cost savings for all parties.

“Having an in-plant monitoring system gives us the data we need to propose large-scale, comprehensive maintenance projects,” said Masumi Wada, engineering manager at Nishihara. These projects are typically valued at around 10 million yen (about US$100,000) each. “N-Share also reduces the number of on-site maintenance visits,” she added, “saving us hundreds of person-hours per year.”

Process control systems for water treatment plants are unique among industrial applications. Plant operations are difficult to model, as control systems must respond to a variety of analog and digital data. To optimize the processes, this data must be gathered, integrated, and fed to analytical tools that employ data-driven methods for fault detection, variable prediction, and advanced control algorithms. Although each area is closely monitored, Nishihara’s customer plant data could only be accessed at the plant site before they began using N-Share, requiring either a site visit or a lengthy procedure carried out by the supervising engineer. By introducing N-Share to provide remote access to process data as needed, Nishihara can now ingest and synthesize treatment system data ranging from power supply and tank levels to pump status and sludge weight.

N-Share collects and redistributes data using DataHub technology in each plant and in the iBress cloud system. In the plants, a wireless gateway device running Skkynet’s ETK (Embedded Toolkit) maintains a secure connection via DHTP (datahub transfer protocol) to a special cloud-enhanced version of the DataHub running on the iBress cloud system. The ETK and iBress exchange data in real time through a secure SSL connection, with no firewall ports open at the plant.

Sensors and devices in the plant send their data to PLCs, which pass it 12 times per minute to the gateway via the Modbus protocol. The ETK  running on the gateway receives the data from all PLCs and aggregates it into a single, unified data set. It then sends the collected data to iBress at a more moderate rate of once per minute to conserve bandwidth and system resources. Any alarms that come through are immediately passed on to iBress over a separate channel.

iBress is connected to HMI displays in the offices of plant personnel, managing engineers, and regulatory agencies, giving them a complete view of the whole system, with up-to-the-minute readings on every sensor and device. iBress also sends emails for any alarms or failure notifications and logs the data to databases and CSV files. This allows Nishihara to respond to alarms as necessary, maintain records of all activity, and share selected data with their clients and contacts as needed.

Nishihara has developed N-Share to be portable and quickly deployed using a remote configuration system from their central office. “N-Share can be packaged and delivered to water purification and sewage treatment plants and attached directly to their equipment to monitor the performance of in-house equipment in real time,” said Wada. “This allows us to see what issues may be developing, plan the best way to address them, and propose maintenance overhaul programs for customers.”

“Digital transformation and the Internet of Things have strengthened and enhanced our business and sales models,” she added. “We now serve our customers and suppliers better than before, and actually save money in the process.”

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