Windsor Utilities Prepares for the Future of Plant Control with Help from Rockwell Automation SCADA System

Sept. 10, 2012
Process solution from Rockwell Automation helps plant bolster track and trace capabilities while wirelessly controlling applications

In May 2000, public attention in Canada focused on the tiny town of Walkerton, Ontario. Half of the town’s 5,000 residents were sick and some were dying. The symptoms all pointed to E. coli, a bacterium easily spread by contaminated water. The crisis prompted legislative reforms, which culminated in Ontario mandating Drinking Water Quality Management Standards for the larger water operating authorities within the Province. The Windsor Utilities Commission was the first water utility in Ontario to gain full scope certification validated by the Canadian General Standards Board for both water distribution and water production.

Since 1935, The Commission has been providing safe and reliable water to 72,000 businesses and homes in Windsor and the towns of LaSalle and Tecumseh. Its primary focus has been water treatment and distribution, leading the way in terms of treatment technology and having been recognized as an industry leader in ozonation and most recently, the Drinking Water Quality Management Standards (DWQMS). Today, the Windsor water treatment plant is one of the most technologically advanced in Canada, thanks to John Stuart, chief operating officer, his team and their partners at Rockwell Automation.


In early 2010, Stuart and his team recognized that their single process controls were reaching the end of their lifecycle and needed upgrading. Rather than waiting for a problem to occur, they sought a solution that would not only bolster the system’s tracking and tracing capabilities, but reduce the risk that a single-source failure could cease their operations. This meant the Windsor Utilities Commission needed a fully redundant supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system with intelligent motor control and networking to improve system diagnostics.

 “If the plant had kept its original control system and had lost an I/O card, such as the one running the dosing pumps, the control system would fail to add chemicals to the water, which would have compromised the water quality,” Stuart explained. “In a redundant system, two processors and associated I/O cards would have to stop working for such a failure to occur. With the Walkerton incident fresh on everyone’s minds, we were better off safe than sorry.”

In addition to improving its tracking, tracing and redundancy capabilities, the plant wanted a system that could address three key areas.

  1. Historical data collection. With its old SCADA system, WUC manually recorded data every hour, at the risk of human error. The new system needed to provide on-the-spot report creation of historical production data.
  2. Knowledge transfer. Many of the plant’s operators were nearing retirement. WUC wanted to retain their knowledge by distilling it into an automated process.
  3. Employee flexibility. Stuart and his team wanted to invest in a wireless platform that would allow a single operator to use a handheld, portable tablet to control the system. With a wireless system, an operator would be free to roam the plant with controls in hand. In turn, this would provide WUC with staffing flexibility so it could rely on one operator per shift, rather than two.


With a long-standing history of collaboration, the Windsor Utilities Commission looked to Rockwell Automation to develop a strategy to keep the facility on the leading edge of the water utility sector. The Rockwell Automation water/wastewater experts within the Systems and Solutions Business (SSB) team provided a variety of project management services that were instrumental in ensuring the correct hardware, software and overall SCADA system suited the need of WUC.

The two companies teamed up with ONYX, a system integrator and Insyght Systems, consultants, to upgrade the SCADA system and assist the Windsor Utilities Commission in implementing wireless tablets for plantwide control. To address the outdated controllers, ONYX installed Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® programmable automation controllers with redundant powers supplies (PACs), from Rockwell Automation. The Rockwell Automation team assisted in the design of the control panels and supervised their installation. The PACs are fully integrated to help the operator access plantwide production information with real-time visibility of: water quality, as well as trending loads, levels, clarity, and alarms, ultimately allowing for better plant management.

To improve tracking, tracing and reporting capabilities, ONYX installed FactoryTalk® VantagePoint software from Rockwell Automation. FactoryTalk VantagePoint software provides unified access to virtually all plant information sources. By tapping into the data gathered by FactoryTalk Historian software, FactoryTalk VantagePoint software provides visibility into historical production data by putting the information into context through Web-based reports. These reports provide role-appropriate visualization of high-level desktop dashboards. Prompt reporting capabilities will facilitate WUC staying ahead of regulations and allowing real-time changes to plant processes, ultimately avoiding downtime, fines or worse.

To further improve operations, ONYX and Rockwell Automation integrated additional information software products. FactoryTalk Asset Centre change-management software enhances security through a set of asset-centric tools that document and record all changes made to production on a role-based, password-based system. FactoryTalk View Supervisory Edition human-machine interface software supports distributed-server application, allowing for maximum control over plant information.

“Our operators customized the FactoryTalk View SE software to match the unique needs of our operations,” Stuart said. “Being able to capture our operators’ knowledge in this new SCADA system was invaluable.”

The Windsor Utilities Commission replaced conduits and wires from each I/O with ControlNet networks to help reduce wiring and installation costs, increase reliability, and enable point-to-point management and troubleshooting. ControlNet is also utilized to transmit electrical information, bus voltage, motor data and network security to operators using the proven Common Industrial Protocol (CIP).

Allen-Bradley CENTERLINE® low-voltage motor control centers (MCCs) provide the controllers with soft starting and stopping of the continuously run motors and Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® AC drives provide the variable-speed motors with energy savings on pump loads.

Allen-Bradley IntelliCENTER® software connects the MCCs with the rest of the plant, providing real-time diagnostics and MCC documentation to help maximize MCC and related equipment performance. In addition, medium-voltage softstarters were installed in the synchronous and nonsynchronous motors and medium-voltage PowerFlex AC drives replaced the step-up, step-down antiquated drives.

In addition to providing the products necessary for a plantwide control system, Rockwell Automation also supported WUC with a variety of services. Through comprehensive network validation, Rockwell Automation engineers verified the installation and operation of the Windsor Utilities Commission’s new network. This ensured that the system was consistent with current functional requirements and that WUC could hit the ground running after migrating to the new control system. Engineers also provided on-site training services to all WUC operators.

“From architecture and software system design, to I/O mapping and management of control activities, the Rockwell Automation SSB team was critical in ensuring this project was a success,” Stuart said. “The team’s phased approach allowed for zero production loss, which was an important objective for WUC.”

With a robust SCADA system in place, the Windsor Utilities Commission was able to complete its ultimate goal of moving to a platform that enables the use of wireless, tablet-based controls. Stratix Industrial Ethernet Switches provide secure integration with the enterprise network so employees can confidently use the wireless device without fear of outsiders hacking the system. Operators are now free to make rounds and take samples anywhere in the plant without the risk of missing an alarm because they were not within earshot of the control room.


Commencing in 2009 WUC undertook a two-year program to replace its’ aging SCADA system that controlled the production and distribution of potable water within the City of Windsor. The conversion to a new PAC system included the necessary improvements to ensure the safe operation and efficient use of resources at the water production facility. All programming was standardized to ease troubleshooting and future expansion of the control system

The new control and information system was commissioned in early 2010 and completed under budget in January 2011. The Windsor Utilities Commission became the first water provider in Ontario to use wireless tablets for plant control, and in August 2011, the plant transitioned from two operators per shift to one. The new system also eliminated the risk of single-source failure and has helped reduce the risk of reporting errors by automatically tracking and tracing plant data.

Improved real-time control helps reduce downtime since operators can now proactively fix problems as they arise. When an issue does occur, the tablet allows WUC operators to work directly with maintenance professionals at the source of the problem, rather than communicating commands over a phone or radio from the control room.

“Migrating to a robust SCADA system was a team effort, and we could not have done it without Rockwell Automation, ONYX and Insyght Systems,” Stuart said. “From the products to project management and service support, Rockwell Automation was with us every step of the way.”

As for the future, WUC plans to integrate its laboratory information management system into the FactoryTalk VantagePoint software and also utilize the new control system’s power monitoring capability to improve plant pumping efficiency. The ability to determine the most efficient flow rate will allow plant management and staff the ability to optimize the backwash and chemical process dosing by 2013.

The results mentioned above are specific to Windsor Utilities’ use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

Allen-Bradley, ControlLogix, CENTERLINE, FactoryTalk, IntelliCENTER and PowerFlex are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc.

ControlNet is a trademark of ControlNet International, Ltd.

CIP is a trademark of ODVA.

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