The Industry 4.0 Water Utility
For the water industry to thrive (not just survive), it’s imperative it embrace Industry 4.0 and modernize its systems. This means full digitization of all operations, integration of not only systems but people and processes to achieve full digitalization. It also means the deployment of the key technological elements of Industry 4.0 to create an interoperable water management network that uses near real time data and analytics to provide actionable insights that enable short- and long-term responses to changes in monitored systems including water, wastewater and stormwater.
The Industry 4.0 water utility will create an information-centric and connected workforce. The workforce will be connected to each other and to physical assets and the environment. Networks of sensors installed through supply, collection, treatment and distribution operations and processes will monitor conditions in real time. Data and information will available via the cloud and hand-held devices anywhere, anytime. Data analytics with machine learning will make machines and devices smart enabling prescriptive actions based on data-driven predictions, all without human intervention.
Automation will replace routine, manual tasks with higher value, performance optimization tasks. Augmented reality, gaming and other forms of digital and cloud-based training will facilitate onboarding and reduce the cost and time out of office associated with destination training events. In-situ monitoring devices will detect and send alerts about events such as water level rises, pressure spikes or dips, the presence of contaminants, loss of flow, off-spec water quality, etc., allowing preventive intervention, shifting the risk paradigm away from consequence containment. Bill payment will occur seamlessly from meter-to-cash.
Even more exciting is that interconnectivity does not have to stop at the fence line of each utility. Industry 4.0 can facilitate the interconnectivity between water utilities and create larges stores of data about their assets, and the environment. Engineers and scientists can use big data analytical tools and machine learning to generate insightful information into the behavior of the shared environment and common physical assets. This information can be shared by communities and utilities to more holistically improve the industry, the environment and benefit society. In doing so, Industry 4.0 will drive economies of scope and scale across the entire water industry that were unimaginable in third industrial revolution.
It sounds magical, mysterious and made up, but Industry 4.0 is here. These capabilities exist today. It’s now a matter of architecting, implementing, deploying and then operating and maintaining. The increased productivity, heightened level of resilience and enhanced customer experience will provide a clear and direct return on investment.