Control via an iPad helps solve packaged pumping system problems.
by Chris Suskie, PumpTech, Inc.

Late in 2010, a packaged pumping system manufacturer provided a packaged pump station unlike anything it had built in the past. Scappoose, Ore., needed to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant. The consulting engineer required a pump station that would provide continuous, variable flow from its existing clarifiers while maintaining an operating range of 12 inches when pumping to a new filter station.


The Design Solution

Because of geological restraints, the only available site for the pump station was a narrow space between an existing road and previously installed process equipment. The packaged system provider proposed a version of its system used for submersible pumps, buried below grade. The wetwell with an integral valve vault was made from fiberglass and included an aluminum lid with access hatches. Because the station was only partially buried, the company was able to include safety handrails around the top perimeter for operator safety and a jib crane for equipment removal inside the station.


Testing the Scappoose filter lift station with the mobile HMI.

Testing the Scappoose filter lift station with the mobile HMI.


An Issue with the Sun

The package was completely assembled at the provider’s facility and delivered to the jobsite in one piece. The contractor provided installation, and the city was pleased with the quality of the station and the operation of the equipment.

However, one small problem existed that no one had considered—the sun.  In Oregon, when the sun shines most people are happy. At the Scappoose WWTP, when the sun shone it meant that the operators had to wait for a dark cloud or dusk before they could work on the control system for the station.

The control panel provided was well optioned with a PLC and touch screen human machine interface (HMI) that was enclosed in a NEMA 4X stainless steel, dead front enclosure. However, once the dead front was opened to access the PLC’s HMI, it was difficult to read on a sunny day. Since this panel faced virtually due east, even on slightly overcast days, reading the display was difficult. Working with pumps or other equipment with a touch screen control system that is located outside can be problematic. Sun glare, driving rain, panels located remotely from the equipment are just a few extenuating circumstances that will make a nice installation difficult to operate.


A Solution for the Glare

For this reason, the packaged system provider decided to solve these control problems and unlocked a new way to establish onsite mobility and document management. This HMI fits right into the operator’s hands and can be taken anywhere and used at anytime. This was the beginning of a roving HMI and document management system designed to run on Apple’s iPad platform.

Thanks to the evolution of PLC technology for pumping control systems, control panel novices have a much easier time operating, maintaining, adjusting and understanding their control systems. This is in large part due to a general understanding of how to operate a personal computer. Computers make more sense to end users than ice cube relays, wire, switches and schematics. A PLC gives much the same feeling as a computer and many more options for controlling a system than a row of relays. However, all this technology is useless if the end user cannot see the screen to operate it.

Many PLC manufactures have a remote access program that can be used on a laptop computer to connect to the PLC. The problem is that most of these programs provide the data that the PLC has collected and some ability to change the operating parameters, but the end user experience is much different than standing in front of the control panel and operating the system. The screens look different—not to mention a laptop is not a touch screen. The biggest problem is that a laptop computer, while easier to carry than a desktop computer, is still not ideally mobile. Walking around with a laptop while typing is not easy.

The goal was to use a mobile device that more closely resembled the PLC’s touch screen HMI so that the operators felt as if they were holding the HMI in their hand. This would also give operators onsite mobility that effectively cut the umbilical cord between control panel and operator.

The Apple iPad was the best choice for making this happen since it is currently the most widely used tablet on the market. The packaged system provider’s team and an application programmer made the idea a reality. One year later, the application for the iPad was completed. During the year, several features were added and a second application was developed for managing and sharing the important documents pertaining to the pump system.