The village of Kalkaska, Michigan, successfully installed a wastewater solution with limited IT support.

Rural wastewater utilities rarely, if ever, consider upgrading to an automated control system. Obtaining funding approval in ever-tightening budgets has always been a hurdle, but the real barrier is the lack of information technology support. Many rural municipalities operate in a 21st-century world with 20th-century assets, with their aging water infrastructure dating back to the 1940s or earlier.

The difference between addressing aging water infrastructure and carrying on with business as usual could mean the difference between a community having fresh drinking water or leaving rural families without access to safe water. Many water operators are turning to Industrial Internet solutions to serve their communities better.

The Industrial Internet has enabled the development of all-in-one rural wastewater solutions. Pre-engineered and preprogrammed systems can help eliminate the costs, time and complexities of traditional engineering and designs. Rural municipalities can upgrade to an automated system with minimal IT intervention. For facilities with limited staff and IT support, these solutions allow operators to experience the benefits of sophisticated, automated control of their assets without replacing outdated system with a costly, expansive infrastructure.

These municipalities and infrastructure operators are in a unique position. Technology has advanced more quickly than most facilities can adopt it, and expensive and large assets are often too remotely located to access easily with limited staff. Intelligent wastewater monitoring allows these personnel to advance their operations’ technical potential while managing their limited resources.

Pump stations provide consistent sustaining water for rural communities. (Images courtesy of GE Intelligent Platforms)

Intelligent Monitoring Advantages

Wastewater systems for rural operations can include several features for monitoring. One system uses a Web-based interface and secure 3G, virtual private network (VPN) connection for monitoring operations from a PC or mobile device. The connection translates into saved money and time. Money spent for travel to remote facilities in the past can be reinvested in more essential areas of operation.

The system also sends real-time alerts. Operators can take immediate action to address maintenance issues before customers, the environment or costs are impacted. With limited staff, a streamlined communication process allows personnel to work more efficiently and accelerates the return on investment.

The major advantage of the system is its fast and simple installation. Once the system arrives, a local electrician can handle the installation. No additional IT resources are required. The monitoring solution can be up and running one day after online configuration.

Small Town, Big Savings

The town of Kalkaska, Michigan, recently installed a Web-based wastewater monitoring system into its municipal operations. The town of 2,020 people has aging infrastructure and is located in a remote, rural area often layered with snow during many months of the year.

purpose-built pump station for control and monitoringA purpose-built pump station for control and monitoring
Interior panel of the remote monitoring and control systemA closer look at the interior panel of the remote monitoring and control system

The pump monitoring system was installed on a 30-year-old lift station. Prior to installing the solution, the rural wastewater facility only had manual monitoring capability, making efficiency assessments difficult. Nick Blasko, Department of Public Works director for Kalkaska, said the decision to upgrade seemed simple when he realized that he had little to no insight into important information.

“We had no monitoring whatsoever, and it was very unreliable. We had no way of knowing when the station was down, and it was difficult to see how many times each day our pumps kicked on and off,” Blasko said.
After installing the appliance, Blasko realized significant optimization opportunities. No additional IT resources were needed because the PLC-based monitoring solution was fully configured ahead of time.

The pump monitoring system’s technology allowed Kalkaska’s limited staff of operators to monitor the lift station anytime from any location—a level of flexibility fundamental to an Industrial Internet-enabled operation.
From his phone, Blasko has access to the appropriate Web-based interface and secure, 3G VPN connection that allow him and others to manage the facility.

“In the middle of the night, when there’s a fault or a pump kicks out on us, I’m able to pick up my own phone and look at it right at my bedside and tell what’s going on,” Blasko said. “I would love to have more of these on
all our lift stations—it’s just easy to operate and would save us time.”

Doing More with Less

A wastewater utility plays a large role in community safety and environmental protection. If the utility’s monitoring and control system is too outdated to run efficiently and effectively, it impacts operational costs, safety and the environment. If the system fails and control and IT support are hours away, the result could be hours of downtime and potential long-term damage.

Many utility managers consider control system upgrades too expensive and complex to initiate. However, putting off the upgrade may cost operators and managers more.

Intelligent pump monitoring solutions are an affordable option for monitoring and controlling a rural utility from any location. The value of a fully optimized operation allows operators who have limited resources to approach the health of their systems with the mentality that they can fix all problems as they occur.

These operations can experience concrete benefits from a system created for the Industrial Internet.