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Smart VFD technology boosts efficiency and ease of use.
Control Techniques

As water scarcity continues and the demand for wells, irrigation and even desalination grows, the requirement for dependable and quickly deployable pumping systems will increase over the next few years. Users cannot depend strictly on labor force and system replacements to solve and keep water infrastructure running; it will require better technology to drive efficiency, along with remote accessibility and intuitive interfaces to sustain the health of overall water supply networks. The future is exciting for water management in agriculture, irrigation and municipal pump applications as it continues to draw from other technology segments to create products and innovations for the next step in intuitive drives and data accessibility. Through using variable frequency drives (VFDs) and controls, internet of things (IoT)-accessible solutions and systems based on intelligent water consumption, user friendly technology will assist in the rapid application and deployment of a new breed of pumping systems.

Smart Drives & Controls

For what used to be auxiliary equipment, the proper control and performance of pumping systems are becoming embedded in the smartest part of a pump installation. Commonly, this is the VFD that is regulating the energy and power usage to the pump motor based upon a sequence of inputs and logic. Smart drives are compiling years of pumping experience into intelligence to quickly adapt to system dynamics and allow for precise control of water usage and responses to system problems. For the user, this means fewer decisions need to be made on a regular basis about how pumps are being controlled. Rather, the users and installers can teach the drive in a pump system exactly how it should react to changing conditions and under what situations it needs to stop or start the flow of water. Cost reduction, reduced maintenance visits and lower pump wear are all attributable to the rise of smart drives in pumping systems.

Drive Accessibility Technology

As mentioned previously, the smartest component in a pump system can typically be identified as the VFD running the motor at the pump, which makes the accessibility to these drives more critical. The interface to control, configure and monitor the drive has varied over the years, starting from embedded potentiometers and switches to external digital and analog inputs and outputs, transitioning to more advanced communication networks (whether hardwired or wireless). With more advanced technology around communication networks and their peripheral devices, the user has many options for
how to monitor and control their drives, and in turn, so do the pump users.

For example, many drives have accessibility via an ethernet connection, which is a critical avenue for most user interface options. This could include common options such as industrial configurable human-machine interfaces (HMIs) to more exotic options like embedded web page interfaces or smartphone applications via a Wi-Fi connection. Some drive manufacturers have begun to go as far as adding in more consumer recognizable communication links like Bluetooth and near field communication (NFC). Just as consumers can tap their phone (or credit card) to pay for goods, users can now tap their phone onto a VFD and instantly upload configured data from the drive or provide additional input information to the system.

Using a smart drive provides real-time accessibility to all elements of the pump system, reducing the need to be near each component for troubleshooting and managing.

IoT Solutions & System Interfaces

Pulling from the playbook of traditional industrial process control and logistics, localized HMIs and wireless communication access are more perceptive and common in place of the traditional button, switch and pilot light pump system installations. As typical controls are migrated to infinitely configurable visual interface options, remote irrigation and pumping systems are now packed with a wealth of data including real-time information regarding current and past states of a system. Using technologies such as Wi-Fi, cellular data access points, mesh networks and long range radio (LoRa), pump users no longer need to physically get themselves to a problem installation, but can access the HMI or control system from their local personal computer (PC) or phone. With mirrorable visual interfaces brought from the local site to the users handheld devices, users can much more intuitively solve problems and input recommended changes without the need to visually inspect every part of an installation. These interfaces simplify initial installations by providing step-by-step guidance in setting up the parameters of a pump system without needing to know each and every mechanical detail of its use.

The key to these accessibility solutions is their usability for all touchpoint users within the pumping system network, whether it is the installer, the service technician, the owner or water regulators. Pump systems span across a vast spectrum of experience and knowledge in their user touch base, and any interactions within the system must be able to intuitively speak to any of these users. For example, an installation technician likely will require all typical system data (motor information, pump type, required pressure levels, etc.) to be easily accessible at the installation and may require the system to auto-configure itself based on the number of pumps available, the length of supply lines and the schedule of demand, among other things.

Alternatively, a site manager may need to report the amount of water used in a certain period, or cross-reference that data with weather patterns, crop yields and the chemical content of the soil in various areas. These two touchpoints with the system (and therefore the needs from the system) vary widely but should come together in a common, intuitive control point, whether it is the pump controller (drive or external controller), HMI or another interface. This is where pump systems begin to benefit from other consumer and electronics fields, where the value of the system can depend more on its intuitive usability versus the actual pump control performance, since this becomes a major differentiator in a competitive field of similar products.

Sustainability & Consumption Control

The collective awareness of the need to manage natural resources, while striving to maximize production, drives most of the technology innovations mentioned here. Although there is a myriad of data and endless tools that could be used to analyze that data, real benefits to pumping applications can only be measured through the practical application of that data. Sensors, climate models, weather forecasts, historical data collections and other forms of feedback assist in providing valuable input data to intelligent devices in a pumping system to more accurately use the water they are looking to provide.

Additionally, data provided directly from the pump system can change the way users are notified and advised of predictive maintenance, preventing costly downtime in an environment of potentially long supply chains and unpredictable lead times for replacement components.

When considering a pumping solution, consistently consider if a proposal will integrate this type of data into a more economical system or solution since this can make all the difference in consumption control and preventative or predictive maintenance needs. The application of this data will rely on the technology chosen to run the system and the instinctiveness of its interfaces to users.

Just how users have driven more intuitive control and responsive data analysis from their consumer products, it is important the same expectation is set for pumping systems. Most of the needed technology for this already exists in parallel industries and products, leaving it up to users and designers to demand equitable usability for pumping systems. Much of this initiative will rely on smart VFD technology and its interfaces to the networked world, given its highly flexible and capable market position in pumping systems. Ultimately, this all brings higher performing, more efficient, easier to use and more sustainable pump systems that will manage the future of water.