How To Optimize Infrastructure With Remote Monitoring

The advent of the internet of things (IoT) has brought about the ability to create smart networks that can optimize the management of everything from sewers to offshore infrastructure such as oil wells
Smart networks differ dramatically from the existing telemetric solutions that, for decades, have allowed for limited-scale remote monitoring to be carried out. Modern IoT solutions leverage advanced low-power, low-bandwidth communications networks to relay information directly from the field to network administrators at a far greater scale than has ever been possible before.

The information obtained from smart networks can be used in a multitude of ways, such as through internal analysis programs or by creating direct integrations with the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems used to oversee critical infrastructure networks.

Below is a step-by-step guide that will help utilities that want to deploy smart networks get started on their journey from planning to deployment.

Network Planning

Firstly, operators should carefully plan which elements of the infrastructure will be monitored and determine which parameters administrators will need real-time knowledge of. A water utility with significant leakage problems, for example, may be interested in district metered area (DMA) sensing to reduce non-revenue water (NRW). A wastewater plant operator, on the other hand, may need to know the level of corrosive chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in its system at all times.

After determining the parameters that will be monitored, IT personnel should source an IoT hardware provider that sells sensors that can best monitor these parameters. For OEMs, this may involve obtaining hardware that can integrate with their own solutions.

Those undertaking the monitoring effort to comply with legislation, such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordinances, should ensure that all equipment used in the monitoring process, especially the sensors, meet the legislation’s requirements.

Answering questions will further guide the choice of vendor.

Does the infrastructure network consist of widely dispersed assets, such as a water distribution network (involving reservoirs, pumping stations, and endpoints hundreds of kilometers apart), or is it a more centralized, within-the-perimeter system, such as an oil and gas rig?

Will some of the assets live below the surface (such as within a sewer) or far off the coast, well beyond the reach of traditional cellular networks (such as on an oil rig)? LP-WAN networks, such as Sigfox and LoRa, can penetrate intervening concrete structures with relative ease and, as an unlicensed network, base stations can also be set up wherever the network needs to extend. GSM-based networks, by comparison, are limited in coverage to the reach of the infrastructure deployed by the network operator.

Some other questions that may be helpful in guiding the selection process.

What sample rate will be sufficient to obtain the required information? Is it variable or fixed? And if variable, upon which conditions does it depend? More frequent sample rates and higher bandwidth transmissions also incur greater power overheads. In such cases, IoT gateways with external power supplies may be more suitable.

Network Deployment

Once a remote monitoring platform is chosen, deployment of the field sensors that will comprise the smart network can begin.

The complexity of the installation project will depend upon the extent of the network, and whether the sensing equipment being installed will be powered by on-board or external power sources.

Data Collection

With installation complete, the process of collecting data from the smart network can begin.

Depending on the provider selected, the data may be traveling to a SCADA system, an online vendor’s user interface (UI), or an alternative destination, such as a public or private cloud filesystem.

While data collection is a passive process, system maintenance is not. Much of the upkeep functionalities, such as software upgrades, can be done remotely. Most installations will require field visits periodically, although the visits can be conducted far less frequent when a remote monitoring solution is in place.

Routine operations include sensor calibration and maintenance tasks. Given the “smart” nature of the network, proactive and predictive maintenance methodologies can be employed rather than run to failure (RTF). This will reduce labor costs compared to sending teams to the field.

On-board power sources may have to be replaced on a fixed schedule.

Smart networks are flexible and modular. Sensors may need to be added, or reconfigured, as the needs of the use-case—and monitoring program—change over time.

Data Analysis

A flood of field data can create a flood of confusion if network operators do not have some computer assistance to help separate network signal from noise.

Data can be analyzed in situ, on the network edge, or through programs running on a traditional server infrastructure. Standard, server-side data analytics programs can run on a public or private cloud to parse information obtained from the network and assist operators by flagging potentially actionable cues for action.

Edge analytics is a fast-growing, emerging discipline in which analytics-capable processing power is placed directly aboard the devices themselves on the network edge. This involves analyzing data in situ, while offline, and making autonomous decisions about what information to transmit to the operations room for further analysis.

System Optimization

Once a network has been deployed and is generating real-time insights about important network parameters, it is time to leverage those insights to optimize the system’s health.

Examples of this can include wastewater operators diverting sewer flows to reserve storage capacity areas in response to water level information indicating the potential for a sewer overflow event in the near future; or a water provider reducing supply chlorination in response to live readings indicating excessive chlorine level.

With the sensor nodes installed, and the data continuously being transmitted to the selected server, the smart network information is viewable and the data is available for analysis on the network.

This blog was adapted from How to Optimize Infrastructure with Remote Monitoring, an article originally published in Water & Wastes Digest

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