The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted significant risks to water processing operations across various sectors. All these sectors depend on these operations being fully operational and for maintenance services to function properly, says water technology and services company Veolia Services Southern Africa South Africa marketing GM Chris Braybrooke.
“Whether it entails sector-specific employees who need to be on site or specialist contractors, such as Veolia, the availability of plant operator capacity is a major risk factor, should they become ill.”
He adds that this risk also extends to maintenance and support companies that might be forced to go into a hard lockdown – which occurred last year – since water processing plant failures or shutdowns could occur when required support services are unable to deliver.
Braybrooke says in such cases, a digital platform could mitigate many of the risks by developing predictive maintenance programs, logging any previous maintenance and then making decisions based on the accumulated data.
Veolia’s Hubgrade smart monitoring solution is a combination of human expertise and digital technology for operational and environmental efficiency. The platform caters to all industries.
“As a service offering that acts as a facilitator and a tool for forecasting and decision support, Hubgrade is part of the quality improvement process continuously adopted by Veolia for clients, as well as our own operations,” Braybrooke explains.
In wastewater plants, for example, the Hubgrade platform can monitor the biology taking place in digesters and optimise these processes for biogas production.
Moreover, Hubgrade can monitor nonrevenue water leakages and track the quality of water for human consumption.
For industrial process water, drivers –such as compliance, uptime, efficiency, sustainability and convenience – are applicable and they can directly impact on whether one has a licence to operate.
“We have seen this happen, especially in the mining sector where, for example, spillages can cause the suspension of operations, significant losses of revenue and reputational damage,” Braybrooke comments.
In the food and beverage industry, where waste streams are valorised for biogas generation as a source of fuel for heating or electricity production, the Hubgrade platform can assist in optimising processes to result in savings for clients, he adds.
The tool also makes it possible for multisite benchmarking in real time.
The Hubgrade platform consists of different modules, which are designed with client requirements in mind. This includes various options, ranging from basic data collection to a 24-hour support line staffed by Veolia engineers.
The connect option creates a continuous link with clients and provides them with access to information and expertise. The support option is provided to accompany and advise clients on its operational and strategic issues. The improve option improves the operational and environmental performance of the client's equipment and infrastructure. The connect, support, improve option incorporates all three.
“It is, therefore, imperative that clients discuss their exact requirements pertaining to the monitoring and operation of their plant so that we can deploy the correct package for the application,” Braybrooke explains.
Once a newly built plant, which is fitted with embedded Hubgrade readiness, and all outputs, is operational, Veolia sets up the platform and builds in the required elements as specified by a client. Training is then provided for all personnel who have access to the platform. Even training manuals are stored on the platform.
“There could be different training contents, since the data received can vary depending on the profile of the particular person in the organisation. “Sometimes, managers want to see only performance data and critical alarms, while operational managers might want to see all aspects of their systems, such as performance reporting, maintenance prediction and all alarms,” Braybrooke explains.
This approach requires Veolia to tailor the training, depending on the profiles of the people on site and their requirements for feedback from the platform.
“The same applies when we retrofit an existing plant with the platform. We would also advise on any updates or improvements required in terms of signal outputs from such plants to ensure the smooth operation of Hubgrade,” he adds.
Barriers to Implementation
Braybrooke says the primary barriers to the implementation of such digital technologies in South African water processing plants are ageing infrastructure and older plants, where no signal outputs are available from the major components.
“In such cases, it can be expensive and not commercially viable to implement Hubgrade. However, upgrades to municipal facilities are required, as well as increasing their capacity. Industrial water plants all depend on proper maintenance and upgrades as technology develops.”
Moreover, costs related to the implementation of the Hubgrade platform, including hardware and setup fees, can be challenging for marginal operations.
However, Braybrooke believes that, in most cases, once such a solution is implemented, these costs can be recovered over a short period and will then result in savings.
A significant concern for many clients is the integrity and security of their information technology (IT) systems. To alleviate these concerns, the Hubgrade platform does not form part of any client IT system.