OnPing and Water Treatment Plants

1 SCADA and Municipal Water

Municipal water treatment systems are one of the most commonly installed
automation systems in the world. The general technology involved is well understood.

The demands on these systems, both large and small are escalating quickly.
These demands are quite extensive.

  • More Data
  • More Automation
  • More Control
  • More Security
  • More Monitoring
  • More reports

It can be hard for the traditional SCADA model to keep up with changing requirements.
Especially, when upgrades are on a 5-10 year cycle with limited budgets for maintenance
in between.

OnPing and the associated automation around it represent a different way, with modular
components, incredible flexibility and a ‘no finish line’ design that adapts as
your needs change. We will walk through ways in which No Code SCADA and OnPing can
have a huge positive impact on your operations.

2 Traditional Installations

First a bit about what I mean by traditional automation systems for water treatment.
In such a system, a system integrator would take a set of specifications from an engineer and
design a network, control system, and SCADA system to accomplish the design goals required.

What is nice about this is everyone can agree up front what the final product should look like.
In a well designed system there are allowances made for upgrades to comms, additional IO, and
additional facilities.

2.1 Where do the problems come from?

There are several sets of problems that creep up in these sorts of systems.
The primary one is that because of the integrated nature of the system it becomes very expensive to
change. Lets say that a new water well is to be brought into the system. This means changing the
radio network, changing the programming in the server and changing the programming in the SCADA system.

Another thing that can happen is a system is decommissioned. What happens to the references to that
system in SCADA and in the other equipment? Who removes them? How hard is it to remove them?

To fix these changes and have a nice well maintained profile for your automation requires either
having staff internally or hiring a system integrator to come make changes.

3 What does Agile Automation look like?

OnPing is designed to allow plant operators to do more customization of their facilities
than was ever possible in traditional SCADA environments. Here are just a few of the things an operator
can do for themselves in the system.

  • Make your own alarm on a particular event.
  • Create a table to group up new data or facilities together.
  • Build a new report based on plant data that comes out automatically
  • Alter the look of an existing HMI
  • Change alarm Schedules

By combining this flexible approach to data acquisition with a “compute where needed” layout on the
plant floor. A customer can avoid the traditional cycle of: Build -> Deteriorate -> Renovate
that is so common in these facilities.

3.1 What are the trade offs?

3.1.1 A different cost model

The largest trade off is that your fixed cost becomes a monthly cost. While it is
true that this cost is quite affordable, it is not the traditional model that municipalities are used to.

There are some real benefits to a pay as you go model. First, you can always make changes to
your operations screens without new expenditures. Second, the system is always up to do date.
As the world becomes more interconnected and security threats become more real, having up to date
software becomes more and more critical.

3.1.2 Is it less Secure?

When people build their municipal SCADA out they are told that their on prem servers are going
to be much more secure than the cloud based alternatives. Yet story after story of hacks
and ransomware keep happening. Why is that?

Fundamentally, in the modern IT environment everything ends up being a connected device.
So those “isolated networks” end up being attacked because there was too much assumption of trust.

Cloud based systems tend to assume everything is out to get them! This means the security model
the people involved understand what encryption is, and use services that are much harder to infiltrate.

One of the biggest ways cloud devices protect you is by insulating you against ransom ware attacks.
Because no customer device is the source of truth for your plant’s data, there is nothing that can be
locked up and held until you pay.

4 What is next?

The nice thing about having a theory for how plants should be put together is it makes it easy to
talk about the next thing. So if we have SCADA that is highly configurable by end users and
PLCs that are targeted to the task at hand what is the next challenge?

Managing the complexity of these systems of course, and that is the main focus of our work in 2021
giving our users more and more tools to understand what is happening at their facilities.

We will be writing more about those things as they are released!

Author: Scott Murphy

Created: 2021-04-14 Wed 12:54

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