SCADA for certainty case study

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Courtesy of Mission Communications, LLC

In today’s world of increasingly complex technology, two very different utilities with very different issues came to similar solutions regarding their telemetry needs. A quickly deployed and easy-to-use SCADA system is adaptable to a variety of problems commonly faced by modern water and wastewater operators.

Frankfort Sewer Department

Bob Peterson is the deputy director of collections for the Frankfort, Ky., Sewer Department. A few years ago, the Frankfort system began a systematic evaluation of its existing collection system.

Early in the evaluation process, it became clear to Peterson that the existing telemetry system, which consisted primarily of aging dialers, was not trustworthy; he described it as “unreliable and costly.” A 15-minute lag time was typical between an event (e.g., a high wet well or power failure) and notification of a responsible party. Some stations did not have land-based phone lines available and instead relied on audible and visual systems that required a concerned citizen to notice and report the incident alarm. Those reported events were not verified easily and required the sewer department to dispatch an employee each time an incident was called in to the switchboard.

Frankfort’s first step was to establish the framework that would be used to evaluate proposed solutions to its telemetry issues. After much discussion and analysis, the system managers agreed that the primary criteria of reliability, cost and functionality would be considered. During the initial stage of the project, several potential technologies were analyzed and evaluated.

Peterson’s team first considered traditional licensed, radio-based SCADA as a solution to the problems. They quickly came to the conclusion that, because Frankfort is a hilly area and most radio requires a clear “line of sight” for reliable communication, several repeaters would be needed, substantially increasing the overall project budget. Peterson’s initial budget estimates, based on submittals from prospective SCADA contractors, came in at “around $150,000 for the base radio station and about $25,000 per lift station,” he said. The advantage of the radio-based SCADA solution was its perceived reliability and low ongoing fees, but the high cost of initial acquisition was a negative. Peterson also was surprised at the high cost projected for ongoing maintenance costs.

Frankfort briefly considered satellite-based communication systems as a potential solution, but the initial cost estimates and pricing structure posed issues; when team members checked with existing users, they found the reliability to be less than expected from other, lower-cost solutions.

Frankfort was introduced to cellularbased SCADA by Dave Ross, the Mission Communications representative for eastern Kentucky. Skeptical at first, Peterson is now an advocate of data cellular-based SCADA.

“Cellular gives us the ability to go any-where,” Peterson said. “Of all the options we considered, the Mission system offered the most reports and usable data at the lowest cost. Their ongoing price structure for both service and replacement parts was better than the competition, and the upfront cost was the lowest of any option we evaluated. The best thing about Mission is that several times it has saved us countless amounts of money by alerting us to a problem, such as bad floats or excess pump starts, before it becomes a more serious problem. … We are currently deploying Mission SCADA for our flood station control systems, and we are evaluating [it] as a potential solution to our SSO [sanitary sewer overflow] issues.”

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