Industry 4.0 and Water Infrastructure Management
Ashish Mathur
Advisor, Public Sector Advisory
Grant Thornton India LLP, Noida, India

Mridul R. Singh
Manager, Public Sector Advisory
Grant Thornton India LLP, Noida, India

Within the two decades of 21st century, the prospects of system integration and internet have revolutionized the economic sectors. Industrial sectors have already developed innovative strategies to thrust their performance and to excel in being more sustainable through appropriate technology adaptation. Even though pivotal, water infrastructure has lagged in adapting to innovation primarily due to continuous external stresses. Theauthor, here in this article, showcases a comprehensive profile of water infrastructure management under the prolific influence of industry 4.0 technologies.

Growing inclusion of technology in our lifestyle has been impacting on our socio-economic structure at an increasing and rapid pace. Industry 4.0 ideologies encourage the businesses to constantly improve by adapting to the technology, innovation, and digitalization. Industrial products have become smarter; more customization is now available to integrate them into the invisible cyber physical systems. IoTs and other similar platforms are being relied upon to evolve the business strategies in order to make a greater impact.

Water industry, including wastewater, also needs similar adaptation for such paradigm shift to happen. With the global scarcity thrust at fresh water resources and also with the unavailability of viable alternatives, to sustain for the longer term, the industry has to strive very hard for finding new solutions and cost optimization. Such transition shall face a variety of challenges viz. transformation of the water supply system into an interactive digital system, a shift in organizational behavior as well as in adapting the big data culture, and last but not the least - the market readiness for smart predictive informatics for onward data analysis to carry out with. Water supply organizations - with an exposure to the evolution of business sustainability on one hand, and with the new technology & associated opportunities on the other - must adapt such behavioral patterns to the evolutionary level.

Water Infrastructure Management:One of the prime challenges water treatment & distribution organizations have been facing these days is: to strike a balance between the infrastructural network efficiency and the economic resource optimization efficiency, needed for instituting business sustainability. Although a number of innovative technologies have increased the prospects in this sector, the issues related to efficiency & sustainability of the water infrastructure are still being considered as global problem.

Water supply organizations, in their efforts to improve their business, adapt to different approaches that are concentrated around failure reduction and necessary repair in order to curb water losses or to achieve an efficient anthropogenic water circle. In spite of that, it has been realized that water management has the maximum impact if implemented in overall sustainable package backed with a long-term strategy. Infrastructure operations & maintenance are pivotal to own such a future.

A number of innovations have already made our data collection improved in the water and waste water sector. By digitizing the water system with ICT technologies viz auto-actuators, pressure meters, flow meters, and consumption meters, the water management system has got a complete new dimension. Real-time monitoring and control are the key strategies that current water infrastructure organizations must imbibe to address optimal water utilization at the every stage in water cycle.

We further explore how the ICT technologies have been offering the potentiality in solving some of the very significant risks:

1. Aging infrastructure & increasing asset management cost
The current infrastructural utilities strive to develop an economic value chain that shifts the organizational vision from operable maintenance to efficient maintenance. Currently, as our systems and infrastructure age, operational availability gets reduced and more maintenance is required. The domino effect of such infrastructure maintenance drains the economic viability for any major upgrading.

Suggested Mitigation: Advanced automated processes allow the water sector organisations to improve their asset operations & maintenance by adapting to preventative maintenance, thus deriving the maximum value out of it. Integration of such processes with technology - such as IoT enabled sensors, data analysis, and analytics - enables the utility companies to move a step beyond the mere predictive maintenance.

TasWater in Tasmania has developed a predictive modelling technique by leveraging its historical data. This has the capacity to detect any municipal blockage, even before 13 hours of any complaint registration. Thus , it not only provides adequate warning to the operators in preventing spillages, it also does save the reactive maintenance resources by enabling faster response.

2. Economic Value Chain Management and the Rising Energy Sourcing Price
The low economic viability in water infrastructure has primarily driven by rising energy sourcing price. The processes and current methodologies of abstracting, treating, supplying, and collecting are all energy intensive in nature. Lack of monitored pricing mechanism coupled with increasing non -revenue water do also appear as key challenges along with surging energy cost and higher economic risks.

Suggested Mitigation: Current utilities have been much adaptive to mitigate the energy cost through alternative renewable resources. Adaptation to ICTs and Industry 4.0 technologies shall empower the utilities in addressing demand responses such as automatic load shifting, surge prevention, load saving based on weather, and efficient collection through spot pricing.

3. Rapid Urbanization and Stretched Rural Services
The migration of population from rural to urban areas has observed unprecedented challenges, post modernisation of communication and transport infrastructure. While the urban water utilities face challenges of source stressing, increasing demand, and maintaining quality in supplied water, - the rural water utility services have been facing challenges due to scarce population density at rural areas, stretched assets, & associated disbursements. In effect, the industry must do more with less.

Suggested Mitigation: For urban context, provisioning for alternative fresh water sourcing viz desalination, Industry 4.0 conceptualization, and ICT advancements can immensely upgrade the supply, demand, and consumer database management. Demand management system can integrate asset data and ensures the real time monitoring, forecasting, and consistent availability of water loops. Remote metering and dashboard integration have developed the concepts of Intelligent metering to provide the users an increased visibility into their usage patterns and also suggest actions to improve their efficacies.

For rural areas, the concept of IoT and the advancements in ICT are best suited within remote sensing and monitoring. Initiatives like WatScan of CII-Triveni Water Institute have already been developing integrated maps to study various aspects of the underground water.

4. Environment and Sustainability
The changes in the climatic patterns have also stressed the water industry in recent decades. The design standards have become obsolete and issues such as sewer spillages, flooding, water pollution, etc have increased the risks associated with the water & utility sector. Closely associated with the health of masses, the water industry must find ways to improve their efficiencies in delivering quality water and in mitigating the risks of storm water pollution.

Suggested Mitigation: IoT has been making it easier and cheaper for the utilities to monitor the previously unmonitored water sites in real time. With a better visibility, agencies are now able to react quickly to mitigate the issues from occurring at the very first place. This capability also provides more asset data that can be utilised in programs to eliminate the risk of storm-water pollution and the associated environmental impact.

5. Unskilled and Ageing Workforce
As per the Water Report published by Australian Industry Standards in 2018, the technological changes will increase the demand for specialist skills including data analysis and data literacy, network security, and also the higher-order skills which incorporate creative & critical thinking, problem -solving, and inter-personal communication skills in the workforce.

Suggested Mitigation: Current workforce planning focuses on workforce capacity building. Up-skilling the maintainers and operators with requisite digital literacy skills, remote sensing & monitoring technologies, and also with domain speciality skills in data analysis as well as utilities can diminish the skill-gap by leveraging 3rd party companies or by rooting the consultants to implement and/or to maintain new systems.

Industry 4.0 and the IoT offer untapped opportunities in water asset management. Technologies do enable the real-time remote monitoring, intelligent water metering, and preventative maintenance driven by automatic alarming. Apart from reducing the maintenance cost throughout the entire life-cycle, technological integration also represents opportunities to improve environmental response time, community response services, and communication to ensure consistent water supply to remote and urban areas through reliable monitoring.

Such capabilities will not only help the water industry to meet various new demands, but also to better manage the assets, services, and operational costs all the while providing faster and better customer experience. Water industries and public agencies are striving for sustainability in the overall system which is already facing immense external risk. The influence of data driven technological strategies, based on Industry 4.0 concept, provides efficient and long term solutions. Only quick and effective response to these challenges will give the water supply organizations a chance to act responsibly and to initiate a sequence of unavoidable measures , as an inroad to business efficiency improvement during the O & M stages.