Rob Ivanovic is a senior engineering project manager with 20 years of experience in water treatment, wastewater treatment, and water distribution involving SCADA and DCS planning, design, programming, implementation, and testing. He has managed numerous engineering, construction, configuration, and start-up projects. His expertise includes identifying stakeholders, defining scope management plans with cost and labor baseline estimates, scheduling and coordinating project activities, planning risk management, tracking work progress, forecasting labor requirements, and producing compliance reports.

What is SCADA and how long has it been in use?

SCADA—or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition—has been around for over 60 years, starting in the power industry. It’s getting real-time data from the field to the operator and helps the operator resolve abnormal conditions. At first it was very simplistic—some twisted pair of wire connecting multiple controllers to a centralized location for controls. Today, it’s the same concept. But now we’ve got fiber optics, we’ve got Ethernet. All that data comes to one location for the operator to see what’s happening in the field.

What are the benefits of a SCADA system?

SCADA allows operators to view real-time data and analyze historical trends. It assists in operational decision making, and is used for maintenance and enterprise practices, which is the business side and the compliance reporting. The data help optimize the utility’s enterprise.

More specifically, how does SCADA help municipalities manage their water use more efficiently?

The SCADA system grabs hundreds of thousands of inputs and outputs. And that information can be sent out and pulled from reports. It looks at trends of chemical usage, at power consumption during different times of the year or different times of the day. It helps municipalities make better decisions on how to run their system, where to push their water, how to treat the water, how much chemical is getting in, how to pre-order for more cost savings.

What are typical challenges you encounter when establishing a SCADA system?

Because the data has such broad use, utility stakeholders sometimes get over-enthusiastic and say “This is what I need” without fully realizing the system’s primary focus is designed around operations, not just data collection. We slow it down and ask them to look at the performance required for their utility. What are their end goals?” Then we add the pieces needed for maintenance practices and enterprise business uses.

And too much data. In SCADA systems you get hundreds of thousands of points being reported from the field elements along with internal software points used for calculating values. Naturally, you think the more data, the better. But then what do you do with it? That’s a growing problem. You’re tying together all your asset-management-knowledge SCADA systems. The resolution is pre-planning. You need a well-developed master plan that’s road map telling you what to do in each step to set up your system, and policies and procedures. Everyone knows what they’re looking at, what its value is.

What unusual problems have you encountered and how were they resolved?

I assisted a utility with alarm issues. Alarms identify to the operator that something is wrong, an abnormal situation that needs adjustment. This utility’s system was receiving over 6,000 alarms a day. That’s four per minute. That far exceeds what an operator can manage efficiently. My analysis revealed that 80 percent of their points were set in some sort of high-high alarm status, which is way overboard.

We’re seeing increases in the number of alarms utilities are getting. And it’s not necessarily that they’re running inefficiently. When new, smart devices are added to the system without a pre-plan, most integrators will just throw every single data point on a line because they don’t know what the operator needs.

The first step is to define an alarm philosophy that identifies every point in the system and what it’s supposed to be set to. To do that you look at how fast an operator needs to resolve an alarm, which defines its severity level.

Too many alarms set at high priority can cause operators to overlook actual critical items—and can cause personal injury, damage to equipment, or any number of issues without being able to properly identify them. To resolve this, you have to identify what types of alarms that they were getting, and then reset how they’re set up and reported. You also have to retrain the operators, who often feel like they don’t know if the system is working because they’re not getting alarms. That’s is how it’s supposed to work.

For this utility, most of their alarms were really normal operations. After adjusting that and looking at other maintenance practices, we reduced alarms to less than 600 a day, and most of those were still operational.

Where is SCADA technology going?

SCADA is heading toward a fully optimized solution for a utility, which forecasts water demand; forecasts power; and forecasts the chemical consumption of the utility based on historical data, weather patterns, and time of day. Then it’s putting all these field data in the hands of the operators to make better decisions and provide guidance that results in more efficient operations, better water quality, and avoiding unnecessary shutdowns. And the SCADA system is becoming the central hub of all data at the utility. The data gets funneled right to the SCADA system, and is then distributed for use in preparing capital improvement plans, budgets, and water quality compliance reports.