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Collaboration needed for industry to make the most of data

How do we get the most of the data that we collect as an industry? How do we get “meaningful” measurement? This was the question posed at the recent Sensing in Water conference hosted by the Sensors for Water Interest Group (SWIG).

By Oliver Grievson, Director, Sensors for Water Interest Group (SWIG)

How do we get the most of the data that we collect as an industry? How do we get “meaningful” measurement? This was the question posed at the recent Sensing in Water conference hosted by the Sensors for Water Interest Group (SWIG). The two-day conference highlighted several themes on how to get the best of the data that the water industry collects and how to make our measurements meaningful. Chief among those themes was greater collaboration among the different stakeholders including the water companies, the universities and the supply chain.

The drivers for the use of instrumentation and making measurements meaningful were highlighted in the two keynotes. Despite all of the hard work that the industry has already done, including achieving a 99.96% compliance with drinking water standards, there were still 182 serious, significant or major incidents in 2016 along with a 68% increase in issues between 2012-16. Despite being very good at what we do, there is more work to be done.

The conference also heard about the difficulties of monitoring the environment that we all live in, with the number of samples taken in a year by the Environment Agency creeping into six figures. This, of course, is never enough, and this is where the theme of collaboration comes in. Pressure is being applied to make the testing that is conducted every day more economical whilst maintaining a high level of service. Innovation, using new and more effective sensors, can help here; however, it is through collaboration between all environmental stakeholders and the sharing of data that the biggest efficiencies can be made. It’s a changing world out there and all the different environmental “partners” must now work together for the good of the wider environment.

Throughout the conference there was evidence of the development of new sensor technologies, new ways of working, and collaboration. This ranged from the cutting-edge work that was being done by universities, to companies working together with a large helping of trust to deliver solutions which are typically confined to the laboratory into the field.

An example of this was the use of Boron Doped Diamond (BDD) to deliver more accurate pH measurement. Using diamond to measure pH may seem like overkill, as it is a parameter that we have been measuring perfectly well since the 19th century. However, with the use of material science we can measure with more robustness and more reliability, bringing about more efficiencies in the way that we, as an industry, operate.

In the water industry there are challenges and opportunities that affect the industry as a whole, and the case study presented on the subject of metaldehyde was one. The chemical, which is used as a molluscicide, is notoriously difficult to analyse in a laboratory environment let alone online at a treatment works. The case study showed that a collaborative effort with Affinity Water and its supply chain managed to take a laboratory grade analytical method and convert it to an on-line method capable of managing different inputs into the water treatment process with a project that doesn’t require a full-laboratory staff to run it.

As an industry we are entering a world where the treatment process is being asked to operate at increasing complexity, and it is through this type of collaboration that the day-to-day work of managing the water industry to deliver ways of working to assist in this complexity can help the industry to do “business as usual.”

No modern conference in instrumentation is complete without the arbitrary discussion on big data, and managing the data that we gather each day. This year’s Sensing in Water did not disappoint. The current case study in Severn Trent Water looking at their catchments at Spernal & Trimpley is a shining example of the way that the industry can operate. These case studies show that distilling the data that on-line instrumentation collects into useable information allows the way that we operate to be refined – it allows the operating catchment, including the treatment “factory” and associated system, to be managed and operated rather than simply sampled and checked. This allows the factory approach that was originally raised by the Dutch organisation STOWA - where as much of the resource of wastewater is recovered as possible in the most efficient way - to become a reality. All of this happens through the use of instrumentation and data.

Sensing in Water this year showed that instrumentation is a vital tool in the water industry, but we must get the best possible value from the data that we collect. In order to achieve this, collaboration between water companies, academia and the supply chain is absolutely essential.

-Find out more about the work of SWIG at http://www.swig.org.uk/

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