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Project Focus: Rethinking asset performance data at NI Water

A project using the data on wastewater pumps has successfully paved the way for Northern Ireland Water to change the way it uses asset performance data in its network operations.

The production lines are part of a new organisational model envisaged for NI WaterThe production lines are part of a new organisational model envisaged for NI Water

by James Brockett

A project using the data on wastewater pumps has successfully paved the way for Northern Ireland Water to change the way it uses asset performance data in its network operations.

The utility is making a host of changes to the way it does business in the current PC15 regulatory period under the banner of its ‘Achieving Customer Excellence’ programme. The aims of the programme include putting customer service at the heart of operations, getting greater value from every pound spent, finding new ways to manage performance and pursuing a more joined-up approach to operating and maintaining assets.

As part of these goals, Northern Ireland Water is looking to integrate its asset performance team – which has until now been strategic in nature and therefore separate from operations – into the two operational ‘production lines’ of water and wastewater. As a pilot project to test how this would work, performance data on 68 wastewater pumping stations in Lisburn was collated and shared with local field teams to see if it would result in beneficial changes of approach.

Conor Courtney, Asset Performance Engineer at NI Water and technical lead for the project, said that the data available on these stations included pump running times, energy costs and information on maintenance visits and reactive call-outs. However, identifying where it was all held and collating it was far from straightforward.

“One of the things we found early on was that while we are the only team that is called asset performance, there was a lot of other asset performance work that was taking place within the business, in various teams and for various reasons,” says Courtney. “So one of the first tasks was really setting out to identify all those bits and pieces of information, and going through it to determine how useful it may be. That showed the amount of work that was going on that just wasn’t centralised.”

Once collated, the key data sets needed to be linked to the corporate asset register, so the information on a particular pumping station was available whenever its individual asset number was looked at.

The exercise revealed how mobile work management information from field engineers’ tough books – containing details of reactive jobs and planned maintenance – might be matched up with historical information from the telemetry system which shows the status of pumps. So, for example, when a responding to a call about a pumping station with two or three pumps, engineers could benefit from knowing the schedule on which each pump has been running, how often the pumps tripped through weather conditions and the relative workload of each pump in recent months. IT specialists working in business analytics were able to extract this information and Courtney’s team compared it with the work information for reactive jobs.

This highlighted some inconsistencies which were immediate areas for improvement. Some of the pumping stations were being run with the same duty pump all the time and the same assist, whereas some switched regularly which pump was fulfilling which role. When the figures on blockages and problems were presented to the field manager, it enabled them to see which was most effective and come up with a consistent policy.

In other cases, pump running times within a station were similar yet one pump was proving more problematic than the other for reactive call-outs. This highlighted to the project team that specific maintenance work may be required, such as changing the position of that particular pump relative to the outfall or wet well. Energy costs were also considered in the light of the other data sources and the most apparently inefficient stations were then investigated.

The project also highlighted weaknesses in existing data. For example, a key system used by NI Water for calculating the population in a catchment uses point data with one point per property. This might be fine when all the properties in question are similar size houses, but when some of them are large businesses it can mean the population equivalent (PE) is underestimated. This meant the data set had clear limitations for being used in the decision-making process on the production line.

The pilot has led to benefits which are likely to be quantifiable if rolled out across the business, and the field teams involved in the project were impressed by what accessing the data could achieve, so it has already proved its worth, according to Courtney.

“The remit of the pilot was testing the production line concept on asset performance, and it’s already proved its worth as far as that goes,” he said.

If the ‘production lines’ concept goes ahead as envisaged then the asset performance function is likely to be restructured in the next year; some specialists would remain at the strategic level but others would be embedded within the water or wastewater production lines. Courtney says that operating the new model would require a shift in mindset for those in the latter group.

“In strategic asset management, short term is a year, medium term is 5-6 years, and long term is 20 years. But in the production lines, short term is a week, medium term is a month, and long term is six months. That’s the best way of explaining what we are trying to do with the production lines. It’s to get the sort of analysis that we can do something with on a more reactive basis, on those shorter timescales, so we can be a more customer focused organisation.

“If a complaint comes in you want to be able to drill down into the data to see what is the cause and how can we rectify it. Sometimes that will be a capital intervention which may take some time to go through the system, but other times it may be something that’s fairly straightforward to do.”

The potential change in approach chimes in with the broader goals of the ACE programme which include getting the best value for every pound spent – whether it is opex or capex. Northern Ireland Water is already putting more money into proactive maintenance: where in PC13 this accounted for 50% of the capital budget, in PC15 it will be 60%.

“The customer wants serviceability to be maintained at its current levels, even if there’s not going to be the same money for major capital upgrades going forward, so it is base maintenance that’s going to get the lion’s share. This sort of approach makes sure that we are prioritising that money in the correct way,” continues Courtney.

“This is only part of what is going to be happening under the ACE project, but as far as asset performance goes, it won’t just be wastewater pumping stations it will cover, it will be the whole infrastructure, water treatment works, wastewater treatment works, and pumping stations on the sewerage and water network.

“The data is out there, but it has been fragmented in the business, with different people using it for different reasons. You don’t need all the data on one database, but you do need that linkage between the data sets so the data from various sources can communicate with itself, and the corporate asset register needs to be at the centre of it all.”

- Conor Courtney is speaking at WWT’s Water Northern Ireland conference in Belfast on 25th February.
Details: www.wwt-ni.net

Topic: Asset Management , Data, IT & Communications
Tags: Northern Ireland Water , pumps , Data


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