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Digital transformation could tackle the UK’s sewage problem

09 April 2024

The power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) could be the key to preventing the discharge of excess sewage into the UK’s rivers and seas.

The important message comes from PTC’s James Radcliffe, who believes a combination of sensors and real-time data can identify issues before they happen, allowing water companies to act before it is too late.

One major supplier is already deploying ThingWorx, an IIoT platform, at the heart of its approach to deliver a critical early warning system.

Production pilots in four areas have shaped a final project that involves applying sensors to more than 25,000 manholes and 3,000 wastewater tanks.

This means predictive maintenance can be carried out before leaks happen and should minimise the amount of pollution that has been blighting the UK’s streets and beaches in recent years.

“It’s no secret that heavy rainfall can lead to blocked, overflowing systems and infrastructure damage,” explained James Radcliffe, who is passionate about helping utility companies achieve their goals through digital transformation.

“By combining the data sent by sensors embedded throughout networks that measure water flow, pressure and quality, detect leaks and identify equipment outages (a malfunctioning pump, for example, or a damaged valve), it becomes easier for water companies to predict where issues may occur, and which areas are most at risk from extreme weather events.”

He continued: “In March, UK Environment Secretary Steve Barclay announced that water companies will commit fast-tracked investment of £180m over the next 12 months, with the goal of preventing more than 8,000 sewage spills this year. 

“He also spoke about embracing new technology, including Artificial Intelligence. The good news is that companies like PTC already have a lot of ready-made solutions in place that are proving very useful on the ground.”

Water companies have a long history of using technology to support operations, even in some of the most antiquated areas of their networks. Investments in SCADA, for example, date back to the 1970s and have been a vital way of monitoring and managing the asset base. 

What’s different now is the emergence of high-performance, low-cost IoT technologies that can provide more accurate operational monitoring and demand-side visibility than ever before. 

These technologies hold the key to a new style of predictive, proactive water network management – even in the face of extreme weather events and on remote sections of the water network that are not easily accessible. 

Radcliffe went on to add: “There is so much outrage at the standard of our rivers and seas and action must be taken now before we do irreparable damage. This has been placed firmly into the public eye with the campaign fronted by popstar Feargal Sharkey and the recent media coverage around the e-coli outbreak during the Boat Race.

“Water companies and their supply chain have access to the solutions if they reach out to digital transformation specialists, who can tailor solutions to make an immediate difference. We don’t need to accept the leaks and the sewage.”


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