Analysis: The evolution of water management into ‘Industrial Water 4.0’

Chemical production is simply not possible without water. Used as a coolant, solvent, reagent, or product constituent, water is an indispensable resource in the process industry. Digitalisation continues to expand its footprint in chemical production, and you already hear the term ‘Chemical Industry 4.0’. So, what does this mean for industrial water management?

Once digital links are established between industrial and municipal (waste) water management, data from real-time monitoring of water volumes and quality can be input into an information, or early warning system not only during normal operations, but also during exceptional weather events, or toxic surges in the water infrastructure.
Once digital links are established between industrial and municipal (waste) water management, data from real-time monitoring of water volumes and quality can be input into an information, or early warning system not only during normal operations, but also during exceptional weather events, or toxic surges in the water infrastructure.

Is there already a ‘Water 4.0’ for Industry 4.0? According to the German Water Partnership, the answer is ‘yes’. It has defined the term ‘Water 4.0’ and understands it as the linking together of sensors, computer models and real-time control combined with heavy use of intelligent networks and the Internet. ‘Water 4.0’ is based on the fourth stage of industrial production.

Particularly in industrial operations, water systems need to be closely linked with production. As production becomes increasingly flexible and network-integrated, for example to produce smaller batches, or even make personalised products, industrial water management must likewise become more flexible and network-integrated.

‘Industrial Water 4.0’ establishes a link between ‘Industry 4.0’ and ‘Water 4.0’. It has three major aims: (i) digitalisation of industrial water management itself; (ii) tight integration with digitalisation of industrial production; and (iii) tie-in to digitalised municipal (waste) water management and water resource management.

 Digitalisation in industrial water management

Integration of all levels in the industrial water management hierarchy encompasses every layer: field sensors, the control system and operating level, the management level right through to modelling and simulation on the network, or in the cloud using autonomous cyber physical systems (CPS). This is understood as vertical integration of industrial water management. The end goal is transformation of water and waste water treatment systems into adaptive systems, which interact with their operating environment. The self-adjustment capabilities should include independent output regulation and flexible, autonomous reaction to change without degradation of operational performance.

In industrial water management, these CPS make use of Internet- and cloud-based networking to support water supply and waste water disposal strategies right down to the end user. Digitalisation provides a way of linking real and virtual water systems. Assistance systems used for process simulation and to support decision making create the basis for real time and predictive modelling to reduce risks and costs.

At the systems level alone, digitalisation in industrial water management creates a whole new range of optimisation and cost reduction opportunities: predictive maintenance can reduce component failure rates and production stoppages to enhance operational reliability. The permanent presence of experts on site is unnecessary. They can provide remote assistance over digital links. This can have a positive impact on system performance.

Evaluation, simulation and optimisation of individual components creates an opportunity to significantly increase the capacity of the entire system by making maximum use of the performance potential of each component and eliminating bottlenecks by implementing simulation-based improvements. Systematic component optimisation also extends the life of the system. 3D visualisation of production cycles in time, space and the process can help identify and eliminate weaknesses and flaws. This in turn can shorten walking distances for operators, reduce the effort involved in routine tasks and increase the efficiency of material flows.

Given the enormous savings potential on new investment projects, simulation-based optimisation has obvious advantages. It helps reduce changeover times and scales down the size of refurbishment projects to only what is essential. With the aid of 3D simulation, integration of pipework into the existing network can be optimised. New plants and equipment can be designed to meet the exact needs. Operator training on virtual systems significantly reduces commissioning time.

Networking between industrial water management and production

Industrial water management supplies water for the production process, so the two are very closely linked. Digitalisation and increased flexibility in production have a direct impact on the interfaces with water management (water supply and waste water treatment). Adaptability to production conditions includes a time element (reaction time to changing conditions) and a process and quality element (adaptation of purification processes as requirements change). Two operational units at a site, or company interconnect and optimise their water and information flows, so what we are talking about here is horizontal integration.

Horizontal integration of industrial water management creates an opportunity to increase connectivity between production stages and water systems (water conditioning, effluent treatment, cooling water circulation) throughout the entire system cycle. Significant economic potential can be exploited: coordinated planning, standardised instrumentation, interoperability of hardware and software solutions and coordinated operation of systems connected in a network. Similar to energy management, which is part of a manufacturing execution system (MES), the aim of horizontal integration of water management is to ‘plan, assess, monitor, analyse, control and ultimately reduce water consumption’ (and the associated material and energy demand).

This approach increases transparency on water demand and usage in the various production segments at the machine level. It presupposes a suitable data acquisition system and the sensors needed to capture the data. These tools make it easier to predict production-related water demand and the resulting effluent load. Proactive measures can be taken to avoid bottlenecks and critical states in process water conditioning. In addition to the simple acquisition of volume flow data using counters and flow meters, which is now standardised, online measurement of substance parameters plays a crucial role in operational water management to assure optimal product quality and production efficiency.

From the viewpoint of the production facility, back-coupling of water conditioning into the production process is undesirable. The process is primarily focused on the product and not water conditioning. If critical states occur in water conditioning, though, horizontal integration can provide a basis for running production at ‘minimal level’, or determining the duration of critical periods. The inclusion of production planning data, or defined production conditions can increase the accuracy of predictions about compliance with threshold values. For highly flexible production, the integration of water utilities among other things can be vital for just-in-time production, or demand-based production.

At a time when digitalisation in industrial production and the process industry is rapidly advancing, digitalisation in the world of water management is not at a comparable level. There are many reasons for this, ranging from unresolved data and IT security issues, inconsistent data collection and a lack of harmonisation to the absence of organisational structures, knowledge gaps and the size of the investment needed for implementation. The simulation and modelling tools also have significant gaps.

Global possibilities

If the system design potential is fully exploited and operations are dynamically adjusted to meet the requirements of the production process on a needs basis, resource consumption can be reduced by a substantial margin, and the reliability of the water supply and waste water treatment can be significantly improved. This applies to both industrial water management and the linkages to industrial production, municipal (waste) water management and water resource management. Industrial, domestic and agricultural water use and the management of natural water resources can be coordinated.

Digitalisation in industrial water management also facilitates increased de-coupling between production and fresh water consumption. Worldwide, this approach can reduce the risk of production restrictions, or interruptions due to water shortages at industrial locations where water stress is a significant problem. It also creates opportunities to increase production without a dependency on additional fresh water resources.

The relevance of ‘Industrial Water 4.0’ goes beyond the water technology industry. The ‘Industrial Water 4.0’ approach also promotes the export of technology, equipment, engineering and other services, and also enhances the competitiveness of the industrial production and process industry in international markets. (This feature is based on a trend report from DECHEMA for ACHEMA 2018.)

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