Technology Transfer for Digitizing Water Management

Key technologies from mechatronics optimize processes in water management

The digital revolution is not stopping at water management either. New technologies are to make companies more efficient and maintain or improve their competitiveness. In the process industry, digitization and automation mean boosting efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. In water management, this approach is increasingly playing a key part in the form of “Water Industry 4.0”.

Much of this is already very familiar to IAV from its automotive development activities. From the field of mechatronics, particular mention must be given here to modeling and simulating technical systems, sensor technology as well as control engineering.

“Water Industry 4.0” describes the interaction of innovative and intelligent interconnection of current and future water users (agriculture, industry and households) and components with the aim of sustainably managing resources. Besides energy efficiency, the focus is on securing the supply of water and wastewater disposal.

This is why IAV is offering its expertise to the water sector

There are direct connections between automotive engineering and water management. The numerous sensors in the motor vehicle, such as rain, temperature and pressure sensors, turn vehicles into “mobile weather stations” with data that can be used for meteorology and hydrology. “Using the internet to collect the values measured by these sensors creates a gigantic network”, explains Dr. Matthias Pätsch, who is responsible at IAV for business development for the water industry. “A water board could use this as a way of being able to respond better to heavy rainfalls in urban and rural environments.” Often “urban flash floods” in particular cannot be identified with existing weather stations because, at four to ten measurement points per 1,000 square kilometers, their density is too low.

“Connected vehicles could close this gap and deliver the required data in real-time. This would then give the water boards enough time to close specific roads or protect sensitive structures (such as tunnels), to quote some examples”, says the civil engineer who worked in the water sector for 25 years. Involving partners from the water sector, a project along these lines has been submitted to the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (BMVI) as a research proposal under the name of mobile-VIEW. In the event of an approval, it is planned to carry out this project within IAV as an integrative and interdisciplinary model project.

But within the industry itself, there is a need for interconnected solutions, such as in the field of simulation and control engineering. These are exactly two of the specialist fields covered by IAV’s engineers who have been providing customers from the automotive industry with their expertise for decades. “This opens up excellent opportunities for transferring knowledge to the water sector”, Pätsch says. “We are conversant with sensor technology and are in full command of the algorithms for evaluating data.”

Among other sectors, this could also benefit wastewater engineering, for example in microflotation systems which, as very effective separation systems, separate fluids and solids (textile and paper fibers, activated sludge from sewage treatment plants, mineral, vegetable and animal oils and fats, flakes, dust, vegetable and animal cell structures, colloidal substances, surfactants and others) by introducing tiny air bubbles into wastewater or process water. On the surface, this produces froth containing the solids and, on the basis of density and distribution, gives an indication of process efficiency. “We can monitor the froth with a camera and, through image recognition, assess how effectively the process is working”, Pätsch reports. “We can use these data and other information from the systems (sensor data from pump operation, valves etc.) to control the facility and optimize operation.”

Further potential applications

There are many ways of using intelligent control engineering in hydraulic power plants too. “Particularly in the small and medium-sized river power plants, nobody is constantly on site for most of the time”, Pätsch says. “They can be monitored and operated more effectively by intelligent remote action.” Augmented Reality (AR) – currently a big subject in automotive services – also lends itself to use in the water sector: “One potential customer would like to use the technology to present its products at sewage treatment plants using an AR app”, Pätsch reports. “For an initial contact, this can replace a personal visit.”

One field of application that is also in direct demand within “Water Industry 4.0” is resource optimization. By visualizing cost and energy flows, IAV can analyze the effect of components on production and energy losses at factory level. Using methods from automotive engineering, plants can be modeled and simulated to optimize techno-economics on the basis of actual operating values. By integrating new components on a virtual basis, this makes it possible to define the potential of recuperating energy, optimize components and control strategy and, if necessary, analyze further potentials.

Other interested parties are currently exploring the use of digital sensor technology. In water management, it is necessary to keep a check on all sorts of aspects, such as water levels, flow rates and water quality. IAV’s developers have already found solutions for similar matters for their customers from the automotive industry.

In vehicles too, the control units need to know how full the tank is or how much gasoline is currently flowing to the engine. “With its technological expertise, IAV can assist the water industry in many areas”, Pätsch says.