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Water utility takes innovation award with ‘old control system’

Sydney Water's control system technology has not only stood the test of time, it is still winning awards more than 20 years after it was built.

The utility's long-term investment in its Integrated Instrumentation, Controls, Automation and Telemetry System (IICATS) has won the Operator and Service Provider Excellence Award category at the Infrastructure Australia Awards.

General Manager of Customer Services at Sydney Water Gary Hurley said the system had saved the utility an estimated $500 million in capital and operational expenditure since 1994.

“At the time there was nothing like it in Australia and to be honest it's still up with the best in the world – for a 20-year-old control system,” Hurley said.

“Most of the cost of this very asset-intensive business is incurred in the planning.

“In a dumb system, you tend to have to oversize everything, whereas with this much more intelligent system you can make smaller reservoirs and use smaller pipes … you then can operate them at a much finer level of margin so you get better performance out of them.”

Today the system is monitoring and automatically controlling water and wastewater network assets such as water pumping stations, reservoirs, valves and sewage pumping stations.

It is also retrieving data from 105,000 different points.

“You can actually see when pumps are starting to degrade just through their performance rather than through the traditional way of thinking of ‘it's 10 years old therefore it needs replacing’,” Hurley said.

Most recently, the system enabled Sydney Water to make sewerage pumping stations self-cleaning, saving the utility an estimated $6 million per year and removing staff from a hazardous work environment.

“We were able to sequence the pumping operation and drop it right down so that incoming water almost turned into a waterfall smashing up all the debris that was on top of the pooled water,” Hurley said.

“After a couple of cycles this thing was cleaning itself.”

Sydney Water is currently using IICATS to fine-tune chemical dosing.

“That's been saving well in excess of $1 million in operating expenditure a year over the last 18 months,” Hurley said.

Recent gains have come thanks to a major system upgrade in 2014/15.

“When the system was first installed it was a proprietary system so it was difficult to add onto it outside of proprietary components,” Hurley said.

“But there was about a $12 million upgrade in 2014/15 which moved it to a more agnostic system – basically if you've got a device that can measure something you can connect it to this system.”