Answers for Wastewater Utilities

ADS integrates remote sensing, cloud-based data processing and technical services to predict and prevent system failures.

Answers for Wastewater Utilities

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The wastewater business is all about managing flow. As you know, that task is often more difficult than it sounds, but ADS provides utilities with both the equipment and the expertise to predict and prevent system failures.

Hal Kimbrough, the general manager of ADS, recently spoke with Municipal Sewer & Water about the company and its mission to help wastewater utilities better manage their systems and stay in compliance.

MSW: Tell me a little bit about ADS’ history and how it fits under the IDEX umbrella.

Kimbrough: ADS was formed as American Digital Systems in 1975 by NASA scientist Peter Petroff. ADS introduced the first flow monitor designed specifically for open channel wastewater in response to the passage of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System in 1972. ADS was purchased by IDEX in January 2008. They fit in IDEX’s Fluid and Metering Technologies segment, which is focused on highly engineered solutions for the movement of high-value fluids.

MSW: What types of needs do you address for municipal utilities?

Kimbrough: The mission of ADS is to provide the easiest and most affordable answers to when, where and how collections systems will fail in time to prevent harm. Because the most common failure modes are loss of capacity due to blockage and due to infiltration and inflow, finding and quantifying their impact are our specialties.

MSW: How do the equipment manufacturing and service sides of your business work together?

Kimbrough: We discover the answers to when, where and how collections systems will fail through an integrated system of remote sensing, cloud-based data processing and technical services. ADS has developed intellectual property in all three of these components. This is an important source of differentiation, as almost all other participants in our industry are either exclusive equipment suppliers or exclusive service companies. The advantage we gain from this integration is applications expertise that spans everything from intrinsic safety design in our monitors to in-depth knowledge of how hydraulic phenomenon in sewers appear in ultrasonic signal patterns that can be recognized by machine learning algorithms.

MSW:  What’s the most common problem you see your municipal customers facing?

Kimbrough: The most common problems are how to efficiently direct pipe cleaning operations and how to restore conveyance capacity lost to wet weather and I&I. In the absence of data regarding when, where and how these capacity problems develop, systemwide strategies are adopted that often apply remedies where there are no problems.

MSW: How has flow monitoring advanced?

Kimbrough: Flow monitoring technology has benefitted from advancements in wireless communications, low-powered electronics and improved ultrasonic sensing. Our latest flow monitors require significantly less maintenance than prior generations, with improved consistency in the data. Beyond the hardware, the software advances around flow monitoring have been more substantial. The ability to share data with third-party applications such as GIS and SCADA in near real time is a breakthrough. And we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg of the new sources of value that machine learning will bring. For ADS, blockage PREDICT is just the first in a long road map of analytical apps that will help utilities manage capacity risks in their collections systems.

MSW: Proactive maintenance is obviously more efficient than reactive emergency cleaning and repair. Is that the idea behind blockage PREDICT?

Kimbrough: Not only is reactive cleaning inefficient, it is ineffective because it occurs after the collections system has failed in its primary mission of containing pollutants. On the opposite end of the spectrum is high-frequency preventive cleaning, which can be effective but highly inefficient. We routinely discover that high-frequency cleaning activities are performed on clean pipes. High-frequency cleaning also subjects aging pipe material to high-pressure jetting, which reduces the structural life of pipes. Blockage PREDICT provides early warning of the loss of capacity due to blockage in time to clean pipes under routine maintenance schedules at the time that is neither too early nor too late.

MSW: What mistakes do you see utilities make in their monitoring efforts?

Kimbrough: I think wastewater utilities are underappreciated for the great job they do in keeping very old collections systems in working condition. There are a few areas where monitoring could be made more effective. First is the recognition that hydraulic model results are not suitable replacements for actual measurements. We think modeling and monitoring should operate in combination. Another common problem is >span class="s4">monitoring where an insufficient, few number of storms are used to estimate before-and-after I&I volumes.

MSW: What differentiates your flow monitoring solutions from the competition?

Kimbrough: Our differentiation is the integration of sensing, software and technical services mentioned earlier. Sewer flow monitoring is not yet to the “set it and forget it” point like a water meter. We want to get it there someday. But until then, a specific expertise is required that is best gained by experience. This is where we have tried to be different in our 45 years of doing this.

MSW: How does the suite of ADS products and services work together to provide solutions for utilities?

Kimbrough: I’ll give the short answer. ADS hardware and software are designed foremost to meet the needs of the most demanding power users in the world, our own service teams. We have a rigorous process that transforms an acoustic pulse from a sensor in a sewer to the answers to critical questions of when, where and how sewer operators should intervene to prevent a pollution event. Our products and services are built on the blueprint of that process. We have been told that this design philosophy makes our monitoring systems complex. This is a valid complaint. Powerful systems have traditionally been more complex. But this is changing with the advent of software architectures that can hide complexity from the user. This was a major emphasis of our new PRISM software platform and our latest sensor, the ECHO.

MSW: What’s new for ADS in 2020, and what’s on the horizon?

Kimbrough: We just introduced our new AV|GATED sensor, which senses changing velocity profiles in order to measure average velocity, even in shallow water. We are working on the next generation of our surface velocity sensor, which is a nonsubmerged sensor that requires minimal maintenance. We will also be rolling out a series of new modules for our PRISM data platform. Our industry-leading SLiiCER tool set for I&I analysis has been totally rewritten for PRISM. Also, a suite of data editing tools that replaces our legacy Profile software will be introduced. Both have entered beta testing and are to be released in the third quarter of 2020. Our blockage PREDICT app has been retrained with more than a million monitor days of classified data. The horizon? Expect new analytical apps to be added to PRISM, and expect hardware that is easier than ever to deploy in greater density.

MSW: Anything else you’d like to add?

Kimbrough: I would like to address the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is influencing our planning. We have been in discussions with laboratories and researchers who are on the leading edge of wastewater-based epidemiology on the potential for detecting viral concentrations in wastewater. We are sponsoring a pilot project with a major customer in the Western U.S., in partnership with a leading wastewater-based epidemiology firm. Our concept is that flow data analyzed in conjunction with laboratory data can provide more value than laboratory tests alone in both isolating high-risk areas and for continuous monitoring for future outbreaks. We are optimistic that we can play a part in helping our customers confront the pandemic with a very unique service. 


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