DIGITAL WATER: THE NEXT STEP TOWARDS WATER 4.0
by Dr. Richard Vestner, Member of the Board at German Water Partnership
first published in Smart Water Magazine, No. 1 – May 2020
Today, many digitally ambitious and mature water companies are investing in understanding and implementing H2O Digital Twins. However, the full potential of a Digital Twin is only reached within a Cyber-physical System (CPS). This can help water management reach the next level of digitalization and intelligent automation and further improve understanding, flexibility and efficiency within Connected Data Environments towards “Hyperautomation”. Here, a combination of advanced technologies is deployed to increasingly automate processes and augment humans.
What makes the difference?
If we look at the discrete manufacturing industry, where Industry 4.0 is established and already creates value for customers and companies, and isolate the essence of major 4.0 developments, it is: a) connectivity and b) autonomy in CPS. A CPS is created when a physical product, process or system is monitored and controlled by its specific Digital Twin. The ability to influence the system’s real behaviour is possible through a deep intertwining of real and computational components, including models, sensors and actuators. Cyber-physical Systems deploy methods of Augmented Intelligence to achieve an advanced degree of autonomy (“self-X” capabilities) and to use information from a digital network across and beyond system boundaries. Think of weather forecasts or population dynamics. Hence, vertical and horizontal integration of a Cyber-physical Water System is key.
“Technology openness and new business models with new actors in a digital ecosystem will help accelerate added value creation.”
How much of this can be applied to the water industry?
Business and process environments in the water industry can hardly be compared with ideal conditions in a smart factory; the degree of tasks that can be automated are lower, and water systems can cover wide and remote areas. In addition, next to an improvement of effectivity and efficiency, there are different drivers for implementation: while the manufacturing industry uses CPS to pursue individualization, improved adaptability and resilience are top priorities for water applications. However, there are proven elements in Industry 4.0 that can serve as an inspiration. As indicated above, strategic goals define how far and how fast a full-blown 4.0 approach is applied to an end-user like a water infrastructure owner or operator. Integration of a Digital Twin into a CPS can federate Engineering Technology (ET), like numerical modelling tools, Information Technology (IT), e.g. networks and communication, and Operational Technology (OT), e.g. asset management and operational services. The resulting CPS is a strategic and tailored move to create the most sophisticated stage of prescriptive automation, in which the optimal decision is presented or even executed.
Leapfrogging is possible, but…
It is an ambitious goal to provide continuous information about assets, processes and systems and to (semi-) automate their behaviour. As a rule, the implementation is therefore gradual, since the solutions have to be integrated and operated in the existing ET, IT and OT of the user. The key to success is the standardization and interoperability of solutions, the training of operating personnel, the development of best practice methods, etc. Here, there is room for digital integrators and other digital water ecosystems partners, which are crucial for building a powerful CPS.
Data management and analytics continue to have enormous growth potential in the water sector. Even offline simulations and data analysis are not mainstream, and many utilities and consultants are not yet fully materializing the investments in these technologies. However, these are the first steps to build transparency and knowledge with descriptive technologies and then evolve with advanced analytic tools to realize a Water 4.0 vision. Technology openness and new business models with new actors in a digital ecosystem will help accelerate added value creation. In any case, the water sector requires and deserves a sensible and acceptable approach.