Industry 4.0 & Water 4.0

‘Industrie 4.0’ is a term that originated in Germany around 2011. It describes the next generation of industrial production based on cyber-physical systems. The National Science Foundation defines a cyber-physical system as:

…the tight conjoining of and coordination between computational and physical resources.  We envision that the cyber-physical systems of tomorrow will far exceed those of today in terms of adaptability, autonomy, efficiency, functionality, reliability, safety, and usability.

NSF 10-515 

The closest thing to ‘Industrie 4.0’ in English has been suggested to be ‘The Internet of Things (IoT)’, which I feel isn’t correct as Industry 4.0 is really, as the name suggests, focused on industry.

So why 4.0? The idea is that we have already had 3 industrial revolutions. The first was the introduction of mechanical production systems powered by water and steam, such as the automatic loom. The second is when electrically powered assembly lines appeared, massively increasing production output. The third was the implementation of electronics and information technology into the production industry through the use of devices such as the programmable logic controller or PLC. As to why they say 4.0 instead of just 4 or 4th, I’m just guessing it sounds more modern and computery. Atleast they didn’t call it ‘iRevolution 4.0’…



So now Germany wants to bring this same idea to the water industry with the inventive name ‘Wasser 4.0’. Now we have a problem here, as recently a book was published in America called ‘Water 4.0’. Professor Sedlak already describes his 4 revolutions in the water industry in this book. Water 1.0 is the distribution of water in ancient Rome using pipes and canals. Water 2.0 is the treating of drinking water using filtration and chlorination. Water 3.0 is the development of wastewater treatment plants and sewage networks. This leads to his concept of Water 4.0 regarding technologies to deal with water shortages.

I think this is different to what the Germans wish to convey when they speak about ‘Water 4.0’. Water 4.0 is the same as Industry 4.0 but applied to the water industry, that is the digitalisation and networking of automation and monitoring systems and the introduction of smart technologies in water and wastewater treatment. In this example there aren’t any water 1.0’s or 2.0’s as Water 4.0 is just a copy of Industry 4.0 but for water.

However, I think there could be an image for Water 4.0 that describes the revolutions in the water industry over the past century in a simplified way. In this concept I would say the first water industry revolution was the usage of chemicals and sedimentation in the treatment of water and wastewater. The second revolution was the discovery of the activated sludge process for wastewater treatment in the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. The third revolution was the implementation of membranes for desalination and wastewater treatment and recycling. The fourth revolution then matches up with that of ‘Industry 4.0’ with the implementation of advanced cyber-physical systems.



In the end, it will probably be another 100 years before we can really look back and say “That was when the 4th revolution occured in the water and wastewater industry”. At the moment it is still difficult to say what these 4.0 revolutions in industry and in water are even going to mean? Are we going to see a big increase in production and capability suddenly? Will everything be automated and everyone out of a job? Is there going to be a big adjustment where we enter a new golden (or dark) age or is it going to be just another little blip in history where there was lots of talk but not much really changed… Only time will tell.




Cost effective and simple control and automation

This post is a translation of an article originally appearing in SPS-MAGAZIN 8 2016. The original article can be found here.

The Institute of Fluid Mechanics at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has developed an automation system that meets the requirements for testing of pilot-scale plants while still giving the flexibility needed for research. The following report describes the system, which is based on Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

Authors: Liam Pettigrew, Rolf Zech, Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Antonio Delgado

The Institute of Fluid Mechanics at the FAU in Erlangen was looking for a cost-effective yet easy-to-use solution for automation of laboratory and pilot scale processes. It was decided to develop a system that was based on open-source hardware and software. Open-source hardware systems for automation have been used by hobbyists and developers for many years and cannot be compared with larger industrial control systems. Open-source hardware usually offers only a limited number of digital and analog inputs and outputs, which puts them in the compact controller category. An alternative system that implements existing open-source hardware but removes their limitations was developed and built by engineers and technicians at the Institute of Fluid Mechanics. This system is modular, flexible, extensible, inexpensive and easy to program. The Arduino platform was implemented as the controller for the system.

Design of the lab-scale system. An optional extension is shown for future expandability. Multiple systems can be connected over the Ethernet interface. Connection over serial USB is possible directly with a PC rather than using a Raspberry Pi. The process devices shown are for example only. (Figure: Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Industry related research

At universities and in laboratories, students and researchers often need to control and automate processes for research projects under tight deadlines. The students and researchers are specialists in their fields, but have little or no experience with professional PLC hardware and software. It is therefore very difficult for them to familiarize themselves with the complicated instrumentation and software in short periods of time. The question can also be raised if a professional automation system is required for smaller research projects. However, industrial partners often wish to see research results that are application-orientated and compatible with industry standards, where an appropriate control system with a high degree of accuracy manages everything.

Quick, easy and cheap

Process automation in research with industry partners must be able to be implemented quickly, so that scientists can concentrate on the process being studied in proper detail. An easy-to-use programming language, that is already well-known from other applications, is a prerequisite. The implementation of the automation system can be further simplified with the free availability of libraries and examples for quickly completing different tasks. Data acquisition and system control should use methods that are compatible with standard software that the user does not need to newly learn. A big challenge for smaller research projects is the tight budget and timeline given for the implementation of process control when the research itself is not focused on automation. Therefore, a PLC based automation solution must be inexpensive, license-free and easily understandable.

Free flow of information

Although commercial solutions for compact control already exist (E.g. Siemens Logo, Rockwell MicroLogix or Eaton easy, etc.), they are proprietary and protected systems. Flexible solutions, such as those often needed in research but which may not be typical in industry, require bypass capabilities and means of variation. Problems that often occur during research can, by using open-source hardware and software, more easily be solved with access to system information and the large communities on the internet where ideas and solutions are openly and freely exchanged.

Housing for the Arduino module. The compact design allows for easy access to the USB port, I2C connectors and the 24V power supply. (Photo: Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Arduino and Raspberry Pi

The Arduino is a low cost microcontroller board. It was originally developed in 2005 as a teaching tool for students at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. The Arduino has since become one of the most popular ‘do-it-yourself’ components in the world. Over 700,000 official boards had been registered when last recorded in 2013. The Raspberry Pi is a low cost single board computer in credit card format, which was developed in 2009 in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote the study of computer science in schools. About 5 million Raspberry Pis had been sold in the three years since their inception, making it the best-selling British computer. The strength of these two modules is the good combination of open-source electronics and software, which includes freely available source code and an easy-to-use and free development environment. Other components produced by companies such as Texas Instruments and Infineon are similarly constructed and can be implemented just as easily.

Modules for control

The system developed by the Institute of Fluid Mechanics is composed of individual modules, which are interconnected via an I2C bus. The Arduino operates as the controller module, while the other modules act as interface circuits for digital or analog inputs and outputs. The modules also act as measurement amplifiers for different sensor technologies. Each module has an address through which it can be controlled, where 8 digital output modules containing 8 switching channels each (certain modules contain 16 channels) can switch up to 128 channels. Each module has an I2C bus controller with switch amplifiers, relays, and contactors where small loads of up to 100 mA per channel can be controlled directly. High side switching stages allow for conventional ‘relay to ground’ wiring. Analog modules can process up to 64 channels using the available addresses. Another I2C bus controller type allows for a further increase of inputs and outputs by 64 or 128 channels. A multiplexer and bus driver allows for the bus system and structure to be further expanded and developed. As can be seen in the pictures, the modules are contained in DIN rail housings with plug-in terminals. The housing width for each module is 22.5mm. The supply voltage can be anywhere between 12 and 30 Volts (typically 24 VDC), therefore meeting electrical control cabinet requirements. The programming and connection of the controller with a PC is through the front of the module via USB is possible. A module for a Raspberry Pi allows it to be installed as a server module within the cabinet. The server uses a custom Java software that sends commands and collects all data from the distributed Arduino controller modules.

Finished modules in a control cabinet. The 24V power supply and I2C bus connect the modules on the upper side. Below are the I/O connections for the individual modules. (Photo: Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Open PLC without borders

Due to the wide range of addresses available for modules, enough channels are available for larger systems. The modular design allows for flexibility in construction, i.e. the PLC could consist of only analog or digital channels if required. The I2C bus was introduced by the company Philips in the 80s for television systems and is today used in everything from chip card readers and household appliances to flashing lights in the automotive industry. Data transfer rates and the bus capacitance (capacitive load) can be limited when using I2C. However, this can be compensated by using suitable components and circuits. The newest generation of Arduino microcontrollers are 32-bit, have a much larger memory and a higher clock speed making them more suitable for complex projects.



ICA to the WWTP

The ARC Advisory Group recognizes the water and wastewater industry as one of the greatest opportunities for automation and control businesses over the next 20 years. Developed countries will require significant investment to improve already aging and outdated systems. Emerging economies and developing countries are also expected to continue investing in new infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population and increased industrial activity.

Large commercial production industries are able to invest significant amounts in advanced, complete automation and control solutions with properly trained individuals. However, there is a divide between what the wastewater industry, particularly in the developing world, is willing to invest in both education and hardware, and what the current automation industry can provide for this price. Smaller treatment facilities often implement the cheapest solution that can still implement basic control strategies with the required human intervention. Advanced techniques for simulation, modeling and analysis are often not considered outside of research institutions due to the higher cost of hardware and software, and the required training.

Instrumentation, control and automation (ICA) in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) is becomingly increasingly complex as the plants and process analysis techniques become more advanced. Online nutrient and other advanced sensor technologies are providing operators with large amounts of data that can allow for many improvements within the system and help operators manage the advanced, and often sensitive, processes. ICA has already been demonstrated to increase biological nutrient removal capacity by up to 30% today, while furthering the understanding of mechanisms involved for future improvement.

Despite the availability of cheap computing power, advanced and cheap sensor technologies, universal communication systems and greater usage of process systems techniques in other industries, ICA is still considered a costly addition to the initial design of a wastewater treatment plant, with many of the advanced control systems and sensors still considered to be too expensive. Training operators to use a specific commercial system is also expensive for smaller treatment facilities, and the trained individuals are only able to use the specific software provided. Even then appropriate data management tools are not properly available and restrict efficient use of sensors and analyzers for process control.

Availability of an economic, open and universal control and monitoring system would be especially useful in small, decentralized plants often found in remote rural areas. The open nature of the system would allow for easy access to knowledge, so that problems could be quickly fixed on-site without requiring expert assistance.

In the past few years there has been increasing interest in producing open-source automation systems for smaller tasks. Research has already been conducted into using the Raspberry Pi to directly control some basic tasks on an example water treatment facility. This research showed the possibility of using such a device to directly control sensors and controllers used in an industrial setting where stringent requirements must be met.

Accuracy tests conducted in a laboratory on the Arduino UNO have shown that synchrony across channels is accurate and scaling up the number of channels does not affect accuracy.

The Arduino has already been modified to allow for access to industrial systems. The Controllino is an Arduino standard and Arduino software compatible device that conforms to EN61010-1, EN61010-2-201 and EN61131-2 standards and allows for 35mm top hat rail mounting. A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to finance the initial production and marketing of the device attracted 191 supporters and successfully raised over $65,000 US, showing that there is an interest in such a device from the general public.

Could existing devices such as the Raspberry Pi Single Board Computer and the range of Arduino microcontrollers be combined into an open-source automation system with the stability, safety and security required for a full-scale wastewater treatment plant?

If this idea seems too far-fetched how about opening up such a system to the developing world, where more and smaller water and wastewater treatment plants are required? Of course, most of the work in developing countries is focusing on reliable and clean water with a minimum of technical equipment, which can break and needs maintenance by knowledgable technicians. But, what if the technical equipment can be programmed, fixed, operated on and controlled by anyone with access to the internet and the multitudes of forums and tutorials on programming and wiring such equipment? What if all that is needed is a cheap mobile phone to control and operate the plant? Any problem can be answered by the hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts online (The forum alone has nearly 400, 000 users looking to answer and ask questions), always willing to offer help and advice on the technical hurdles met by others willing to learn.

There must be somewhere inbetween

Maybe I am living in a dream world where developing countries and rural communities can have access to the more advanced systems for treating water and wastewater. Systems that require proper instrumentation and automation that is, in its current state, simply too complex and expensive for something as unprofitable as our waste and its effect on the environment.