COVID-19 (CV19) brought historic disruption to our lives and work. At the onset, wastewater collection systems operations faced exceptional maintenance and safety challenges.
Utilities implemented staff rotations attempting to limit person-to-person contact. Yet, these measures reduced maintenance capacity, affecting essential routines such as cleaning. Adding more stress, sewer-unfriendly objects started to appear in collection systems including “flushable wipes”, face masks and latex gloves. As a result, there was an increase of blockages, SSOs and fouled pumps.
Seeking relief, 83 US utilities leveraged existing flow and level monitoring networks adding new, predictive software for early stage blockage detection. This Internet of Things (IoT) architecture, captured and sent data to cloud-based software where, using machine learning-based analytics, early-stage blockages were identified predictively. Utilities gained weeks-worth of advanced notice enabling them to prioritize their limited O&M resources.
From April to October 2020, 53% of these utilities received at least one notification of a developing blockage. Additionally, none of the monitored sites had SSOs during that time.
Beyond SSO prevention, some utilities creatively applied this predictive IoT technology to determine when to clean. They hypothesized that scheduled cleaning, without the knowledge of actual site conditions, can result in cleaning already clean pipes. To gain site-condition information, utilities used IoT technology to determine when to clean. Three case studies demonstrate how IoT enabled transformational change in the face of sever pandemic-induced challenges. The studies document cleaning reductions of 80% to 87% and with zero SSOs.
These results strongly support the case for employing IoT-based cleaning protocols to fill O&M resource gaps, such as were caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, the results of these studies highlight the opportunity to meet challenges from any circumstance where O&M resources are constrained with the benefit being greater efficiency and lower organizational stress.